Washington has tried its very best to sweep the war in Afghanistan under the rug. Most of the press dutifully went along with the fiction of declaring the war to have ended in December. The military joined in, trying to classify virtually all information coming out of Afghanistan. That classification move has been backtracked somewhat, but we still haven’t seen a revised quarterly report from SIGAR with the newly released data.
For those who care about the truth of what is really taking place in Afghanistan as a result of the misguided US action, it is a good thing that Washington cannot stifle information flowing out of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. UNAMA has been tracking civilian casualties in Afghanistan since 2009, and their latest report was released today (press release is here and full report in pdf form is here). The news is not good at all. Deaths jumped by 25% from 2013, going from 2969 to 3699. Injuries also showed a sharp increase, from 5668 to 6849. These numbers simply do not comport with the rosy statements coming out of the Pentagon on what our troops in Afghanistan “accomplished”, how the Taliban are being defeated and how the ANSF are now “hugely capable”. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have shown a relentless rise since the UN started collecting data:
It is harder to find data for the years leading up to 2009, but here is one report (pdf) in tabular form from Costs of War:
The figures from this report include only a subset of the types of death tracked by UN, accounting for the slight discrepancy in the years of overlapping data.
US military operations and continued presence in Afghanistan has been a disaster for civilians there. The insurgency which has arisen in response to the US presence is responsible for most of the casualties, but it is hard to see how these numbers would be as high if the US had simply left after deposing the Taliban in the first few weeks of the operation.
In addition to tracking casualties, the UN collects information on war crimes. Units of the Afghan Local Police are notorious in this regard (ALP most often are comprised of private militias that have been given a brief bit of training by US death squad trainers from JSOC and/or CIA). From the report:
For example, on 11 July, an ALP member shot and killed a local shopkeeper after an argument over ice. On 7 July, an ALP commander and four of his men assaulted (and injured) four civilians in Jorum district, Badakhshan province, during a wedding party. The reason for the beating was reportedly that the family had failed to provide food to the ALP as demanded.
UNAMA documented multiple examples of ALP intimidating and ordering the displacement of families from their communities. For example, on 12 October, ALP forcibly displaced 150-200 families from Khak-e-Safed district, Farah province. The ALP had warned the local population not to allow the Taliban to launch attacks from the village. The Taliban had also threatened the local population not to cooperate with the ALP. After Taliban fighters established positions in the area, the ALP ordered the 150-200 families to leave the area, resulting in displacement of an entire village, mainly to Farah city.
I would imagine that someone in Washington is busy today trying to find a way to prevent UNAMA from releasing its next report.
The US military’s addiction to war in Afghanistan is now in its fourteenth year. Such a long addiction can’t just be ended in a weekend of going cold turkey. Much of the effort to end the war has been cosmetic and semantic. Although troop levels are now down dramatically from the peak of Obama’s surge, Obama’s tactic at the end of 2014 was to declare the war “over” while at the same time signing a secret order allowing for expanded activities by those troops remaining in the country.
The military has joined in Obama’s gamesmanship, taking as much of the war effort behind curtains of secrecy as it possibly can. In October, it suddenly classified information on Afghan troop capabilities and then in January it tried to expand that classification to nearly all information coming out of the war. While the military seems to have relented on at least some of that move, I haven’t yet seen SIGAR report on the information grudgingly given up after the classification was strongly criticized in Washington.
Two reports in the current news cycle highlight the military’s desperation in hanging onto as much combat activity in Afghanistan as it can. Yesterday, John Campbell, commander of US troops in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the current schedule for drawdown of troops from Afghanistan must be slowed:
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan confirmed Thursday that he supports a slowing of the troop drawdown and slated pullback from bases in the country by the end of the year, as the White House reconsiders its plans.
Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he has made those recommendations and they are now being considered by the joint staff and secretary of defense’s office.
It is hard to see this move as anything but an attempt to delay the inevitable total collapse of Afghan forces, just as Iraqi forces collapsed without US support. Consider how Campbell framed his testimony:
“This is their first fighting season on their own,” Campbell said, speaking of the Afghan forces the United States hopes will be able to secure the country against Taliban, Islamic extremists linked to the Islamic State, and drug lords.
Just like a junkie needing that next fix, Campbell tries to claim that just one more year of training will have those Afghan troops working perfectly:
A slower withdrawal time line could allow the forces to continue the train-advise — and-assist and the counterterror operations at more of the 21 bases it and coalition forces now use throughout the country.
