Lt. Col. Scheller to remain in the brig until next week without charges

Lt. Col. Scheller to remain in the brig until next week without charges

Outspoken Marine slammed Pentagon's handling of Afghan pullout

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Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, USMC, is seen in this screen capture from his Aug. 27, 2021, Facebook video, wherein he criticized senior military leadership and its handling of the evacuation of Kabul in light of the deadly suicide bombing attack … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Friday, October 1, 2021

Marine Corps Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller will remain in the brig until at least next week following an initial hearing into his insubordination case Thursday at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Lt. Col. Scheller, a combat veteran with 17 years in the Marine Corps, is in pre-trial confinement and facing four possible charges: contempt toward officials; willfully disobeying a superior officer; failure to obey an order, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. The charges stem from several media posts and videos he released in recent weeks openly and sharply criticizing senior military commanders over their handling of the war in Afghanistan.

When given a “gag order” to stop his posts, Lt. Col. Scheller discussed that as well online.

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Marine Corps officials and his defense team both agreed to put the next hearing on hold until next week. The delay will allow the parties to seek a joint resolution of the matter, according to someone familiar with the case who asked to remain anonymous because of a Marine Corps-imposed gag order.

While he has yet to be charged, Marine Corps officials say they consider him a flight risk and believe China may intend to use his comments as propaganda. But he has also become a cause celebre for some who support his criticisms.

In addition to almost 23,000 people who contributed to his legal defense, Lt. Col. Scheller has some powerful backers on Capitol Hill. Almost three dozen lawmakers wrote to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger this week questioning how the case is being handled. Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, called the decision to jail the Marine lieutenant colonel before any charges had been filed “completely unwarranted.”

“It is tragic that such swift action has been taken against Lt. Col. Scheller for his demands for accountability from military leadership due to their disastrous and deadly handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Mr. Gohmert said in a statement.

By Friday, supporters raised almost $2 million for his defense. He was three years away from securing a 20-year retirement pension when he released his first video soon after the August 26 suicide bombing at Kabul’s international airport during the rushed U.S. military withdrawal, an attack that killed 13 American military personnel and over 160 Afghan civilians.

Lt. Col. Scheller said he was willing to continue serving his time in the brig if it will give “peace of mind” to Marine Corps officials while allowing negotiations for an “honorable departure” to continue. He told supporters that the staff at the Marine Brig on Camp Lejeune are treating him well, a source said.

In one of his videos, Lt. Col. Scheller said he was considering filing a court-martial case against Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., commander of U.S. Central Command, over his handling of the Afghan endgame. Gen. McKenzie has faced tough questions on Capitol Hill about the end of the Afghan war effort and the rapid collapse of the government and U.S.-trained and equipped army.

Some Republicans in Washington have accused Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his aides of trying to purge anyone with a conservative or traditional viewpoint from the military — a charge denied by the Pentagon. But, the videos and social media posts released by Lt. Col. Scheller were not particularly partisan. He criticized Democrats and Republicans alike, including former Presidents Trump and Obama, along with a number of active-duty and retired generals, such as former Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Mr. Gohmert called for the immediate release of Lt. Col. Scheller from pre-trial confinement.

“The military’s treatment of Lt. Col. Scheller has been shamefully political and retaliatory and must not be tolerated,” he said in a statement.

 

Biden’s approval slumps after a slew of crises: AP-NORC poll

Biden’s approval slumps after a slew of crises: AP-NORC poll

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In this Sept. 24, 2021 photo, President Joe Biden listens during the Quad summit in the East Room of the White House. President Joe Biden’s popularity has slumped — with half of Americans now approving and half disapproving of his … more >

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By Josh Boak and Emily Swanson

Associated Press

Friday, October 1, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden‘s popularity has slumped after a slew of challenges in recent weeks at home and abroad for the leader who pledged to bring the country together and restore competence in government, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Fifty percent now say they approve of Biden, while 49% disapprove. Fifty-four percent approved in August, and 59% did in July. The results come as Americans process the harried and deadly evacuation from Afghanistan, mounted border patrol agents charging at Haitian refugees, the unshakable threat of the coronavirus with its delta variant and the legislative drama of Biden trying to negotiate his economic, infrastructure and tax policies through Congress.

Since July, Biden’s approval rating has dipped slightly among Democrats (from 92% to 85%) and among independents who don’t lean toward either party (from 62% to 38%). Just 11% of Republicans approve of the president, which is similar to July.

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Approval also dipped somewhat among both white Americans (49% to 42%) and Black Americans (86% to 64%).

In follow-up interviews, some of those who had mixed feelings about Biden‘s performance still saw him as preferable to former President Donald Trump. They said that Biden was dealing with a pandemic that began under the former president, an Afghanistan withdrawal negotiated on Trump’s behalf and an economy that tilted in favor of corporations and the wealthy because of Trump’s tax cuts.

“Trump had a lot to do with what’s going on now,” said Acarla Strickland, 41, a health care worker from Atlanta who voted for Biden yet now feels lukewarm about him.

As a mother of four, Strickland said she has benefited from the monthly child tax credit payments that are flowing as part of Biden‘s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. But she feels the government needs to do more to help Americans. Strickland said she borrowed $66,000 to get a master’s degree and fears the debt will never be repaid.

Just 34% of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction, down from about half who said that through the first months of Biden’s presidency. Trump supporters such as Larry Schuth feel as though Biden is damaging the nation by seeking to enlarge government and mismanaging the southern border. The Hilton, New York, resident added that he would like to travel to Canada but can’t because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“If he had a plan to destroy this country and divide this country, I don’t know how you could carry it out any better,” said Schuth, 81. “We’re spending way too much money. We’re planning on spending even more. We don’t have a southern border.”

The poll shows that 47% of Americans approve of how Biden is handling the economy, down from a high of 60% in March but similar to where it stood in August.

The initial burst of optimism from Biden‘s rescue package has been met with the hard realities of employers struggling to find workers and higher-than-expected inflation as supply chain issues have made it harder to find automobiles, household appliances and other goods. The rise of the delta variant and reluctance by some Americans to get vaccinated also slowed hiring in August.

Roni Klass, a tutor in her 70s living in Miami, said she was glad to vote Trump out, but she’s worried about inflation given her dependence on Social Security and wages that have yet to rise.

“When I go to the grocery store, the prices have really shot up,” she said. “My money coming in is not keeping up with the money that I have to spend going out, and I have to cut back as much as I can.”

The poll finds 57% approve of Biden’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. That number is similar to August but remains significantly below where it stood as recently as July, when 66% approved. Still, it remains Biden’s strongest issue in the poll. Close to 9 in 10 Democrats approve of Biden’s handling of the pandemic, compared with about 2 in 10 Republicans. In July, about 3 in 10 Republicans said they approved.

