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Tag: afghan war

Mainstream Media Ignored Afghan War For Years

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

When the Taliban reclaimed Afghanistan last month, their victory was the culmination of two decades of failures by U.S. political, military, and diplomatic elites across four presidencies.

It also starkly revealed the failures of the U.S. press, whose relatively minimal coverage of the country in recent years had allowed those responsible for faltering U.S. policy to escape accountability. Conveniently for those leaders and pundits, the recent spike in context-free negative coverage of the Taliban takeover has now helped make President Joe Biden the scapegoat for ordering the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Afghanistan was only treated as a major news story when U.S. forces invaded in 2001, when they evacuated last month, and to some extent during the Obama-era surge in troop levels. Over the last decade, even as events transpired that led inexorably to U.S. defeat -- the deaths of tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and civilians to an ongoing civil war and terrorist strikes, the loss of the Afghan government's credibility amid a host of corruption scandals, a revived Taliban undeterred by U.S. airstrikes or the U.S.-trained Afghan military -- news coverage remained largely muted. As one Afghanistan specialist put it, "This is the least reported war since at least WWI."

To be clear, we know as much as we do about these events thanks to the essential coverage provided by American journalists and their Afghan colleagues. But their work was generally ignored by broadcast and cable news channels and rarely made the newspaper front pages. Without sustained media focus, it was relatively easy for the bipartisan foreign policy community to continue on its flawed course. Only in the frantic final days of the U.S. presence in the country -- when it was too late to change the outcome but just in time to assign blame -- did Afghanistan become a singular focus for major news outlets.

The New York Times, for example, ran 55 front-page stories about Afghanistan in August, according to a Media Matters review of the Nexis database. That figure is higher than in any single month other than October 2001 -- when the U.S. invaded the country -- and higher than in any full year since 2015. The Times averaged roughly three front-page stories about Afghanistan a month over the four years of the Trump administration; it has averaged nearly three such stories a day since August 16.

graph of ny times afghanistan coverage

The same pattern played out on TV. Afghanistan coverage on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News in August 2021 exceeded that of any full year since during the surge in 2010, according to the Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer. In fact, CNN and MSNBC spent more time covering Afghanistan last month than they did from 2017 to 2020 combined.

Here's what the coverage looks like by month:

graph stanford cable news afghanistan coverage

Coverage on the broadcast nightly news shows had also been sparse, according to data that researcher Andrew Tyndall provided to Responsible Statecraft:

broadcast nightly afghanistan coverage

The Taliban's swift seizure of territory culminating with the capture of Kabul as the government evaporated and the military dissolved; the U.S. evacuation of more than 120,000 Americans and Afghan allies; and the terrorist attack that killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans are all major stories that dominated last month's news coverage.

But when major stories happened in Afghanistan in previous years, they did not break through to nearly the same extent.

economist afghanistan chart

While U.S. combat fatalities waned in recent years, American service members continued to die in Afghanistan, and the ongoing civil war between the country's government and the Taliban remained deadly for Afghan forces and civilians alike. The discrepancy between those casualty figures may have made the war seem less pressing to Americans, but it is crucial to understand the context in which the Taliban swept across the country.

At the same time, Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government remained breathtakingly corrupt, destroying its legitimacy with the local public. Its U.S.-trained security forces engaged in rampant sexual abuse of children. Its capital was rocked by deadly terrorist attacks. Despite all this, the U.S. financial support for the regime kept flowing, at an estimated total cost of more than $2 trillion. The Trump administration dramatically expanded airstrikes, resulting in a surge of civilian casualties.

These failures have been documented both inside the government and outside it. The office of John Sopko, the Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), investigated and documented a wide array of U.S. strategic errors and failed policies over the years. Most recently, Sopko concluded that "the U.S. government struggled to develop a coherent strategy, understand how long the reconstruction mission would take, ensure its projects were sustainable, staff the mission with trained professionals, account for the challenges posed by insecurity, tailor efforts to the Afghan context, and understand the impact of programs."

