Hamid Karzai

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Transcribing James Clapper

Hamid Karzai refused to meet with Obama during a surprise visit just after MYSTIC disclosures, so Obama called from Air Force One instead.

Hamid Karzai refused to meet with Obama during a surprise visit just after MYSTIC disclosures, so Obama called from Air Force One instead.

Yesterday, during the Q&A to his speech at INSA (which is where defense and intelligence contractors huddle with government paymasters), James Clapper conceded that Edward Snowden brought needed transparency but had also damaged operations. Rather than obliquely pointing to the exposure that Skype was no longer safe from surveillance, as he and his ilk normally do, Clapper pointed to what he claimed was a concrete example: what journalists have reported as revelations about full take cell phone content (SOMALGET or MYSTIC) leading to loss of access in Afghanistan.

After Clapper made the claim, a lot of reporters did what reporters do: they transcribed his comments uncritically. Lots of journalists did this, but here’s WaPo’s version from Ellen Nakashima:

One of the disclosures based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, prompted the shutdown of a key intelligence program in Afghanistan, the nation’s top spy said Wednesday.

“It was the single most important source of force protection and warning for our people in Afghanistan,” Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said at an intelligence conference.

He was addressing a question about the impact of revelations by Snowden, whose leaks led to a global debate about the proper scope of U.S. surveillance at home and abroad.

Nakashima and other reporters assumed Clapper meant the MYSTIC/SOMALGET program, which Nakashima noted the WaPo first described (on March 18, 2014), followed by The Intercept two months later (on May 19, 2014), followed by WikiLeaks revealing Afghanistan as the target country several days later (on May 23, 2014). [Update: Note Cryptome correctly determined Afghanistan was the country on May 19, the day the Intercept published.]

Having laid all that out, however, Nakashima doesn’t quote the part of Clapper’s answer that would either discredit his description or reveal it’s something else. Here’s Ars Technica’s transcription of that part of it.

And programs that had a real impact on the security of American forces overseas, including one program in Afghanistan, “which he exposed and Glenn Greenwald wrote about, and the day after he wrote about it, the program was shut down by the government of Afghanistan,” Clapper noted.

If it’s the MYSTIC/SOMALGET program Clapper was really talking about, then his claim is self-refuting. Because either folks in Afghanistan recognized the program themselves back when WaPo wrote about it in March 2014, or probably didn’t until WikiLeaks confirmed they were the target. It wouldn’t have been Greenwald’s story, in which he withheld the information the government requested in any case.

For the moment, I’m going to assume that was the program, but let’s remember it might not be.

If so, consider what Clapper has done. As I mentioned, normally when people want to beat up Snowden, they point to his disclosure NSA had compromised Skype. But they never confirm that — they just mention it obliquely. Here, Clapper has confirmed the thing (actually just one of the things) that NSA had asked Greenwald to withhold. Given how vague WikiLeaks was about how they knew (after all, they’re not known to have the Snowden documents themselves), if this is MYSTIC/SOMALGET it seems that Clapper has definitively confirmed something that was at least of unknown provenance before.

Although, for reasons of source protection we cannot disclose how, WikiLeaks has confirmed that the identity of victim state is Afghanistan.

In other words, Clapper has confirmed something that hadn’t been confirmed before, precisely because the journalists involved had deferred to the government’s request not to publish it.

Or did he?

Clapper claimed “the program was shut down by the government of Afghanistan.”

Admittedly, the MYSTIC/SOMALGET disclosures came at an awkward time for US-Afghan relations. Hamid Karzai had been pushing back against night raids, prisoner transfers, and CIA militias. In part because the US wouldn’t cede Afghan sovereignty on such issues, Karzai was refusing to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (raising the same kind of SOFA negotiation problems that forced us to withdraw troops from Iraq). Throughout this two month period, the election and run-off were going on.

So the disclosure that the US had compromised Afghanistan’s entire cell phone system — and implicitly, had copies of every cell call that Karzai and his potential replacements might make — would surely anger the Afghans, especially Karzai. Notably, two days after the WikiLeaks disclosure, Karzai refused to meet when President Obama made a surprise visit to the country on May 25, so (as shown by the White House image above) Obama called him from Air Force One instead.