More also approve than disapprove of Biden’s decision to require that most U.S. workers be vaccinated or face regular testing, 51% to 34%, with 14% saying they neither approve nor disapprove. About 8 in 10 Democrats approve; roughly 6 in 10 of Republicans disapprove.

Biden struggles on several issues related to foreign policy. Forty-three percent say they approve of his handling of foreign policy overall, and only 34% approve of his handling of the situation in Afghanistan. Even among Democrats, only 54% say they approve of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan. Just 10% of Republicans say the same.

At the same time, Americans are slightly more likely to approve than disapprove of the decision to remove the last remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan at the end of August, with 45% saying they approve of that decision and 39% saying they disapprove. About two-thirds of Democrats approve of the decision to withdraw troops, compared with about a quarter of Republicans. Roughly two-thirds of Republicans disapprove.

Forty-six percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of national security, while 52% disapprove.

The poll was conducted just after tensions emerged with France over a submarine deal with Australia, but it finds 50% approve of how Biden is handling relationships with allies – similar to his approval rating overall.

Just 35% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of immigration, down from 43% in April, when it was already one of Biden’s worst issues. Immigration is a relative low point for Biden within his own party with 60% of Democrats saying they approve, along with 6% of Republicans.

The president has committed himself toward humane immigration policies, yet the persistent border-crossings and flow of refugees from Haiti and Afghanistan has led to challenging debates and troubling images. Immigration poses a challenge because voters are divided over whether to welcome more foreigners or focus the government more on the needs of existing citizens.

“There isn’t enough money to take care of our own, why do we have to take care of some other country?” said Anthony Beard, 48, a chef from Lansing, Michigan.

Lawmakers rally to cause of Marine jailed for Afghan criticisms

Lawmakers rally to cause of Marine jailed for Afghan criticisms

Scheller cited as 'flight risk' as Hill-Pentagon tensions mount

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Taliban officials are seen inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. withdrawal in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. The Taliban were in full control of Kabul’s international airport on Tuesday, after the last U.S. plane left its … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Thursday, September 30, 2021

A growing number of conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill are rallying to the cause of a Marine lieutenant colonel jailed this week for his outspoken and repeated criticism of his superiors and what he said was their failure to take responsibility for the mishandling of the chaotic final days of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller lost his job as commander of the Advanced Infantry Training Battalion at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune after posting a video demanding accountability from top military leaders following the August 26 suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan that killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 160 Afghan citizens. He followed that up with several more critical videos posted online and even wrote about the gag order his superiors had issued demanding he stop.

This week he was moved to the brig at Camp Lejeune, N.C. because the Marine Corps considers him a flight risk and believes China could use as propaganda his videos demanding accountability from Pentagon leaders over their handling of Afghanistan, according to someone familiar with the case against the Marine officer. 

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Lt. Col. Scheller’s father in an interview with The Washington Times called his son’s jailing “disgusting,” and now at least three dozen lawmakers, led by Texas Republican Rep. Louis Gohmert, have written to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David H. Berger and the service’s top legal officer questioning the treatment of the lieutenant colonel. The clash comes amid rising criticisms of the Pentagon brass by some lawmakers that political conservatives in the ranks are being unfairly targeted since President Biden took office.

“This confinement appears to be simply for messaging, retribution and convenience” in violation of military legal statutes, the Hill letter read in part, urging Gen. Berger to move the lieutenant colonel to “the least restrictive form of housing” as his case is heard. The letter openly questions the Corps’s stated rationale that Lt. Col Scheller was incarcerated because he was a “flight risk.” 

In a statement released to The Times, Marine Corps officials confirmed Lt. Col. Scheller is being held pending an Article 32 preliminary hearing — similar to a pre-trial hearing in a civilian courtroom. Potential charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice being considered in the case include contempt toward officials; failure to obey lawful general orders and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

“The allegations against Lt. Col. Scheller are merely accusations. He is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Marine Corps officials said in a statement.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, asked about the case at her daily news briefing, declined to weigh in after it was noted President Biden praised active-duty military officers who went public with concerns about President Trump’s handling of a Ukraine arms deal.

“I don’t have all the details on these circumstances. I understand that’s going to be frustrating to you, but we will work to get you an answer on it,” Ms. Psaki said.

Top generals: Terrorists could take root in Afghanistan in less than a year

Top generals: Terrorists could take root in Afghanistan in less than a year

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From left, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the United States Central Command testify during the House Armed Services Committee on the conclusion of military operations … more >

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By Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told lawmakers Wednesday that terrorist organizations could regain footing in Afghanistan in as soon as six months leaving some lawmakers concerned that the war there is not over.

The remarks by Gen. Mark Milley came amid two consecutive days of contentious testimony before House and Senate panels escalated into heated flareups among lawmakers and calls for the Pentagon’s top brass to resign.

“I think right now, right this minute we are safer because of the efforts over the last 20 years,” Gen. Milley told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. “However, I do think that conditions are more likely than not to develop over the course of time that will allow for the reconstitution of al Qaeda and/or ISIS.”

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“And that time varies depending on which analyst you’re listening to, but some time between say six to 12 and maybe 36 months,” he said.

Gen. Milley’s testimony came in hearing along with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, head of the U.S. Central Command.

Gen. McKenzie echoed the need for the U.S. to remain vigilant.

“The war on terror is not over, and the war in Afghanistan is not over either,” he said.

Neither general predicted a return of U.S. troops to Afghanistan in the near future, but their warnings compounded fears by some lawmakers that the U.S. ceded Afghanistan prematurely as the war on terrorism continues to rage.

Of particular concern for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle is whether the U.S. maintains a capability to combat terrorism in Afghanistan without boots on the ground.

The Biden administration has lauded its over-the-horizon counter-terrorism strategy, but with no military footprint and degraded intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan and the closest airbase from which to fly unmanned intelligence aircraft hours away, lawmakers were skeptical of the strategy.

Gen. Milley conceded in his testimony that the withdrawal damages the ability to confront potential terrorist threats in the region.

“I think the ends are going to remain the same to protect the American people, but I think the ways and means are going to change,” he said. “I think it is going to become much more difficult now to conduct counterterrorism operations against a reconstituted al Qaeda or ISIS in Afghanistan. Not impossible … but it will be more difficult.”

Rep. Mike Waltz, Florida Republican and a former Army Green Beret, became incensed by the strategy during his questioning and predicted the U.S. would be forced to return to Afghanistan sooner or later, drawing parallels with the U.S. return to Iraq to fight Islamic State after its 2011 withdrawal.

“I appreciate your candor with how difficult this is going to be. But the president of the United States is selling this country a fiction,” Mr. Waltz said.

“I am just livid at the fact, of the future Americans, that are going to have to go back to clean up this mess,” Mr. Waltz said.