U.S. officials knew the Afghan effort was going poorly, even as they bragged of their successes to the American public. And it's true that some outlets tried to puncture that facade. The Washington Post reported in December 2018 on the Afghanistan Papers, documents generated as part of SIGAR's investigations which revealed "explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public." Sopko told the Post that the documents show "the American people have constantly been lied to."

That's a dramatic statement that should have triggered a rethinking of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. But as with so much of the great Afghanistan journalism of the era, the story did not significantly break through on TV news and become part of the broader media understanding of the war.

As the Taliban swept to power in the face of the U.S. withdrawal and Afghanistan became the central story for the press to an extent not seen since the 2001 invasion, another weakness came back into focus.

Americans needed crucial context about the failure of the U.S. mission given the relatively minimal reporting on Afghanistan in recent years. But as coverage of the country dramatically ramped up over the last month, outlets instead frequently prioritized the views of Washington-based journalists and pundits who presided over the quagmire in the first place.

Over the last month, news outlets all too often turned to the very people responsible for U.S. policy toward Afghanistan. These architects of failure were regular guests on TV, prioritized for quotes in print articles, and had their views splashed across the op-ed pages of major newspapers. By presenting the end of the war through the same perspectives which guided their coverage for two decades, news outlets took them off the hook for the calamities they helped bring about -- and allowed them to pass the blame to Biden.

The press is in a dangerous position when its interests align with the people it covers. And in this case, it shares with generations of U.S. politicians, diplomats, and military leaders a desire to escape nagging questions of its conduct over the longest war in U.S. history.

Methodology

Media Matters searched articles in the Nexis database for The New York Times for any variation of the term "Afghanistan" in the headline or lead paragraph of any article in the paper's A section on page 1 from January 1, 2001, through August 31, 2021.

Research contributions from Rob Savillo

Risky War Business

From the Islamic State to the streets of Paris, Americans get bombarded daily with fresh reminders of conflicts around the world.

What’s harder to figure out is what to do about it. What would actually make us safer?

Some politicians urge kneejerk reactions. Spend more on the Pentagon, they say. But one thing’s clear after years of over-relying on military force: It can actually make us less secure.

You don’t have to take my word for it.

When journalist Bob Schieffer asked recently if he had regrets about invading Iraq, former president George W. Bush lamented that “a violent group of people have risen — risen up again.”

Bush can find one of the culprits for this sad development by looking in the mirror. Without that invasion and the sectarian chaos it unleashed, there would be no Islamic State (ISIS). What will it take for the U.S. government to grasp that short-term military solutions create long-term crises?

Sadly, our leaders remain hooked on military “solutions,” which too often make the world more dangerous.

In fact, President Barack Obama’s 2016 funding request for the Pentagon’s base budget is the biggest in U.S. history. Total military expenditures, including nuclear weapons and war spending, gobble up well over half of the nation’s discretionary budget — even as we continue to draw down troops from Afghanistan.

Much of that budget growth funds weapons systems unsuited to today’s battlefields. Washington’s spending billions to pad the pockets of Pentagon industry insiders who reap record profits while doing little to enhance national security.

The American people must demand a new definition of security — both at home and abroad — that means more than new and bigger guns.

In the Middle East, that means diplomatically engaging countries directly threatened by the Islamic State. It also means taking common-sense steps — like providing economic and humanitarian assistance — to address the “ISIS crisis” in a way that creates friends, not enemies.

“What matters more to American security?” Senator Chris Murphy asked when funding for food assistance for Syrian refugees was running out. “One day of missiles being fired at ISIS inside Syria? Or being able to feed hundreds of thousands of hungry refugees, who, if they don’t get a square meal…are going to turn to ISIS?”

Sadly, our leaders are better at finding money for weapons than for food. With budget priorities like that, we’ve got problems back home, too.

Public investment in America’s future — on roads, schools, and scientific research — is at historic lows. And the government has slashed spending on a wide range of vital programs that provide security and opportunity for American families since 2010.