This desperate plea for a slower US troop withdrawal and more time for training Afghan forces puts a much colder light on the sudden classification of Afghan troop capability. Even John McCain realizes that we are headed down the same path in Afghanistan as we saw in Iraq (but of course he used that make a dig at Obama while overlooking his own cheerleading of the ongoing clusterfuck):
“We are worried about it being done ‘just as we’ve done in Iraq,’” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., mocking a statement by President Barack Obama last year that touted the proposed Afghanistan drawdown.
But the classification of Afghan troop capability is not the only front on which actions in Afghanistan have gone secret. We learn today from the New York Times (h/t The Biased Reporter) that the US is relying on new authority for night raids as part of its counterterror activities authorized under the Bilateral Security Agreement put into place once Ashraf Ghani assumed the presidency. Unlike the days of the Karzai presidency, the John Kerry-invented National Unity Government of Ghani and Abdullah not only doesn’t protest US night raids, it actively works with the US to hide all news of them:
The spike in raids is at odds with policy declarations in Washington, where the Obama administration has deemed the American role in the war essentially over. But the increase reflects the reality in Afghanistan, where fierce fighting in the past year killed record numbers of Afghan soldiers, police officers and civilians.
American and Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing operations that are largely classified, said that American forces were playing direct combat roles in many of the raids and were not simply going along as advisers.
“We’ve been clear that counterterrorism operations remain a part of our mission in Afghanistan,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Thursday. “We’ve also been clear that we will conduct these operations in partnership with the Afghans to eliminate threats to our forces, our partners and our interests.”
The raids appear to have targeted a broad cross section of Islamist militants. They have hit both Qaeda and Taliban operatives, going beyond the narrow counterterrorism mission that Obama administration officials had said would continue after the formal end of American-led combat operations last December.
The gist of the Times article is that this uptick in raids is driven mostly by intelligence contained on a laptop magically captured by Afghan forces, but it is clear that US forces would have used any excuse they could find to justify this increase in death squad activity now that the Afghan government allows their return.
Postscript: Somehow, even though the laptop is supposed to have been from an al Qaeda operative, it is even claimed to have had information that helped target drones to kill Abdul Rauf Khadim. I’m pretty sure that by now getting his al Qaeda space checked off, Rauf has completed his terror bingo card showing sides on which he has played, even if posthumously.
On January 30, I noted how the varied history of Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim had seen him on many different sides of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His history depends on whoever is describing it, but it is clear he spent time at Guantanamo, where leaked documents said that he was “substantially exploited“. He was released from Guantanamo and held for at least some time in Afghanistan’s notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison. Many reports put him serving on the Quetta Shura of the Afghan Taliban at a later point and getting quite close to Mullah Omar. Most recently, he was said to be an active recruiter for the Islamic State and perhaps even serving as the IS governor of the region.
Multiple reports today state that Rauf has been killed by a US drone strike in Afghanistan. From the Reuters report:
A missile-firing drone killed six people in Afghanistan on Monday including a veteran militant believed to have defected to Islamic State (IS) from the Taliban, Afghan officials said.
The senior militant, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mullah Abdul Rauf, was killed in the violence-plagued southern province of Helmand, officials there said.
Police chief Nabi Jan Mullahkhel said Rauf was travelling in a car when the drone attacked. The other casualties included his brother-in-law and four Pakistanis, Mullahkhel said.
More details from the area:
Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said in a statement Rauf was in charge of IS in southwestern Afghanistan and he was killed just after mid-day in “a successful military operation”.
Helmand’s deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, said Rauf’s membership of IS could not be confirmed but his associates were dressed in black outfits often worn by IS members.
“It is too early to confirm that he was Daish but his people were wearing the same clothes and mask,” Rasulyar said, referring to IS.
It is hardly surprising that the CNN account of his death would open with the recidivist angle:
He was a Taliban commander captured by the United States and held at Guantanamo Bay. But he was let go and returned to Afghanistan. Mullah Abdul Rauf went on to become a recruiter for ISIS in Afghanistan.
He was killed in a drone strike Monday, two officials told CNN.