Republicans seized on Wednesday’s testimony as another misalignment between the Pentagon and the White House contrasting Gen. McKenzie’s statement about the continuation of the war in Afghanistan with President Biden’s assertion on Aug. 31 that “the war in Afghanistan is now over.”

Wednesday’s testimony followed revelations Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Gen. Milley and Gen. McKenzie both advised keeping at least 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and had privately advised the White House of their opposition to a full withdrawal.

Their statements seemed to contradict Mr. Biden’s claims in an August interview that Pentagon brass was on board with his Aug. 31 exit date, and led to a bitter partisan divide at Wednesday’s hearing.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith defended President Biden’s decision to end the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, telling the Pentagon’s top leadership the generals were “wrong” to keep U.S. troops in-country.

He also took aim at Republicans for their claims that Tuesday’s remarks were proof that Mr. Biden had misled the public in an August press interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

“This has been the subject of a huge misunderstanding in the last 24 hours and that, again, I find very, very disingenuous,” Mr. Smith said in his opening statement Wednesday.

But Mr. Smith’s comments did little to assuage Republicans, several of whom continued to raise the issue throughout the hearing.

“What President Biden said is we’re done,” Mr. Smith said in a heated argument partway through the hearing in response to continued Republican digs at the president. “We’re not going to have these hearings anymore. We’re not going to have the funerals anymore. We’re not going to lose the service members fighting a war that it is clear we cannot be successful.”

“We all pick nits with this decision, with that decision, why didn’t you say this, why didn’t you do that. Twenty years of a whole lot of people have led us to this point. And we said we’re going to stop,” he said.

While Republicans were quite galvanized in their criticism of Mr. Biden for the withdrawal, they were split in their criticism of the Pentagon.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Missouri Republican, chided Gen. Milley over the calls to his Chinese counterpart telling the general that the call was “worthy of your resignation.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican, urged all three leaders to resign over the botched Afghanistan withdrawal.

“You have let down the people that wear the uniform in my district and all around this country,” he said. “You’re far more interested in what your perception is and how people think about you in insider Washington books than you care about winning which this group seems incapable of doing.”

But other Republicans apologized for their colleague’s remarks.

“For any member of this committee, for any American to question your loyalty to our nation, to question your understanding of our Constitution, your loyalty to our Constitution, your recognition and understanding of the civilian chain of command, is despicable,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyoming Republican.

Wednesday’s hearing concludes the first round of testimony from Pentagon leadership on Afghanistan, though several members of the House panel have requested a closed hearing.

The Senate committee will hear testimony from outside national security experts on the withdrawal Thursday.

One month after Afghan airlift, answers hard to come by about what really happened

One month after Afghan airlift, answers hard to come by about what really happened

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In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load people being evacuated from Afghanistan onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International … more >

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By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Biden administration says the Afghanistan airlift was the largest rescue operation in history — yet a month after it ended, officials still can’t or won’t say exactly who was left behind, who made it out of the country or why they were the ones rescued.

About 124,000 people escaped Afghanistan, most on U.S.-run flights. More than 60,000 had reached the U.S. as of last week. Some were American citizens, and others were green card holders with permanent immigrant rights. Fewer than 2,000 were special visa holders by dint of their assistance to the U.S. war effort.

But more than 50,000 of them didn’t fall into any of those categories, leading to questions about who they are, why they are in the U.S. and what dangers they may pose. Reports of sex crimes and assaults have already emerged at military bases where they are staying.

SEE ALSO: Military brass dodge blowback, consequences from Afghanistan withdrawal debacle

Then there are 60,000 or so others who were evacuated to other countries. Many of those evacuees are sitting at U.S. military bases overseas while the government tries to verify their identities and stories, checks them against security databases and figures out where they should go.

The chaos of the aftermath matches the chaos of the withdrawal itself. The administration delayed a full evacuation until the Afghan government toppled and the Taliban took control, shutting down pathways to the airport — the last ground controlled by the U.S.

“It has now been a month since the U.S. withdrawal, and State and DoD are still unable to provide us with basic numbers and information,” said Rep. John Katko of New York, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. “This is unacceptable and violates the very checks and balances of our government.”

SEE ALSO: Top generals dispute Biden’s claims on Afghan withdrawal

It’s not even clear how many American citizens were left behind. Experts say the number should be readily available.

The State Department said the total is about 100, but members of Congress say that math doesn’t add up, given the 10,000 to 15,000 the department estimated were in Afghanistan and the 6,000 who were evacuated.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said trying to get answers has been “a Kafkaesque experience in bureaucracy.” He started with the Defense Department, which told him to talk to the National Security Council, which told him to talk to the State Department, which pointed him right back to the Defense Department.

“Nobody is in charge right now,” the senator told Pentagon leaders in a hearing this week.

Demands for information have streamed from Capitol Hill to the Pentagon, the State Department’s headquarters at Foggy Bottom, the Homeland Security Department’s St. Elizabeths campus and President Biden himself.

The response, lawmakers say, has been crickets.

Even when briefings are arranged, they provide no new details, senators told Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week.

Administration officials say the feat of getting 124,000 people out of Afghanistan is stunning and represents the largest such evacuation in history.

“Nothing like this has ever been done before, and no other military in the world could have pulled it off,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

Administration officials say most Americans who remained in Afghanistan didn’t want to leave. Congressional aides say that explanation is not helpful. They want to know whom the State Department has contacted and whether it considers a lack of response as a message of wanting to stay.

As for those who made it out, the administration says it is checking security databases and screening out those who shouldn’t be in the U.S. Mr. Mayorkas told Congress last week that the number failing the checks was “de minimis.”

The Washington Times has reported on two Afghans with serious felony records and previous deportations who made onto flights that reached the U.S., fueling calls by lawmakers on Capitol Hill for more transparency on what checks are being conducted, including whether previous deportees should be excluded.

Homeland Security has declined to answer those questions.

Over the past week, two Afghan evacuees at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin have been charged with sex crimes. Authorities are also investigating an assault on a female soldier by Afghan refugees at a military complex in New Mexico.

“Afghan men on U.S. bases have now assaulted women and children, yet the American people are being denied transparency,” said Rep. Yvette Herrell, New Mexico Republican. “It is more important than ever to demand answers in the wake of our chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.”  

Rep. Thomas P. Tiffany, a Wisconsin Republican who has been tracking developments at Fort McCoy, where some 13,000 evacuees are being held, said the situation has turned out nothing like what Mr. Biden promised.

Hardly any of the Afghans are special visa holders. The fort’s capacity was supposed to be 10,000, but it got an order from Washington to go to 13,000. Of those, 600 were in quarantine for disease.

“We know disease is being imported into our country. We know there are people committing criminal acts that are being imported into our country,” the congressman said. “They brought some of the problems of Afghanistan into the United States.”