Last year, domestic discretionary spending fell by some $15 billion, while the Pentagon used its massive slush fund — the Overseas Contingency Operations account — to escape any significant cuts at all.

As Congress ponders the federal budget, it must focus on what will really make our families more secure. Reining in wasteful Pentagon spending is one great way to get started.

But cutting the security of Americans at home — including our education, health care, retirement, and child care — hits us where we live.

Richard Kirsch is a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and the author of Fighting for Our Health: The Epic Battle to Make Health Care a Right in the United States. He’s also a senior advisor to USAction. USAction.org

Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Photo: A soldier assigned to the International Security Assistance Force patrols the streets of Mazar-e Sharif. (Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Chandler, via Wikimedia Commons)

‘The Dogs Are Eating Them Now’ An Unflinching Account Of Afghanistan

By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

If the trend holds, there soon will be a shelf of books explaining why the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan was a misadventure or worse.

Into that crowded field comes Graeme Smith’s The Dogs are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan. But even among tomes of pessimism and clear-eyed hindsight, Smith’s book seems destined to be a standout: a compelling, self-revealing account of a reporter coming to grips with a big story and his own feelings of shock and disappointment.

Smith, a Canadian, is an anomaly among war reporters. His primary focus is neither the Western troops in the field nor the politicians in Kabul and Washington. Between 2005 and 2011, he did 17 stints in Kandahar in the southern region, long a Taliban stronghold. His goal was to get to know the region and its people, from poppy farmers to assorted crooks and killers.

How many other reporters, on a trip home, go shopping to buy a present for a warlord?

“I wandered for hours, wondering what I could give a guy who already has his own personal army.” Answer: a wristwatch.

Smith arrived in Kandahar full of optimism and a sense of the “nobility” of the mission to oust the Taliban. He admits that at first being in a war zone provided a kind of coyote-howling fun.

“This was a place where a guy could … belch when he wanted, and in some ways behave more naturally than is usually allowed,” he writes. “My mouth tasted awful, and my combat pants grew crusted with rings of salt from days of accumulated sweat, but it felt like an adventure.”

In the beginning he followed Canadian troops for his newspaper, the Globe and Mail. On repeated trips back to Kandahar he began to explore, among other things, the condition of prisoners in Afghan jails where brutality was common and Western officers — often Canadian — looked away and pretended not to know what was happening.

“Over and over, in separate conversations, the men [former prisoners] described how the international troops tied their hands with plastic straps, covered their eyes and handed them over to [Afghan] torturers. They described beatings, whippings, starvation, choking and electrocution.”

Smith wrote about torture for his newspaper, careful to report only those cases that could be documented: “One prisoner, for instance, said he was shoved into a wooden box and tormented with boiling water; I didn’t publish that anecdote in the newspaper because I couldn’t cross reference it.”

Western officials were insisting that the mission of bringing stability to Kandahar was succeeding. Smith found the opposite: Taliban assassination squads “behaved with terrible efficiency and usually without attracting much notice. We never heard of any arrests.”

Smith’s tone is unflinching; a reporter who has spent considerable time and effort on the story, he has the on-the-ground facts and sees no need to lard it up with advocacy or suppositions. He spent time with Afghan provincial officials, finding some honest, some not, and quite a few somewhere in the middle.

“Dogs” is not primarily a look at military tactics, but it touches on what, in hindsight, may loom large in any explanation of why the mission to win the support of Afghan civilians failed: tension between U.S. forces and their NATO allies.

Tension between coalition partners is not new — even in World War II there was Patton versus Montgomery, Eisenhower versus De Gaulle, etc. But Smith suggests that in fighting an insurgency, different methods used by coalition troops worked at cross-purposes, with some troops kicking in doors at night, others taking tea with tribal leaders during the day.

“All too often, the Europeans viewed the Americans as trigger-happy cowboys, while the U.S. soldiers saw their counterparts as weak and useless,” he notes. “Being hated by the Americans somehow made me loved by the British. The world’s greatest military alliance was clearly dysfunctional.”