And, as with seemingly all stories of this type at the early stages, the possibility that Rauf escaped has been presented. Khaama Press relays the same reports of Rauf’s death, but adds this to their story:
However, Pacha Gul Bakhtyar, Security Officer of Helmand Province had told Khaama Press earlier in the afternoon that Mullah Abdul Rawouf Khadim sustained serious injuries while four of his fighters were killed in the attack.
He said that Mullah Abdul Rawouf Khadim was traveling along with a group of his people in a Saracha vehicle when their vehicle was targeted, leaving Khadim seriously wounded and four of his people killed.
He said that Mullah Abdul Rawouf has escaped in wounded conditions.
So, while Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security states outright that Rauf was in charge of IS recruiting for the region, the Ministry of the Interior was insisting as recently as Sunday that the presence of IS fighters in Afghanistan was nothing more than a publicity stunt:
Rejecting the infiltration of the Islamic State (IS) fighters to Afghanistan, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) has said the rumors about the sightings of theses fighters were nothing more than publicity.
MoI spokesman Sediq Sediqqi at a press conference on Sunday in Kabul said that the security agencies were aware of the movements of all enemies of the country.
He warned the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) would suppress all rebel groups whether they were operating under the name of IS or other brands.
As a final note, the case of Rauf and his constantly changing sides should be seen as the rule for areas where the US military has engaged in its misadventures rather than an exeception. Other stories in today’s news note disputes over Afghan police with ties to the Taliban and Iraqi militias operated by a member of Parliament attacking Iraqi citizens at the same time they pursue ISIS.
So, of course, the US should promptly arm troops in Ukraine, as well, so that we can have another region where US arms raise the stakes the rapid changing of sides in a conflict.
All of the ladies attending the ball
Are requested to gaze in the faces
Found on the dance cards
Please then remember
And don’t get too close to one special one
He will take your defenses and run
So we change partners
Time to change partners
You must change partners
Lyrics by Stephen Stills
When last we left Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, only two short weeks ago, he had suddenly appeared on the scene in Afghanistan as a recruiter for ISIS. That was after he had spent time on the Taliban’s Quetta Shura as one of Mullah Omar’s top advisors. That was after he escaped from Afghanistan’s Pul-e-Charkhi prison. That was after he had been transferred to Pul-e-Charkhi from Guantanamo, where he was “substantially exploited“.
Today, Pakistan’s Express Tribune is reporting that the Mullah Omar of ISIS, none other than Abu Bakr Baghdadi himself, has named Rauf the head of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, which, in ISIS-speak, is now known as the Khorasan Province of the Islamic State. Khorasan also includes Pakistan and selected other surroundings according to ISIS.
That is a very interesting development, especially since earlier this week, there was a report that Rauf had been arrested by the Taliban. Here is Adam Weinstein, writing at Gawker:
The Taliban, bane of America’s post-9/11 Afghanistan operations, said Wednesday that they captured Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, a renegade insurgent and ex-Guantanamo detainee who was in Afghanistan recruiting for the Islamic State, the latest parry in a messy internecine conflict between violent Islamist regimes.
The independent Pajhwok news agency of Afghanistan reports that Khadim—who had previously been identified in the media as an ex-Taliban footsoldier who sought revenge against the U.S. after his detention in Gitmo—was arrested, along with 45 armed followers, after attempting to turn local militants against the Taliban and win their allegiance for ISIS’s attempts to build a global caliphate.
However, not everyone was convinced of that report. From Thomas Joscelyn, writing at Long War Journal, also on Wednesday, we have this:
Still, Khadim has been an effective commander and the Khorasan province is already active in southern Afghanistan. There have been skirmishes between Baghdadi’s followers and their rivals in the Taliban, which is clearly gunning for Khadim. One report says that the Taliban has captured Khadim and dozens of his followers, but that has not been confirmed.
Today’s announcement of Rauf as governor of Khorasan marked a rather rapid promotion for him, as a report by Joscelyn on Monday noted that Rauf had been named deputy governor.
Oh, and while you’re trying to sort out just whose side Rauf is on, or whose prison he is in this week, you can get even more confused about funding for ISIS and where it is coming from. Iran seems to be enjoying that particular tidbit.
In a stunning and blatantly obvious move to try to hide its failed efforts in Afghanistan, the military suddenly decided back in October that they would classify any and all information on the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) despite data having been provided to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for the 24 quarterly reports that preceded the one dated October 30, 2014 (pdf). Initial digging on that classification decision appeared to put the classification decision in the hands of ISAF Joint Command. The head of ISAF Joint Command then broke his own classification of ANSF capability a few days later when he proclaimed that ANSF is a “hugely capable fighting force” in a news briefing.