Mr. Tiffany said Afghans are free to walk out of the bases at any time. They are required to obtain vaccinations by a specific date or risk losing their status, though former Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say it’s unlikely anyone would go looking for them.

Some Democrats on Capitol Hill have added their voices to the chorus calling for answers, but the party’s leaders have taken steps to shield the administration by limiting the number of hearings on the issue.

Mr. Mayorkas has testified about worldwide threats and faced questions over the Afghanistan evacuation, but he has yet to sit for a hearing exclusively on the issue.

Republicans say a parliamentary vote last week strips Congress of another tool it might have used to demand answers.

Lawmakers normally can pursue a resolution of inquiry, a formal demand for information. The ROIs, as they are known, are usually granted speedy debate privileges, but Democrats have derailed the process.

The limit on ROIs has been in place since at least May 2020, when the House was in pandemic mode.

Republican lawmakers said it’s time to lift the blockade, given the abundance of bungles from the Biden team.

“Democratic Leadership has suspended a centuries-old House rule that allows for more congressional oversight — all to protect President Biden from scrutiny for the multiple disasters his failed leadership has caused,” said Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

A Democratic aide on the Rules Committee said committees like Mr. McCaul’s can conduct oversight in other ways, and lawmakers got a chance to offer proposals as part of the recent debate on the defense policy bill.

Democrats also fear that lifting the curb on ROIs would give Republicans a new means to derail committee agendas.

“Republicans have consistently tried to disrupt the House floor, demanding votes even on noncontroversial bills that they support. Now they are demanding even more tools to derail the work of congressional committees,” the Democratic aide said. “We are staying focused on allowing committees to do their work and passing legislation to provide for the American people.”

Military brass dodge blowback, consequences from Afghanistan withdrawal debacle

Military brass dodge blowback, consequences from Afghanistan withdrawal debacle

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From left, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the United States Central Command testify during the House Armed Services Committee on the conclusion of military operations … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang, Ben Wolfang and Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Britain’s foreign secretary faced a severe demotion. The Dutch defense minister resigned.

But in Washington, six weeks after the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan sparked a rapid Taliban takeover, there have been no firings or high-level resignations, nor have any key figures faced true accountability for a series of deadly mistakes that raised serious questions about America’s foreign policy competence.

Top Defense Department officials appeared before Congress for a second time Wednesday in what essentially amounted to two straight days of political theater, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley and other military officials batting down calls for their resignations and seeking to downplay obvious disagreements with President Biden over whether to leave troops in Afghanistan

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So far, the fallout from the disastrous exit has amounted to little more than responsibility-dodging by some officials and stunning assertions from others that the U.S.-led pullout was actually in many ways a success.

That lack of accountability sparked anger in some military quarters, with a host of retired officers calling for top officials to resign and at least one Marine Corps battalion commander issuing a fiery condemnation of the Afghan withdrawal that ultimately led to his dismissal.

While some lawmakers have called on Secretary of State Antony Blinken and even Mr. Biden himself to resign, most of the outrage has centered on Mr. Austin and Gen. Milley. Both men have made clear during two days of congressional testimony that they advised the president to scrap his arbitrary withdrawal timeline and adopt a conditions-based approach that would have kept at least 2,500 U.S. personnel in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.

But some lawmakers argue they should have resigned in protest when the president brushed aside that advice. Other critics say they should step down for failing to have in place a better plan to evacuate American diplomats, Afghan translators, and other non-military personnel in the event the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban took control of Kabul. Such a scenario became reality on Aug. 15 and the U.S. military spent the next two weeks dependent on the Taliban for security at the overwhelmed Kabul airport. Thirteen American service members were killed during an Aug. 26 terrorist attack at that facility.

Top Pentagon officials have stressed that no one anticipated such a rapid collapse of the Afghan government and the subsequent chaos. Outraged members of Congress say that’s no excuse and called on both Gen. Milley and Mr. Austin to step down.

“General, I think you should resign. Secretary Austin, I think you should resign. I think this mission was a catastrophe. I think there is no other way to say it and there has to be accountability,” Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, said at Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “I respectfully submit it should begin with you. “

Political appointees at the Pentagon have in the past argued that leading military officers should resign when faced with orders they don’t support. In 2018, for example, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis stepped down after former President Trump ordered an abrupt withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria.

Current Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, then a commentator for CNN, praised the decision.

“Secretary of Defense James Mattis submitted his resignation on Thursday. It was an honorable thing to do. But it wasn’t much of a choice. He did exactly what military tradition demands when one can’t ethically or morally support the boss anymore,” Mr. Kirby wrote in December 2018. “It’s a wonder, quite frankly, that it took this long. It’s arguably one of the worst kept secrets in town that Mattis has not been aligned with Trump on many policy issues.”

 

‘Not going to resign’

It’s clear there was a similar deep disagreement between the top military brass and Mr. Biden over the Afghanistan decision. Gen. Milley and Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, have said repeatedly this week that they advised against the withdrawal.

Critics believe the officers should have followed Mr. Kirby’s advice and stepped aside.

“Gen. Milley, I can only conclude that your advice about staying in Afghanistan was rejected. … I understand that you’re the principal military advisor, that you advise, you don’t decide. The president decides. But if all this is true, Gen. Milley, why haven’t you resigned?” asked Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican.

Gen. Milley offered a fiery response.

“It would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice was not taken,” he said. “This country does not want generals figuring out what orders we are going to accept and do or not. That’s not our job.”

“I’m not going to resign,” he said. “There’s no way. If the orders are illegal, we’re in a different place. But if the orders are legal from civilian authority, I intend to carry them out.”

Gen. Milley, Gen. McKenzie and other military officials also suffered intense criticism for an Aug. 29 drone strike in Kabul that supposedly targeted an ISIS-K suicide bomber driving a car filled with explosives to the Kabul airport. The strike actually killed an aid worker, along with nine others, including seven children.

The incident raised serious questions about the Biden administration’s insistence it can conduct “over-the-horizon” strikes against terrorist targets in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, similar waves of outrage in other nations have led to high-profile resignations or reassignments.

On Sept. 17, Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld quit her post after parliament passed a motion to censure her over the Afghan withdrawal. In Britain, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was reassigned and effectively demoted to a position in the U.K.’s Justice Department. Mr. Raab faced intense criticism for his handling of the British exit from Afghanistan.

In the U.S., at least one officer was removed from his position after publicly calling for Pentagon leaders to take responsibility for the botched withdrawal.

“People are upset because their senior leaders let them down and none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability or saying, ‘We messed this up,’” Marine Corps Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller said in an emotional Facebook video on Aug. 28, specifically questioning the U.S. decision to give up the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul before the evacuation was complete.