Although Smith treads lightly on providing strategy advice, he also avoids the tendency to tally up heroes, villains and victims and call it a day. He currently lives in Kabul, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank. He has at least limited confidence that the Afghan security forces, bolstered by “a healthy budget from foreign donors,” may succeed in keeping the Taliban at bay:

“Perhaps the war will be finished for many U.S. troops,” he writes, “but the fight is far from settled. Afghanistan was an unsuccessful laboratory for ideas about how to fix a ruined country.”

What Lies Ahead For The U.S. In Afghanistan, Iraq

By David S. Cloud, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — At the end of President Barack Obama’s sixth year in office, the commander in chief who once vowed to end America’s longest period of war still maintains thousands of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq — conflicts that refuse to conform to neat White House timetables.

The end of this year marks an end to the official combat role for the U.S. in Afghanistan. As 2015 dawns, U.S. troops transition to a training and support role, even as the Taliban is increasing its attacks. And in Iraq, more U.S. troops will be on the way to a war that was supposed to be over, at least as far as the U.S. goes.

Obama long ago recognized, at least privately, that in seeking to extricate American troops from wars abroad, he was not ending those conflicts, only America’s involvement in them. But even that goal has proved stubbornly elusive.

Here’s a primer on what lies ahead in 2015 for the Pentagon in both places:

Question: Hasn’t Obama succeeded in shrinking the U.S. military presence?

Answer: Yes. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has carried out a major withdrawal over the last two years, shrinking its troop presence from about 100,000 at the height of the war to 10,800 today. That’s the level authorized by the White House through early next spring, when it is due to drop again, to 9,800. All U.S. troops are due to leave by the end of 2016, except a small contingent attached to the U.S. Embassy.

But Iraq has shown how hard it is to follow such timetables. The U.S. pulled all its troops out in December 2011. But last August, Obama announced plans to send about 1,500 troops back when Islamic State militants swept in from Syria and took control of large parts of the country. Obama recently decided to roughly double the U.S. troop level to 3,100. Thousands more are supporting the effort from bases in the region.

Q. What are the troops doing?

A. A mix of missions. In Afghanistan, they work with military advisers from other countries to help train Afghan security forces, especially the nation’s still primitive air force. The goal is to professionalize a force that has shown a capability to fight but remains far from capable of sustaining itself over the long term. Most U.S. troops work at large bases in the country’s east and south, not at combat outposts.

Despite White House insistence that the U.S. combat role is over, the troops could be forced to help defend the bases from insurgent attacks. About 4,000 special operations troops will continue to carry out raids against the remnants of al-Qaida and their supporters. And U.S. forces will have authority to assist the Afghan military with airstrikes, supplies and even ground forces if it is in danger of a major defeat by insurgents.

Q. What about in Iraq?

A. The White House has put strict limits on the U.S. role there. No troops are supposed to be in ground combat. Special operations troops are advising Iraqi and Kurdish commanders from joint operations centers, where they coordinate airstrikes against Islamic State positions and convoys. U.S. officers are finalizing plans to begin retraining Iraqi ground forces, many of which collapsed last summer when the militants attacked, or are hindered by sectarian officers, poor equipment and large numbers of so-called ghost soldiers, who are on the payroll but don’t show up. U.S. troops also coordinate delivery of U.S.-supplied weapons and equipment.

Q. So the U.S. wants to shift to a support mission and prevent U.S. casualties?

A. Mostly, yes. But carrying out such a shift isn’t likely to go smoothly. Already in Afghanistan, as U.S. troops have withdrawn, Taliban insurgents have stepped up attacks, even in Kabul, the capital. Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, is worried about the ability of his troops to withstand the insurgents next year and is already lobbying U.S. officials to consider slowing down the timetable for withdrawing remaining U.S. forces.

In Iraq, the timetable is more open-ended. U.S. officials warn that American troops may be needed for three years or more to help Iraq regain control of its territory and to keep pressure on Islamic State forces in neighboring Syria.