The timing for this classification couldn’t have been worse. US forces were in the final stages of the handoff of Afghan security to ANSF and Barack Obama eventually relied on butchered semantics to proudly proclaim that the war was over, despite a residual fighting force to which he had secretly given expanded combat powers.
Today, though, the classification of ANSF capability last quarter looks less like an arbitrary move by the Commander of ISAF Joint Command and more like a total information shutdown on Afghanistan. Perhaps Lt. Gen. Anderson just got the call for a shutdown before everyone else. In the SIGAR quarterly report released today (pdf), we learn that the military now has classified “nearly every piece of data used by the inspector general to assess the Afghan security forces.” In an appendix to the report, SIGAR lists the more than 140 questions that the military previously responded to openly but now says the answers are classified. Here is a sampling that SIGAR provided in the email sent out releasing the report:
–The over 140 SIGAR questions that received classified or otherwise restricted responses are listed starting on page 211. Sample of questions:
–Please provide a broad definition of the terms “unavailable” and “present for duty.” (page 211)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Army food from Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) for the current year. (page 211)
–How has the $25 million authorized by Congress for women in the Afghan army been used? (page 212)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Police salaries from ASFF for the current year. (page 212)
–Please provide details of DOD/NATO-funded contracts to provide literacy training to the ANSF, including: a. the cost of the contract(s) and estimated cost(s) to complete (page 213)
–Please confirm that the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Afghanistan (CJIATF-A) is dissolved. (page 215)
–Please offer an assessment of the anticorruption initiatives of Afghan Ministry of Defense and Afghan Ministry of Interior (page 215)
As the New York Times article linked above points out, the military also initially tried to classify the number of US forces present in Afghanistan and only relented on that point when it was pointed out that the number had already been released by the Obama Administration.
The “explanation” offered by the Commander of US troops in Afghanistan, General John F. Campbell, is far from satisfactory. Here is an excerpt from his letter to SIGAR explaining the sudden expansion of classification:
Campbell then had the temerity to add later in his letter that he is “committed to maximum transparency in our operations”. Just wow. That sounds like Obama declaring himself the most transparent President ever, and then going on to rely on expanded classification coupled with unprecedented levels of prosecution of whistleblowers.
But instead of just looking like a move Obama would make, perhaps it did come at his behest. Not only is the military clamming up on virtually all information out of Afghanistan, it appears that the State Department is as well. From page 147 of SIGAR’s report:
Despite the requirement of Public Law 110-181 that federal agencies provide requested information or assistance to SIGAR, the State Department did not answer any of SIGAR’s questions on economic and social-development this quarter, and failed to respond to SIGAR’s attempts to follow up.
Had only one Federal agency, the Defense Department, suddenly shut down the flow of information, it would have been easy to believe that they were ones trying to hide their own failures. But now that a second agency, the State Department, has shut down information flow at the same time, and won’t even provide an explanation for their move, it seems clear to me that the order to shut down information flow had to come from above. With both the Defense Department and State Department going silent, could such an order have come down from anyone other than Obama himself? The failure that is our Afghanistan war has entered its fourteenth year, has spanned two presidents and is now being summarily swept under the rug by the Most Transparent Administration Ever®.
Postscript: For more evidence on just how failed the Afghanistan effort has been, recall that John Kerry’s brokered extra-constitutional National Unity Government was over three months late in finally announcing a full slate of 19 cabinet nominees. Sadly, the slate included poorly screened candidates and the Afghan Parliament yesterday rejected 10 of those nominees while voting to confirm only 9.
Just under two weeks ago, it appeared that one of the final hurdles in getting the Afghan government functioning after the disputed election may have been cleared, as a full slate for the cabinet was announced. Sadly, even though Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah took over three months to come up with the list of nominees to run their “Unity Government”, it is clear that no screening of these candidates took place, as many are now falling by the wayside. One turns out to have an Interpol red notice, as many as eleven may have dual citizenship (a direct violation of the Afghan constitution) and one may not meet the minimum age requirement.
Rod Nordland describes some of the problems that have been encountered:
Choosing the Afghan cabinet is to government what the national sport of buzkashi is to polo: a wild and woolly version with uniquely local characteristics and notably more carnage.