“I’m not saying we’ve got to be in Afghanistan forever,” he said. “But I am saying: Did any of you throw your rank on the table and say, ‘Hey, it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram airfield, a strategic air base, before we evacuate everyone?’ Did anyone do that? And when you didn’t think to do that, did anyone raise their hand and say, ‘We completely messed this up?’”

He was relieved of his post shortly after the video was released. Lt. Col. Scheller reportedly is awaiting a military court proceeding to determine if he will face formal charges for his comments.

Pentagon officials deny that it made sense to hold on to Bagram.

“Retaining Bagram would have required putting as many as 5,000 U.S. troops in harm’s way just to operate and defend it, and it would have contributed little to the mission,” Mr. Austin told lawmakers this week. “The distance from Kabul also rendered Bagram of little value during the evacuation.”

Democratic House chairman provides Biden cover on Afghan troop pullout

Democratic House chairman provides Biden cover on Afghan troop pullout

In second day of hearings, Smith says generals 'wrong' to oppose withdrawal

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Rep. Adam Smith, Washington state Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is shown in this file photo from April 12, 2018. In a Armed Services Committee meeting on Sept. 29, 2021, Mr. Smith defended the Biden administration’s … more >

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By Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith on Wednesday defended President Biden’s decision to end the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, telling the Pentagon’s top leadership the generals were “wrong” to push to keep U.S. troops in the country.

In a second day of Hill hearings on the chaotic end of the Afghan mission and the road ahead, the Washington state Democrat said the recommendations by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley and U.S. Central Command head Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie provided to Mr. Biden before the withdrawal were misguided. 

On Tuesday, the generals had raised glaring concerns when they confirmed before the Senate Armed Services Committee that they privately advised the White House to keep at least 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and opposed a time-based withdrawal from the country. Their statements seemed to contradict President Biden’s claims in an August interview that Pentagon brass was on board with his Aug. 31 exit date.

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The U.S.-backed Kabul government fell to the Taliban insurgency even before the Pentagon could complete its withdrawal, leading to a bloody and confused emergency evacuation mission last month.

“There are some, going back to the issue of whether or not we should have left Afghanistan, who imagined that there was sort of a middle option that we could have kept 2,500 troops there, and a relatively peaceful and stable environment,” Mr. Smith said in his opening statement Wednesday.

“I think the way that option has been presented by many of the critics has been fundamentally disingenuous. The option of keeping 2500 troops in Afghanistan in a peaceful and stable environment did not exist,” he said.

SEE ALSO: House panel grills Pentagon brass a day after Afghanistan testimony contradicted Biden’s comments

Senate Republicans seized on Tuesday’s revelation and slammed Mr. Biden for what they said were misleading statements to the public.

“Today’s hearing confirmed much of what I suspected: President Biden ignored the advice of his top military leaders, including his commanders on the ground – and then lied to the American people about it,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Tuesday.

But Mr. Smith tried to provide some cover for the president, disputing the Republicans’ read on the matter.

“This has been the subject of a huge misunderstanding in the last 24 hours and that, again, I find very, very disingenuous,” Mr. Smith said.

“What the president actually said was, there was no option on the table to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan in a stable environment,” he said. “That’s what he said, not that no one presented that option. That option didn’t exist in reality. … The president, in fact, made it clear earlier in that same interview, that yes, some of his military leaders had said that we should keep 2,500 troops there.”

The remarks align with the White House’s response to Tuesday’s testimony. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that the Republican criticisms took Mr. Biden’s August remarks out of context and said “there was a wide range of viewpoints” offered by the president’s national security team.

Mr. Smith said that while he believed Mr. Biden would be proven right.

“I think they were wrong, and so did the President,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s not that they didn’t give the advice, it’s that they were wrong.”

“This committee has an enormous amount of respect for our military leadership, that does not mean that the military leadership is incapable of being wrong,” he said.

But Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, strongly challenged the chairman’s analysis of the debate.

“While I have great admiration for my friend, the chairman, I could not disagree more with his observations about Afghanistan and the president’s decision,” Mr. Rogers said in his opening remarks.

“The fact is, our coalition partners and our military leadership felt that we should have maintained our 2,500 troops there along with the roughly 7,500 to 8,000 coalition troops and the thousands of contractors that the Afghan army was dependent upon to fight successfully,” he said. “And I think they could have continued, as they have in past years, to fight valiantly had we given that support and the president had listened to his generals’ advice.”

Russia’s offer of bases for Afghan strikes puts spotlight on Ukraine tensions

Russia’s offer of bases for Afghan strikes puts spotlight on Ukraine tensions

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with leaders of the United Russia Party’s election list via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Updated: 5:29 p.m. on
Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Biden administration indicated Tuesday that it is weighing an offer from Moscow to use Russian military bases in Central Asia for future counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan and the region, even as U.S.-Russia tensions soar on other fronts — most notably in Ukraine.

The extent to which the two matters are connected remains to be seen, although there are signs Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks to link them, if only to undercut President Biden’s efforts to back Ukraine.

The Putin government on Monday issued fresh warnings about U.S.-backed NATO activity in Ukraine, asserting that any expansion of NATO military infrastructure in the country would cross “red lines.”

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The warning came as The Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon is weighing offer from Mr. Putin for U.S. forces to use Russian bases Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan for operations in Afghanistan. According to The Journal, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley discussed the issue in a meeting last week with Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov at the request of the White House.

The U.S. has insisted that even after the Afghanistan withdrawal, American drones can strike terrorist targets from “over the horizon,” though military leaders have acknowledged such missions are much more logistically challenging. Permanent American bases near Afghanistan would make the task far easier, but the U.S. so far has not secured an agreement with a nearby nation to house American personnel, planes or vehicles.

Republicans are bristling at the prospect that the Biden administration may put American forces in a position of dependence on Russian military bases, a prospect GOP lawmakers say is unacceptable because of the Kremlin’s military aggression in Ukraine.

“We are deeply troubled to learn from press reports that your administration is in discussions with the Russian Federation to secure access to Russian military installations in Central Asian countries and potentially engage in some form of military cooperation on counterterrorism with the Russians,” a group of top congressional Republicans wrote Monday to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“Inviting Russia into discussions will not further vital U.S. counterterrorism goals, nor is it the path to the ‘stable and predictable’ relationship with Russia the Biden administration claims it wants,” stated the letter, whose signers included the four ranking Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.

Asked about the talks Tuesday, Mr. Austin told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that Gen. Milley merely sought “clarification” about the base offer from his Russian counterpart last week.

Mr. Austin stressed the U.S. isn’t seeking Russia’s approval for counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan, although he acknowledged the two nations now have a dialogue about sharing resources in the region. “I can assure you we are not seeking Russia’s permission to do anything, but I believe … [Gen. Milley] asked for clarification what that offer was,” the defense secretary said.