Q. How does the Pentagon feel about the White House strategy?

A. Many in uniform are glad to see the costly wars come to an end. On the other hand, some privately complain that Obama’s goal of disengaging militarily, and his fondness for withdrawal deadlines, sacrificed many of the gains they fought for in Iraq and risks doing the same in Afghanistan. Having seen Iraq fall back into chaos after U.S troops left, they hope Obama will prove more flexible about keeping forces in Afghanistan if security there remains precarious.

Q. What are the stakes for Obama?

A. Politically, the White House is hoping that by shrinking the military’s mission and presence overseas, the public will give him credit for getting close enough to his goal of ending the wars without disengaging from the national security threats emanating from the region.

But there is another scenario: If the Afghan Taliban shows continuing resurgence, Obama may face growing pressure from his commanders, Afghan officials and Republicans in control of Congress to expand the mission there. The same dynamic could arise in Iraq and Syria, where signs already suggest the U.S.-led airstrikes are reaching the limits of their ability to inflict damage on Islamic State militants.

Before he leaves office in 2017, Obama may face a decision about whether he wants to be remembered as the president who brought the troops home or the one who left too quickly.

AFP Photo/Noorullah Shirzada

Obama Hails Troops’ Sacrifice As Afghan Milestone Nears

By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

HONOLULU — President Barack Obama vowed Thursday that Afghanistan would not “be a source of terrorist attacks again,” crediting America’s military for helping make the nation more secure as the U.S. prepares to end its combat mission there.

On a Christmas Day visit with service members at a Hawaii military base, the president thanked troops for their sacrifices during more than a decade of “continuous war.”

“We still have some very difficult missions around the world,” Obama said, noting the role U.S. forces will continue to play in Iraq and Afghanistan in assisting local security forces, as well as helping to deal with the Ebola outbreak in Africa. “But the world is better, it’s safer, it’s more peaceful, it’s more prosperous and our homeland is protected because of you and the sacrifices (you make) each and every day.

“So on a day when we celebrate the Prince of Peace and many of us count our blessings, one of the greatest blessings we have is the extraordinary dedication and sacrifices you all make. We could not be more thankful. I know I speak for everyone in the entire country when I say, we salute you.”

The president’s Christmas afternoon trip to Marine Corps Base Hawaii is an annual ritual, but had added significance this year with the coming milestone in the U.S. fight against terrorism. After year’s end, the up to 10,800 troops that could remain in Afghanistan will transition from a combat role to a training and assistance role.

The base is on the Mokapu Peninsula on the eastern end of the island of Oahu, a five-minute drive from the Obamas’ vacation rental in nearby Kailua.

Before Christmas Eve dinner on Wednesday, Obama also phoned deployed service members from each branch of the military to thank them for their service. And Vice President Joe Biden, who had been spending the holiday week at home in Delaware, visited patients at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on Christmas Day.

The first family began their day by opening presents and singing Christmas carols at their vacation residence, according to the White House. Later, they spent more than two hours on the beach at nearby Bellows Air Force Station.

The Obamas arrived in Hawaii late last Friday for their annual year-end visit to the president’s birth state. He’s due to depart for Washington on Jan. 4, just in time for the start of the new congressional session.

AFP Photo/Noorullah Shirzada

U.S. Shuts Down Last Detention Center In Afghanistan

By Brian Bennett, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military shut its last detention center in Afghanistan on Wednesday, a day after a Senate Intelligence Committee report highlighted torture of terrorism suspects at former CIA-run prisons in the country.

The U.S. military shuttered its prison at Bagram air base north of Kabul after handing over two Tunisian prisoners to Afghan authorities, and after releasing a Jordanian prisoner, who will be sent home or resettled with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Pentagon officials said.

Under a bilateral security agreement that takes effect Jan. 1, the government of Afghanistan will be responsible for all detention facilities in the country. The Bagram facility thus closed three weeks earlier than it might have.

The Tunisians, Ridha Ahmad Najjar, (also known as Redha al-Najar) and Lutfi al-Arabi al-Gharisi, will be imprisoned by Afghan authorities. The Jordanian, Taheer Halaf, is not considered a security threat and was set free in Afghanistan, officials said.