President Ashraf Ghani’s presentation of new cabinet nominees to Parliament on Tuesday was a case in point. One proposed nominee had just pulled out after revelations of an Interpol warrant for his arrest. Another dropped out, complaining that he did not have enough money and jobs to bribe Parliament into approving him. A third was subject to a social media smear campaign alleging that she had just gotten a new identity card so she could add a few years to her age to qualify for the job.
Several other would-be ministers were reportedly headed to the exits before Parliament got a chance to vote on them, as revelations tumbled out about dual citizenships, frowned on by the Afghan Constitution, or even, in one case, allegedly not being fluent in any national language.
It’s impossible to make this stuff up. Nordland continues:
“The candidate for rural development studied urban development, and the candidate for urban development studied rural development,” said Ramazan Bashardost, an anticorruption crusader and member of Parliament, famous for his outspokenness.
Corruption is running rampant in the confirmation process:
A more prominent nominee, Jilani Popal, a well-regarded former government official, withdrew his name from nomination as finance minister. While he is believed to have dual United States and Afghan citizenship, Mr. Popal told friends that he had pulled out when members of Parliament asked him for a total of 400 jobs in exchange for their votes, most of them in the lucrative customs service, leaving him with no slots for unstained candidates.
We get more on bribes from ToloNews:
However, a number of MPs have told TOLOnews that presidential advisor Mohammad Akram Akhpalwak has made promises of gifts to lawmakers if they vote in favor of the nominees. MPs said they had been promised IPHONE 6 mobile sets and 5-10,000 USD. Mr. Akhpalwak has meanwhile rejected the allegations.
That same ToloNews article informs us that seven of the nominees believed to have dual citizenship have been rejected by the Foreign Affairs Commission of Parliament. But over at Khaama Press, we learn that the rejection was quite the event:
The Lower House of the Parliament – Wolesi Jirga on Thursday witnessed brawl among the lawmakers over the issue of cabinet nominees holding dual citizenship.
In the meantime, a number of the lawmakers insisted that the nominees holding dual citizenship should also be called in the session so that they can present their plans.
The lawmakers said the cabinet nominees have signed documents to surrender their second citizenship and the decision to reject the nominees with dual citizenship was not taken by the house of representatives.
Brawl among the Afghan lawmakers started after MP Shukria Barekzai critized the recent decision by joint parliamentary commission to reject the nominees insisting that the Parliament House is not authorized to deprive the rights of an Afghan national from election and voting.
The article goes on to describe a pathway through which the nominees might be brought back into eligibility. Given the slow, argument-filled route that has brought the Afghan “government” to its present state, I wouldn’t expect these questions about potential cabinet ministers to be resolved any time soon.
Many outlets are reporting on the disclosure earlier this week that there appears to be active recruiting for Islamic State taking place in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Here is AP as carried by ABC News:
Afghan officials confirmed for the first time Monday that the extremist Islamic State group is active in the south, recruiting fighters, flying black flags and, according to some sources, even battling Taliban militants.
The sources, including an Afghan general and a provincial governor, said a man identified as Mullah Abdul Rauf was actively recruiting fighters for the group, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The article notes that the Taliban is not taking this development lightly and that there are reports that up to 20 people had died up to that point in skirmishes between the Taliban and those swearing allegiance to IS.
But Mullah Rauf is not just any random figure in Afghanistan. As the article notes, he was once a prisoner at Guantanamo.
In their profile of him this week, the Washington Post had this to say about Rauf:
Rauf is also known as Abdul Rauf Aliza and Maulvi Abdul Rauf Khadim. According to a military document released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, he turns 34 in February and was listed as detainee 108 at Guantanamo Bay. He was transferred to Afghanistan’s control in 2007.
The report on him released by WikiLeaks said he was associated with several known Taliban commanders, but claimed to be a low-level soldier. In interviews with U.S. officials, he was cooperative, but his responses were vague or inconsistent when asked about the Taliban leadership, according to the report. Nonetheless, Rauf was assessed not to be a threat, and was recommended for transfer out and continued detainment in another country.