Republicans say such cooperation with Moscow is evidence of the difficult spot the U.S. now finds itself in due to the Biden administration’s total military withdrawal from Afghanistan. “They’ve really left us in a terrible position that we have to ask the Russians to be able to protect the United States from terrorists, and we have to ask them to use their installations,” Sen. Deb Fischer, Nebraska Republican, said Tuesday.

The administration’s policy goals in Ukraine may be at risk. Mr. Biden rolled out a new humanitarian and military package for Kyiv in early September, featuring some $60 million worth of Javelin anti-tank missiles and other aid.

The package outraged the Putin government, which has backed pro-Russian separatist forces inside Ukraine since annexing the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and briefly massed troops on the Ukrainian border earlier this year.

Ukraine is not a NATO member, but has spent recent years aligning with the U.S. and NATO. Ukrainian forces recently engaged in joint drills with U.S. and other NATO member troops. The drills occurred at the same time that Russia and nearby Belarus were hold their own joint exercises.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, close ally of Mr. Putin, has accused the U.S. of setting up training centers in Ukraine that he says amount to military bases. Mr. Lukashenko was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying he has discussed the issue with Mr. Putin and the two “agreed that we need to take some kind of measures in response.”

A Reuters report on the Belarusian president’s comments said that when asked what joint actions Mr. Lukashenko was referring to, the Kremlin responded: “These are actions that ensure the security of the two of our states.”

“President Putin has repeatedly noted the issue of the potential broadening of NATO infrastructure on Ukrainian territory, and [he] has said this would cross those red lines that he has spoken about before,” the Kremlin said, the news agency reported.

• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

Strategic failure — perfectly executed

Strategic Failure — Perfectly Executed

General Milley blames President Biden for Afghan Catastrophe

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley listens to a Senator’s question during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, … more >

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By Charles Hurt


Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Well, now we know why there was no plan to evacuate Afghanistan after 20 years without abandoning thousands of American citizens and allies on the battlefield, killing 13 U.S. troops, and surrendering $80 billion worth of American military equipment to our terrorist enemy.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley was too busy to come up with one. He was too busy leaking to a raft of Washington reporters who spent the past year digging up dirt for the library of rabidly anti-Trump books they were writing.

Indeed, loose lips really do sink ships.

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It was a moment of stunning honesty during Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, ordered Gen. Milley to provide simple “yes” or “no” answers to her questions in hopes that he might quit all the dodging and weaving he had been doing all morning about the disastrous collapse of Kabul.

“‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to this — Did you talk to Bob Woodward or Robert Costa for their book, Peril?”

“Woodward, yes. Costa, no.”

“Did you talk to Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker for their book, I Alone Can Fix It?”

“Yes.”

“Did you talk to Michael Bender for his book, Frankly We Did Win This Election — The Inside Story of How Trump Lost — yes or no?”

“Yes.”

But all honesty ended right there. Mrs. Blackburn then asked Gen. Milley if he was accurately portrayed in the books, and he went back to dodging.

“I haven’t read any of the books, so I don’t know,” he replied.

Yes or no question: Does Mark Milley strike you as the kind of guy who talks to reporters about himself but doesn’t look to see what they wrote about him

Um, no.

In a modest town like Washington, everybody starts books at the very end — searching the index for their own name. And Gen. Milley is a perfect creature of Washington. Whether he is fashionably flogging himself for the television cameras over “white rage” or dodging blame for losing every war he ever touched, Gen. Milley is a Swamp Creature from central casting.

Before Mrs. Blackburn opened up a can of Straight Talk on him, Gen. Milley was busy telling everyone what a huge “success” the Afghanistan retreat really was.

The only unpleasantness you might have noticed — i.e., bodies falling from the sky, dead U.S. troops, women beaten to death for not cooking proper meals for the Taliban — were all just the result of “strategic failure.” In other words, the commander-in-chief’s fault.

“Strategic decisions have strategic consequences,” he said flippantly.

 Oh yes, strategic failure — perfectly executed. 

In other words, the bodies of Afghan civilians clinging to landing gear landed right on target. Troops signed up to die. And that lady who refused to cook for the Taliban? She had it coming.

Gen. Milley spent the entire hearing hilariously refusing to discuss his discussions with President Biden while at the very same time explaining what his advice was so as to blame the whole fiasco entirely on Mr. Biden.

By the time the game of rope-a-dope was over, Gen. Milley was openly admitting that Mr. Biden — whose secret discussions could not be revealed — had entirely ignored his advice, which of course was to stay in Afghanistan until the return of Jesus Christ or Mohammed or Greta Thunberg. (We strive to be open-minded, non-denominational, and inclusive here at the Nuclear Option.)

“The president doesn’t have to agree with that advice,” the general explained as he backed away from the steaming pile of blame he just dumped on Mr. Biden.

“He doesn’t have to make those decisions just because we are generals. And it would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to resign just because my advice was not taken.”

Oh my. Such a brave hero.

Mark Milley is the reincarnation of Gen. Douglas MacArthur — minus all the victories.

• Charles Hurt is the opinion editor at the Washington Times.

U.S. wants ‘clarification’ on offer to use Russian military bases to launch Afghan strikes: Austin

U.S. wants ‘clarification’ on Russia’s offer of military bases to launch Afghan strikes, Austin says

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.. (Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Top U.S. military leaders have sought clarification from Moscow about an offer to use Russian military bases in Central Asia as a launching pad for counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday.

Mr. Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Gen. Mark. A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently asked his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, about the matter. The offer for the U.S. to potentially use Russian facilities in neighboring  Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, was made during a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Biden.

Mr. Austin stressed that the U.S. isn’t seeking Russian’s approval for counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan, but he acknowledged the two nations now have a dialogue about sharing resources in the region.

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“I can assure you we are not seeking Russia’s permission to do anything, but I believe … [Gen. Milley] asked for clarification what that offer was.”

Republicans said such cooperation with Moscow is evidence of the difficult position the U.S. now finds itself in thanks to the Biden administration’s total military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“They’ve really left us in a terrible position that we have to ask the Russians to be able to protect the United States from terrorists, and we have to ask them to use their installations,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, Nebraska Republican.

The U.S. has insisted that even after the Afghanistan withdrawal, American drones can strike terrorist targets from “over the horizon,” though military leaders have acknowledged such missions are much more logistically challenging. Permanent American bases near Afghanistan would make the task far easier, but the U.S. so far has not secured an agreement with a nearby nation to house American personnel, planes or vehicles.

While there is no clear solution, powerful Republican lawmakers say working with Russia isn’t the answer.