But if that’s the case — if Afghanistan forced the US to shut down the full-take collection of cell phone content even as Obama was making surprise last minute visits (which may even have been an attempt to convince Karzai to reverse that decision) — then the fault lies not just, or even primarily, with Snowden. It lies with a long history of US refusal to cede to Afghanistan’s demands for some kind of functional sovereignty. This telecom disclosure may have been one more in a series of aggravations, but it was by no means the only one. Moreover, given that President Ghani’s relationship with the US is, thus far at least, far better than Karzai’s was at the time, it’s quite possible he has permitted the US to resume full-take collection.

James Clapper would be a lot more likely to confirm that Afghanistan had shut down NSA’s full-take collection if it had been resumed again under Karzai’s successor. Not least, because it would provide adversaries with false confidence the NSA didn’t have full take coverage.

Now consider this description of the Bahamian fallout from the equivalent disclosure. It shows that two parties were involved — the country’s telecom as well as the government. Indeed, all stories on this make it clear telecom providers are centrally involved in the collection program.

Moreover, the Intercept version of the story makes it quite clear they withheld not just the target country, but also the provider at the center of it.

The NSA documents don’t specify who is providing access in the Bahamas. But they do describe SOMALGET as an “umbrella term” for systems provided by a private firm, which is described elsewhere in the documents as a “MYSTIC access provider.” (The documents don’t name the firm, but rather refer to a cover name that The Intercept has agreed not to publish in response to a specific, credible concern that doing so could lead to violence.) Communications experts consulted by The Intercept say the descriptions in the documents suggest a company able to install lawful intercept equipment on phone networks.

And they withheld it for the same reason, because revealing it would lead to violence. That provider name has not been made public (though for a variety of reasons I think that’s the key secret here). Shutting down the system would have to involve, at a minimum, the Afghan government, this provider, plus Afghanistan’s multiple cell providers.

There are more reasons to believe Clapper’s story is bullshit. From the 2005 STELLAR WIND disclosures, which revealed the US was collecting all US-Afghanistan calls, to reports as early as 2008 that the Taliban were targeting cell providers because they recognized the security risk the networks posed, there is zero chance our adversaries in Afghanistan were unaware that the US had close to full dominance over the communications lines. There were also earlier Snowden disclosures — including Tempora, XKeyscore, and what sounded like transcripts obtained using a Stingray from a Afghan raid — that would have confirmed that view. The US is collecting close to everything from most countries where it remains at war, via a variety of overlapping means. There’s little about this disclosure in particular that added to the risk — but then, our adversaries had long been learning of our tactics and adjusting accordingly.

There is, then, the possibility it was one of these other disclosures Clapper was whining about — such as the potential Stingray one.

But if Clapper was talking about SOMALGET, and if it is true that the full-take collection got shut down, it means he and the government are blaming Snowden for long-term mismanagement of the Afghan relationship. It also may well mean that Ghani has let the US resume collection and Clapper’s public “confirmation” was designed — in addition to launching some unwarranted shots at Edward Snowden — to create the false impression the collection remains inactive.

James Clapper is a confirmed liar. Even setting aside his lies to Congress, it is his job to lie to adversaries. While that doesn’t mean journalists shouldn’t report what he says, there’s a great deal of context that should accompany such transcriptions.

Military Just Can’t Kick Its Afghanistan Habit, Picks Up Pace of Night Raids

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.

Ghani Institutes Night Raids While Facing Treason Accusations Over Absence of Cabinet

Despite the rampant corruption of his administration and his many other faults, Hamid Karzai was a consistent critic of US-led night raids that led to many senseless civilian deaths, disappearances and torture. Those raids, and the US death squads that carried them out, were right at the top of the list of reasons Karzai refused to sign the BSA authorizing the continued presence of US troops in Afghanistan beyond the beginning of this year. Now that Ashraf Ghani has signed the BSA, the US has retained its right to “counterterrorism operations”, meaning that US-led night raids are still authorized despite Barack Obama’s declaration that combat operations have ended (while relying on a semantic sleight of hand in omitting that counterterrorism operations continue).