In a statement, Mark Wright, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the last three prisoners in U.S. custody were transferred “after careful review” by the Defense and State Departments.

“Effective Dec. 10, 2014, the Defense Department no longer operates detention facilities in Afghanistan or maintains custody of any detainees,” he said.

AFP Photo/Wakil Kohsar

U.S. Military Role In Afghanistan Still Has Limits, Officials Say

By David S. Cloud and Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s decision to authorize a wider U.S. military role in Afghanistan next year was a pragmatic one, a recognition that as much as he would like it to be so, the fighting in Afghanistan is not over.

The administration quietly approved guidelines, revealed over the weekend, that could broaden the military role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan next year beyond what had been expected.

But how much fighting the 9,800 U.S. troops will see depends on hard-to-predict factors, such as the continuing strength of the 13-year-old insurgency and the effectiveness of Afghanistan’s own security forces, said several U.S. officials, who agreed to discuss the decision in return for anonymity.

A stark reminder of those challenges came Sunday when a suicide bomber killed 45 people in eastern Afghanistan, the deadliest attack since a new government took power this year.

The administration’s new approach will also depend on how short a leash Obama keeps the Pentagon on during his final two years in office.

Senior officials familiar with the president’s decision, which was made in recent weeks, say that in approving continued U.S. ground operations and airstrikes in Afghanistan after the end of this year, Obama was clear that he was not granting permission for large-scale combat operations.

“These authorities ensure we can protect our forces and our coalition partners, support the (Afghan security forces) in emergencies and continue the fight against al-Qaida,” a senior military official said. “This is not a license for offensive combat operations against the Taliban just because we still have U.S. capabilities in the country.”

It is, however, a clear indication that the U.S. role in Afghanistan after the end of the year will not be limited to training Afghan forces and conducting occasional small raids against the remnants of al-Qaida, which is how White House officials had been portraying the post-2014 mission.

American forces will be able to carry out missions against Taliban insurgents and other militant groups that pose a threat to U.S. troops or allies, despite Obama’s vow earlier this year that the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan was coming to an end.

There will also be U.S. drones, bombers and fighter aircraft stationed in Afghanistan or on aircraft carriers to provide airstrikes in case U.S. troops are threatened or Afghan forces find themselves in danger of being overrun by insurgents, the officials say.

“Safety of our personnel is the president’s first priority and our armed forces will continue to engage in operations in self-defense and in support of Afghan security forces,” a senior administration official said.

Obama has learned how hard it can be to extricate the U.S. completely from combat. American forces have been drawn back into the Iraqi conflict, though not yet in a ground combat role, even after Obama’s 2011 declaration that American involvement in Iraq was over.

In Afghanistan, U.S. officials insist that American involvement in combat is likely to be rare, but they acknowledge that there could be periods during the so-called fighting season from spring to fall when it may be necessary to carry out targeted attacks against insurgents.

“While we will no longer target belligerents solely because they are members of the Taliban, to the extent that Taliban members directly threaten the United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan or provide direct support to al-Qaida, we will take appropriate measures to keep Americans safe,” the administration official said.

How that guideline is implemented will depend in large part on whether security in Afghanistan continues to worsen.

On Sunday, a suicide bomber blew himself up amid a crowd at a volleyball tournament in Paktika province, killing 45 people and injuring dozens more, officials said.

Mokhles Afghan, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the bomber detonated a vest packed with explosives.

“There are children and teenagers among the dead,” said Najib Danesh, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. An unknown number of police officers were killed, but the vast majority of the casualties were civilians, Danesh said.

Taliban attacks intensified this summer and fall as the U.S. and its allies closed hundreds of bases and turned over responsibility for most combat operations to the Afghan army, which suffered its worst casualties in years.

Afghan troops held up well in many places, but they also lost ground in areas where U.S. troops had once provided a bulwark against the insurgents.

The officials who agreed to speak about the White House decision, first disclosed by The New York Times, refused to specify the limits that Obama placed on military operations, saying that to do so would give insurgents valuable information.