That Wikileaks document on Rauf can also be read here at the New York Times. This particular paragraph in the report caught my eye:
The document from which this is taken is dated October 26, 2004. The parenthetic note from the analyst begins “Detainee is substantially exploited”. In the context of Guantanamo, the issue of prisoner exploitation is a very important topic. A groundbreaking post by Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye in 2011 provides crucial context by what this aside from the analyst means for Rauf’s detention: Continue reading
SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, has released a report (pdf) describing very disturbing problems with salaries for the Afghan National Police. The report concludes:
The U.S. government is spending more than $300 million annually for ANP salaries with little assurance that these funds are going to active police personnel or that the amounts paid are correct. ANP identification cards with unique numbers are the primary control mechanism to help protect against fraud and abuse, but they are not being used properly—including for attendance and payroll purposes—and there are almost twice as many cards in circulation as there are active police personnel. Further, after 9 years of effort, an electronic human resources system—critical for ensuring the proper personnel are being paid and paid the correct amount—has still not been successfully implemented. Despite lengthy and costly U.S. government attempts to implement this system, AHRIMS, and a payroll system, EPS, the two systems are still not integrated. This lack of integration serves to negate critical controls, such as the ability to reconcile personnel between systems, that should be in place to protect U.S. salary funding from waste and abuse. It is not surprising, therefore, that reports have disclosed inflated police rosters, payments being made to more police personnel than are authorized in particular locations, and police personnel receiving inflated salaries. Achieving full functionality and integration of these systems would only partially resolve existing problems. Such improvements would still not address concerns about low-level ANP attendance procedures or the integrity of the data once it leaves EPS for final salary payment calculations. Also of concern is the payment of ANP personnel in cash via trusted agents, as there are even fewer controls over these salary payments. The fact that as much as half of these payments are possibly diverted from intended recipients is alarming.
The U.S. government and international community plan to continue funding ANP salaries. Some requirements to help safeguard U.S. funds are in place, but neither CSTC-A nor UNDP are fully following them. U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) should enforce these requirements and—where there are accountability gaps—create new, binding procedures to better safeguard funds. USFOR-A, UNDP, and the MOI must do a better job of coordinating to ensure that ANP personnel numbers match on-the-ground realities and that their salaries are accurate and provided only to actively serving Afghan forces.
We learn from the report that the flawed ANP identification card program was developed by DynCorp, but I don’t see in the report where the equally flawed AHRIMS and EPS programs came from. The fact that after 9 years of trying, we still don’t have a basic system for “taking attendance” for ANP personnel on the job is staggering. As a result, the system is still rife for corruption at all levels as ghost employees can be put on the roles and their salary embezzled. Here is more detail on the corruption enabled by part of the payroll being disbursed in cash:
SIGAR found that nearly 20 percent of ANP personnel are at risk of not receiving their full salaries because they are paid in cash by an MOI-appointed trusted agent, a process that lacks documentation and accountability. CSTC-A and UNDP officials told SIGAR that there is limited oversight of trusted agents and a higher risk that funds may be subject to corruption. Further, CSTC-A reported that corrupt practices within the trusted agent system of salary payments “could take as much as 50 [percent] of a policeman’s salary.”
On a separate but highly related front, Afghanistan finally has announced the full roster of nominees for its cabinet. This move will fill 27 positions. Conveniently, TOLONews has broken those nominees down by where they came from. Thirteen were nominated by Ashraf Ghani and twelve by Abdullah Abdullah. Two are “neutral”, the head of security (who carries over from the previous government) and the head of the banking system.
Returning to the problems in the SIGAR report, ANP falls under the Ministry of the Interior, whose new leader, nominated by Abdullah Abdullah, will be Noor-ul-haq Ulumi. He is a former general as well as having served in the lower house of Afghanistan’s Parliament. He will face quite a challenge in implementing the changes that SIGAR suggests in its report.
Yesterday afternoon, an AP article proudly announced to us that the war in Afghanistan has ended:
Unfortunately, the AP headline is total bullshit. There was indeed a ceremony in Kabul yesterday. And yes, it did mark (for the second time), the end of the international force called ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) assembled under NATO as the lead in the war in Afghanistan. The new NATO mission, dubbed Operation Resolute Support, also under NATO leadership, is proclaimed most often to consist only of training and support to Afghan forces who will do all the fighting.
The problem with that description is that it is a lie. Just over a month ago, Barack Obama “secretly” expanded the role of US troops remaining in Afghanistan:
President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.
Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.