Ashraf Ghani seems to feel that US-led night raids are not enough, and so he called a meeting of Afhganistan’s National Security Council to authorize more night raids carried out by Afghan forces. Learning from Obama, Ghani has termed these raids “special military operations” rather than the unpopular night raids, but Khaama Press clearly knows that this is about night raids. Here is a partial screen capture of their article on the move, where we see that the chosen illustration for the story is a photo taken at night, showing forces wearing night vision equipment routinely employed in night raids:

Khaama Press article on Ghani's move to institute night raids.

Khaama Press article on Ghani’s move to institute night raids.

Perhaps in a bit of a nod to Karzai’s previous objections to US-led night raids, the article notes:

The Afghan national security forces were instructed to take all necessary measures to respect the Islamic values, the Afghan culture, Afghan constitution and other laws of the country while executing a special military operation.

It’s hard to see how that instruction can be carried out, though, since the ANSF have been trained by US forces whose actions led to those very charges against them by Karzai. Even though Karzai forced the US to sign an “agreement” supposedly reforming US night raids in 2012, Karzai was still complaining about the US violating Afghan homes more than a year and a half later. Ghani is now authorizing these crimes to be committed by Afghan troops as well as US troops.

On a separate front, a number of Afghan Members of Parliament have declared that the failure of the Unity Government led by Ghani to establish a cabinet more than three months after assuming power rises to the level of a charge of treason. Ghani, however, appears to be shrugging off the charge.

With the idea of impeachment already in the air, Ghani’s move to institute night raids by Afghan forces might just provide a stronger basis for moving ahead with charges.

As Obama Embraces Multi-Fronted War, He Fires Chuck Hagel

In recent days, the press has reported that President Obama signed an order (or on second thought, maybe it’s just an unsigned decision that can’t be FOIAed, so don’t start anything, Jason Leopold) basically halting and partly reversing his plans for withdrawal.

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.

Virtually simultaneously with the decision to permit American forces to be more involved with the Afghan government, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has reversed Hamid Karzai’s ban on night raids — and also renamed them “night operations.”

The government of the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, has quietly lifted the ban on night raids by special forces troops that his predecessor had imposed.

Afghan National Army Special Forces units are planning to resume the raids in 2015, and in some cases the raids will include members of American Special Operations units in an advisory role, according to Afghan military officials as well as officials with the American-led military coalition.

That news comes after published accounts of an order by President Obama to allow the American military to continue some limited combat operations in 2015. That order allows for the sort of air support necessary for successful night raids.

Night raids were banned for the most part in 2013 by President Hamid Karzai. Their resumption is likely to be controversial among Afghans, for whom any intrusion into private homes is considered offensive. Mindful of the bad name that night raids have, the American military has renamed them “night operations.”

Night operations …. sort of like the tooth fairy?

And now that Obama has made it clear he will spend his Lame Duck continuing — escalating, even — both forever wars he got elected to end, he has fired forced the resignation of the Secretary of Defense he hired to make peace.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down under pressure, the first cabinet-level casualty of the collapse ofPresident Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and a beleaguered national security team that has struggled to stay ahead of an onslaught of global crises.

The president, who is expected to announce Mr. Hagel’s resignation in a Rose Garden appearance on Monday, made the decision to ask his defense secretary — the sole Republican on his national security team — to step down last Friday after a series of meetings over the past two weeks, senior administration officials said.

The officials described Mr. Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration.

But now “the next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus,” one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He insisted that Mr. Hagel was not fired, saying that he initiated discussions about his future two weeks ago with the president, and that the two men mutually agreed that it was time for him to leave.

But Mr. Hagel’s aides had maintained in recent weeks that he expected to serve the full four years as defense secretary.

Some great reporting from the NYT, getting all three scoops about Obama’s pivot to war.

I’m just hoping someone is reporting out the really important questions: who will be paying for the resumption of the forever war, and how it will be any more successful than the last 13 years?

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.