Obama announced in May that U.S. troop levels would be cut to 9,800 by the end of the year, by half again in 2015 and drop to only token levels by the end of 2016.

A small force of 1,800 to 2,000 special operations troops would have permission to carry out raids against the remnants of al-Qaida and their supporters, White House officials said at the time.

Army Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and other Pentagon officials have been pressing the White House for months for a decision on the types of operations they will be able to undertake after the end of the year.

“The military got what we needed,” the senior military officer said.
___
Special correspondent Hafiz Ahmadi in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Times staff writer Shashank Bengali in Madikeri, India, contributed to this report.

AFP Photo/Wakil Kohsar

Afghanistan And U.S. Sign Long-Delayed Troop Pact

Kabul (AFP) – Afghanistan and the United States on Tuesday signed a deal to allow about 10,000 U.S. troops to stay in the country next year, as new President Ashraf Ghani took a major step towards mending frayed ties with Washington.

Hamid Karzai, who stepped down as president on Monday, had refused to sign the deal — a disagreement that symbolized the breakdown of Afghan-U.S. relations after the optimism of 2001 when the Taliban were ousted from power.

Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar and U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham inked the bilateral security agreement (BSA) at a ceremony in the presidential palace in Kabul as Ghani looked on.

“We have signed an agreement which is for the good of our people, the stability of the region and the world,” Ghani said, adding it would allow continued U.S. funding for the 350,000-strong Afghan security forces.

“Threats exist to our joint interests, and this gives us a common goal,” Ghani said after fulfilling his campaign vow to have the deal signed on his first full day in office.

Many long-term international aid pledges were dependent on the BSA being signed to strengthen security.

Taliban insurgents still pose a major risk despite years of effort by NATO’s US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

NATO combat operations will finish at the end of this year, and the Taliban have launched a series of recent offensives that have severely tested Afghan soldiers and police.

NATO’s follow-up mission, which will take over on January 1, will be made up of 9,800 U.S. troops and about 3,000 soldiers from Germany, Italy and other member nations.

The new mission — named Resolute Support — will focus on training and assisting Afghan forces as they take on the Taliban, in parallel with U.S. counter-terrorism operations.

“Afghan security forces have demonstrated their resolve and capability,” U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham said.

“This agreement will enable the United States to help (them) to build on this progress after the ISAF mission comes to a close.”

Cunningham said the deal would also open the way for further support in health, education and women’s issues in Afghanistan, which faces a growing economic crisis.

Negotiations over the pact saw Karzai, who came to power in 2001, at his most unpredictable as he added new demands and shifted positions, infuriating the U.S.

He eventually refused to sign the agreement last year despite a “loya jirga” grand assembly which he had convened voting for him to do so. There was also widespread public support for U.S. troops to stay.

On the election campaign trail, both Ghani and his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah vowed to reverse Karzai’s decision.

Without a deal, Washington had threatened to pull all U.S. forces out by the end of the year, but it chose to wait through a long election deadlock until Afghanistan finally got a new president on Monday.

After month of disputes over fraud, Ghani agreed to a power-sharing deal with Abdullah, who has taken up the new role of chief executive.

NATO support next year is seen as essential for national stability — though the limited size of the mission and the fact that it will be scaled back during 2015 will restrict its capabilities.

U.S. President Barack Obama has previously announced that the U.S. force will be halved by the end of next year, before being reduced to a normal embassy protection presence by the end of 2016.

The failure to sign a similar deal with Iraq in 2011 led to a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, which is now engulfed in Islamist violence.

The Taliban described the signing of the BSA as “embarrassing and regrettable”.

“We tell America and its slaves that we will continue our holy jihad until our country is liberated from the claws of savage Americans,” the group said in a emailed statement.

The security threat in Kabul was underlined on Monday by a suicide attack outside the airport’s main entrance that killed four members of the Afghan security forces and three civilians.

The inauguration marked the country’s first democratic transfer of power, although the UN said the election was beset by “significant fraud”.

AFP Photo/Wakil Kohsar