“Inviting Russia into discussions will not further vital U.S. counterterrorism goals, nor is it the path to the ‘stable and predictable’ relationship with Russia the Biden administration claims it wants,” the top Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, and the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services panels, wrote in a letter late Monday to Mr. Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Where women took shelter from abuse, Taliban now in control

Where women took shelter from abuse, Taliban now in control

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Razia and her 6-year-old daughter Alia, stand inside the women’s section of the Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. When the Taliban took control of a northern Afghan city of Pul-e-Kumri the operator of the only women’s … more >

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By Kathy Gannon

Associated Press

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — When the Taliban seized power, the operator of the only women’s shelter in a northern Afghan city ran away. Left abandoned were 20 women who had fled a variety of domestic horrors, some abused by husbands or family, others forced into early marriages with older men.

Soon after, the Taliban arrived at the shelter in the city of Pul-e-Kumri.

They gave the women two options: Return to their abusive families – some of whom had threatened them with death for leaving – or go with the Taliban, recalled one of the women, Salima, who asked only that her first name be used.

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Most of the women chose to return home, fearing the Taliban more than their families. Salima said she knew of at least one who was since killed, likely by an angry family member.

But Salima decided to leave with the Taliban. She didn’t know what they would do, but she had nowhere else to go, having fled her abusive, drug-addicted husband months earlier. Now she finds herself housed in a prison – but protected and safe, she says.

Whether under Taliban rule or not, women in Afghanistan’s deeply conservative and often tribal society are often subject to archaic codes of behavior that hold them responsible for the honor of their families. They can be killed for simply marrying a man of their choice. They are often married at puberty. Fleeing even an abusive husband is considered shameful. Hundreds of women are jailed for so-called “morality crimes,” including adultery or running away from home, even though they are not officially crimes under the Afghan penal code.

Over the past two decades, activists set up dozens of women’s shelters around Afghanistan. But even before the Taliban takeover, conservative Afghans, including government officials, viewed them with suspicion, as places that help women and girls defy their families or abet “moral crimes.”

Women’s shelters are just one of a myriad of social changes that became more prevalent in the past 20 years or didn’t even exist when the Taliban last took power in 1996 – everything from social media and the internet to businesswomen and women judges. Now since overrunning Kabul and sweeping into power on Aug. 15, the hard-line militant group is wrestling with how to deal with the changes, with the Taliban leadership at times uncertain and fighters on the ground acting on their own.

Salima was taken to Kabul, along with another woman, Razia, who had lived in the shelter nearly a year after fleeing a predatory brother-in-law.

With nowhere to put them, the Taliban put them in the abandoned women’s section of Afghanistan’s main prison, called Pul-e-Charkhi. The prison was empty because when the Taliban took over Kabul, they freed all the inmates, including thousands of men, 760 women and more than 100 children, according to the prison’s new Taliban administrator, Mullah Abdullah Akhund.

The Associated Press was given rare access to the women in the prison. Now there are only six women there, including Salima and Razia.

A massive steel gate leads to the women’s prison. Rolls of barbed wire are strung atop the 20-foot-high walls. Inside, the women move freely with their children. Salima’s 5-year-old daughter Maria and son Mohammad, 6, spend most of their day in a main, large, carpeted room. There is no school and just a giant red teddy bear and a few small toys for their amusement.

“We mostly pray and read the Quran all day,” said Salima.

Salima said that she has no idea what the future holds, but for the present, with no money and no family, she said she feels safe here.

But Mujdha, another woman in the prison, said she wants her freedom. She had been pregnant by a boyfriend but her family refused to let her marry him, and instead forced her to marry a relative. She ran away. “I told them I would never stay with himshe said. The family reported her to the Taliban, who arrested her and her boyfriend.

Mujdha gave birth in prison to a baby daughter 15 days ago, soon after her arrest. She hasn’t seen her boyfriend, jailed elsewhere in the prison, and he has yet to meet his infant daughter.

“I want to leave, but they say I can’t,” she said.

Akhund said a court will decide whether to charge her, adding, “It is wrong that she left her husband. She has no right.”

Since taking power, the Taliban’s response to women’s shelters has varied. In the western city of Herat, several have been shut down, said Suraya Pakzad, a women’s rights activist from Herat who opened several shelters.

Pakzad said Friday in text messages from a place in hiding that she faces threats from all sides – from the Taliban and from the families of the women who found refuge in her shelters.

For the past several years, Pakzad and other women pressed for a voice in the negotiations between the U.S.-backed government of the time and the advancing Taliban. They hoped to ensure rights for women in any final arrangement. Now, in one fell swoop, they are scrambling for their own safety.

Pakzad shared an arrest warrant for her and seven other activists and journalists from western Afghanistan, issued by the new Taliban police chief in Herat. The warrant accuses the eight of “spreading propaganda against the Islamic Emirate” and accuses Pakzad of “involvement with Western countries to spread prostitution.”

But Mahboba Suraj, who runs a shelter for 30 women in Kabul, said the Taliban have come and investigated the shelter and let the women remain there unharmed. She said she was visited by various departments of the new Taliban government, including senior officials.

“The higher ups were absolutely the best. They want to protect us … and understand that they have problems within their own people” who may not be as supportive of women’s shelters, she said.

For now, “they want to have protection for us,” she said. “Thank God, I do believe that. I honestly do.”

Pentagon leaders Austin, Milley to face Capitol Hill grilling on Afghanistan

Pentagon leaders Austin, Milley to face Capitol Hill grilling on Afghanistan

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, joined by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, left, glances up at the start of a meeting with Qatar Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Khalid Al Attiyah at the Pentagon in Washington, Thursday, Aug. … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Monday, September 27, 2021

Lawmakers will get their long-awaited chance Tuesday to grill Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley for the first time since the disastrous U.S. exit from Afghanistan, with key senators in both parties signaling that the two men will face a steady stream of tough questions.

President Biden’s leadership will also be under the gun, as lawmakers probe how the decision was made to exit Afghanistan, what the intelligence reports suggested and why the final days of the evacuation proved so costly, chaotic and violent.

Having skirted congressional hearings on Afghanistan earlier this month, both Mr. Austin and Gen. Milley will appear Tuesday morning before the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, also will take questions from the panel in what’s expected to be a lengthy, heated hearing that focuses heavily on the Biden administration’s military missteps before and during the chaotic withdrawal, and the limitations that now face the Pentagon as it crafts a counterterrorism strategy without the benefit of having assets on the ground in Afghanistan.

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Those limitations have already come into focus following an admission earlier this month from Gen. McKenzie that an August “over-the-horizon” American drone strike in Kabul initially believed to have targeted an Islamic State-affiliated terrorist actually killed an Afghan working for an American aid organization and at least nine innocent people, including seven children.

But some Republican lawmakers have even broader questions and have zeroed in on what they believe was a disconnect between Pentagon leadership and top political officials in the Biden administration. They question how it’s possible Mr. Biden would have stuck by his original withdrawal plan amid mounting evidence that the U.S.-backed Afghan government was on the verge of a quick collapse and the Islamist Taliban were poised to rapidly overrun the entire country.