Afghan Vote Audit Farce Nears Conclusion

Reuters carries a hopeful headline this morning, “Afghan rivals said close to ending feud on how to share power“, where they inform us that the elusive power sharing agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah may finally be reached tonight:

Afghanistan’s rival presidential candidates may reach a deal on how to share power late on Tuesday, according to Afghan and Western officials, potentially ending months of tension over the outcome of a run-off election held in June.

The struggle to find a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who has held power since the Islamist Taliban were ousted in 2001, has destabilized Afghanistan and paralyzed its economy just as most foreign troops withdraw.

There clearly is a push to say that a resolution of the crisis is close. ToloNews claims that a meeting last night between the candidates hosted by Hamid Karzai “went well, and both men were said to have reaffirmed their commitments to resolving their differences and reaching an agreement soon”. However, reading further in the article, we see that fundamental differences remain:

Both teams have confirmed that the candidates have discussed a new plan for the national unity government they agreed to form back in August following meetings with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. According to Abdullah’s camp, the two campaigns have agreed that the Chief Executive will serve as the Chairman of the Council of Ministers.

“An agreement has been made on one of the disputed points regarding whether the Chief Executive will also serve as Chairman of Council of Ministers,” Abdullah spokesman Syed Aqa Fazel Sancharaki said Monday.

Meanwhile, the Ghani campaign has maintained that the elected president will serve as head of government and Chairman of the Council of Ministers. “The presidential order will certify the job descriptions of the Chief Executive and his vices and the elected president will be head of the government and Chairman of Council of Ministers,” Ghani spokesman Faizullah Zaki said on Monday.

To underline just how farcical the entire process of “auditing” the runoff vote ballots became, another ToloNews article this morning is stunning in its open admission of how widespread fraud was in the election. The Independent Election Commission announced that results from 1028 polling places have been rejected in the audit process:

During the announcement, IEC acknowledged the fact that the June 14 run-off elections witnessed massive frauds.

“There was wide-scale fraud by security forces, governors and IEC employees,” a commissioner for the IEC, Azizullah Bakhtyari, admitted. “Clearly, most of the fraud happened in coordination with IEC employees.”

Bakhtyari hopes that the audit process will re-establish people’s trust in the election process.

“The audit helped us recognize the employees responsible for the fraud that took place at the 1,028 polling sites,” he said. “Clearly, we will take action against them for harming the public’s trust in the electoral institution.”

Wow. So security forces, governors and IEC employees all took part in the fraud? Those are the very people who were supposed to assure voters that the process would be fair and impartial. But don’t get the impression that this admission and the tossing of results from 1028 polling stations will change anything. Although that sounds like a lot of votes being tossed, keep in mind that there were around 22,000 polling stations, so this move will have very little impact on the final vote tally.

What is clear is that this final adjusted vote tally will have to be announced soon. What is not clear is whether Abdullah will accept the result that is certain to say that he lost. Just how he and his supporters react to the final announcement will be the most important decision in Afghanistan’s fate over the next few years.

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.


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

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emptywheel Wonder how many of the kids affected by OPM hack also affected by VTech hack? https://t.co/dmiVCLd4bu
emptywheel Love that the pace of "GOP powerless in the face of the FrankenTrump they created" articles keeps picking up.
emptywheel RT @CraigMurrayOrg: New post: 70,000 is the new 45 minutes https://t.co/HRh4kh5SYg
emptywheel @barryeisler No delight. It's just uncanny. @DocHaus
emptywheel I agree w/@EliLake; there's consensus on torture in DC. But it's consensus abt "rectal feeding." https://t.co/2JNWU1T78I I don't defend it.
bmaz Apparently to buy shit at @apple store you have to non securely enter all your secure info. What bullshit.
emptywheel Those reading HRW's great torture report should also review this which makes it clear Jonathan Fredman is CTC Legal. https://t.co/WlcJCcnonl
JimWhiteGNV @CherylRofer And I should point out that @emptywheel tipped me off to the article. I was just making soup...
JimWhiteGNV @CherylRofer Yup. I think maybe his "sources" felt a bit of heat last time around.
emptywheel @Robyn_Greene Ceresney was much better received on Senate side though.
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