In an announcement in the White House Rose Garden in May, Mr. Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”
The decision to change that mission was the result of a lengthy and heated debate that laid bare the tension inside the Obama administration between two often-competing imperatives: the promise Mr. Obama made to end the war in Afghanistan, versus the demands of the Pentagon that American troops be able to successfully fulfill their remaining missions in the country.
But to AP, the only message worthy of being in their headline and lede paragraph is that the war has ended:
The war in Afghanistan, fought for 13 bloody years and still raging, came to a formal end Sunday with a quiet flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul that marked the transition of the fighting from U.S.-led combat troops to the country’s own security forces.
The reader has to hang in there for another dozen paragraphs or so before reaching the admission of the expanded role of US troops and the reason for that expansion:
Obama recently expanded the role of U.S. forces remaining in the country, allowing them to extend their counter-terrorism operations to the Taliban, as well as al-Qaida, and to provide ground and air support for Afghan forces when necessary for at least the next two years.
In a tacit recognition that international military support is still essential for Afghan forces, national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar told the gathered ISAF leaders: “We need your help to build the systems necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of the critical capabilities of our forces.”
More than ten years after starting our “training” mission, Afghan troops remain unable to defend the country on their own and must rely on US troops.
Of course, the military knows that they have this expanded role. Here is the video the military provided on the transition ceremony:
Note that at around 38 seconds, the narrator says “combat by American forces on counterterrorism operations will continue”. You can bet they will.
Oh, and for a righteous rant on this whole charade, scroll back to yesterday on James Risen’s Twitter feed.
Both NBC and Reuters are reporting that the US has closed its prison at the Bagram air base that was used to house non-Afghan prisoners. After many fits and starts, the US had ceded control of (mostly?) all Afghan prisoners to Afghanistan last year. As far as I can tell, the last time we had an accounting of the foreign prisoners held at Bagram was in February, when the number sat at 49, although Adam Goldman noted that the US was busy trying to reduce that number.
There was a report of two Yemenis being transferred out of the facility back in August and Russian prisoner Irek Ilgiz Hamidullin was brought to the US for trial in November, but even as recently as earlier this week, when Latif Mehsud and two of his guards were repatriated to Pakistan, Dawn still reported that conventional wisdom put the number of foreign prisoners held at Bagram in the dozens. The Dawn report relayed a statement from the US embassy that the population was being reduced:
The US Embassy in Kabul said the three prisoners had been held at a detention centre near Bagram airfield.
The facility is believed to house several dozen foreign prisoners who the United States will no longer be allowed to keep in Afghanistan when the mission for the US-led force there ends later this month.
“We’re actually just going through and returning all the third-country nationals detained in Afghanistan to resolve that issue,” a US embassy spokeswoman said.
Note especially that the spokeswoman said “all the third-country nationals”. That stands out because Hamidullin was not the only prisoner held at Bagram who was expected to be brought to trial. Goldman’s report in February said that the “number of people being looked at for prosecution is in the single digits”. Are more of these prisoners already being held in the US in preparation for the filing of charges? Are they held elsewhere? Or were they repatriated instead?
But there were also some prisoners who can’t be tried but are still deemed “too dangerous to release”:
And bringing some of them to the United States for trial in a military commission, an option being considered by the Obama administration, could run into political opposition or may be stymied by a lack of court-ready evidence.
What happened to the prisoners whom the US deemed too dangerous to release but who lacked “court-ready evidence”?
The US prison at Bagram and Defense Department operated prisons throughout both Afghanistan and Iraq have a long, checkered history of lies and misdirection about facilities and their population. Further, this facility at Bagram has been used to house prisoners who were tortured. It seems likely that most of the 49 foreign prisoners known to be there in February have been repatriated without public announcements, but what about those who had been slated for indefinite detention? We now have a number of prisoners who were deemed dangerous and have disappeared in the last several months. Will their status ever be clarified? Will we be forced to concoct more crazy theories on where they went?
Update: It should be noted that both of the stories linked at the beginning of this post state that the last two prisoners transferred out of the US facility at Bagram were handed over to Afghan authorities. This represents a huge change in policy for Afghanistan. Under Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan was adamant that no foreign prisoners would be held in Afghan jails. With this move, it is clear that Ashraf Ghani has changed the policy. So perhaps Afghan prisons are where we will find all of the prisoners the US had slated for indefinite detention without charges?