“Did the president really know and understand the ramifications of the withdrawal?” Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican and a member of the Armed Services Committee, said during an appearance on Fox News on Monday. “We want to know who knew what, when, and why were those decisions made?”

Military leaders are sure to be pressed on who made the call to turn over control of America’s massive Bagram Air Base to the Afghan military nearly two full months before Mr. Biden’s Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline. Critics argue that Bagram would have been an invaluable resource during the frantic airlift from the far smaller Kabul airport, the site of a terrorist attack on Aug. 26 that killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 160 Afghans.

There are also unanswered questions about why the Pentagon didn’t have a better plan in place to quickly evacuate Americans and Afghan allies in the event of a quick Taliban takeover. Gen. Milley and other top officials have said that virtually no one predicted the Afghan government would collapse in a matter of days, though many lawmakers have not been satisfied with that explanation.

Still, some analysts argue that Mr. Austin and Gen. Milley may escape with relatively little damage, given that the Senate is controlled by Democrats and that some left-leaning mainstream media outlets have already moved on from the Afghanistan debacle.

“Secretary Austin and Gen. Milley face tougher than usual circumstances for a Senate hearing considering recent events have been somewhat disastrous for the military, but I think they’ll be just fine,” said former Pentagon spokesman J.D. Gordon.

“For one, they are only following directions from the White House, unlike what happened during the previous administration,” he said. “Two, there are arguably worse crises out there between coronavirus, an out-of-control border and a $3.5 trillion tax-and-spending plan which would reshape America. Three, the left wing media … will just bury bad news about the hearing so half the country won’t hear about it anyway.”

Tuesday’s hearing also will mark the first time Gen. Milley has appeared before Congress since revelations that he effectively went around former President Trump during the final days of his administration to reassure China’s communist leaders that the U.S. was not planning an attack.

The disclosures in a book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa also included a claim that Gen. Milley was so worried about Mr. Trump’s mental state that he assembled top military leaders and advised them not to launch a nuclear strike — even if it was directly ordered by Mr. Trump — unless he was there.

Gen. Milley also had a conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about Mr. Trump’s mental state following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to the book.

The general has spoken little about those incidents but has promised to answer all lawmakers’ questions.

“I think it’s best that I reserve my comments on the record until I do that in front of the lawmakers who have the lawful responsibility to oversee the U.S. military,” he said earlier this month. “I’ll go into any level of detail Congress wants to go into.”

Some leading Republicans on Capitol Hill have called for both Mr. Austin and Gen. Milley to resign over their handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal. Other prominent figures in the GOP said that if Gen. Milley won’t step down, the Biden administration should take action against him.

“The situation with General Milley — they didn’t create it, but they’ve got to address it,” Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, told Fox News last week. “You can’t have the highest ranking military official in this government bragging to a reporter about how they stepped in and superseded the authority of an elected commander in chief and actually undermined him by talking to a potential adversary.”

Tuesday’s appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee likely won’t be enough for some members of the chamber. Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said earlier this month that he may subpoena both officials to appear before his panel.

The Pentagon leaders skipped a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Afghanistan on Sept. 13.

It won’t be the only Capitol Hill gauntlet for the Defense Department’s top civilian and military figures this week. Mr. Austin and Gen. Milley will testify again before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

Taliban resume brutal reign in Afghanistan with public executions, amputations for criminals

Taliban resume brutal reign in Afghanistan with public executions, amputations for criminals

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People look up at a dead body hanged by the Taliban from a crane in the main square of Herat city in western Afghanistan, on Saturday Sept. 29, 2021. A witness told The Associated Press that the bodies of four … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Hope that a new, softer Taliban would emerge in Afghanistan faded fast Sunday as the U.S. awoke to images of bloody bodies hanging from cranes in the Afghan city of Herat in what Taliban leaders say is a warning to lawbreakers. 

The gruesome footage, regional analysts say, should finally put to rest the Biden administration‘s expectation that the Taliban would take more moderate stances during its second reign over Afghanistan and perhaps distance itself from the strict version of Islamic law that defined its rule in the late 1990s.

Over just the past several days, human rights watchdogs have warned that the Taliban already has begun a major rollback of women’s rights, while Taliban leaders themselves have publicly acknowledged that they will resume executions and amputations for criminals. 

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Those punishments were hallmarks of the Afghan justice system when the Taliban was in control two decades ago.

While U.S. officials and foreign policy specialists feared the Taliban may eventually reinstate such harsh policies, most observers believed the insurgent group would move slowly and present a gentler public image after retaking control of the country late last month following the full withdrawal of American troops. 

But those hopes were shattered late Saturday when witnesses in Herat reported that the Taliban had publicly displayed four bodies of alleged kidnappers, with one of them hung from a crane in the city square. Footage of the scene spread across social media Saturday and Sunday.

Taliban officials did not deny responsibility for the shocking display and said the four men had been caught in a kidnapping scheme. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the men had, in fact, been involved in a kidnapping.

Regardless, some specialists say the grim incident should confirm the worst fears about the latest version of the Taliban.

Taliban killed 4 alleged kidnappers in #Herat today and hanged their bodies using cranes [in] different crowded areas of the city. For those who were claiming T has changed, doesn’t this remind you of Taliban atrocities between 1996-2001? What has changed?” Abdul Ghafoor, director of the Afghanistan Migrants Advice and Support Organization, tweeted late Saturday.

Another Twitter account claiming to represent the fledgling Afghan resistance movement headquartered in the Panjshir valley said that the punishment was unique only in that it was carried out in public.

“What you see in social media is 20% of #Taliban crime, they do it in public & it is part of their program to make people afraid of them. Another 80% of killing [Afghan government] officials & anti Taliban, Panjshiris happens during the night,” reads a Twitter post from the Panjshir account.

For the Biden administration, the developments over the past several days all but eliminate any hope that the Taliban planned to evolve into a more modern, accommodating government. As President Biden’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan unfolded last month, top White House officials routinely made the case that it wasn’t yet clear what this new version of the Taliban might look like. 

“The Taliban also has to make an assessment about what they want their role to be in the international community,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in August.

During negotiations with the U.S. over the past two years, Taliban leaders had insisted that should they regain full power in Afghanistan, the regime would not resemble the brutal Islamist government seen in the 1990s. That government was toppled after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda, which had been granted safe haven by the ruling Taliban.

Among other things, Taliban leaders vowed that during a second reign, women would retain their rights and would be able to attend school. 

That promise already has been broken. Late last week, the Human Rights Watch and San Jose State University’s Human Rights Institute released a joint statement condemning the Taliban‘s treatment of women across the country and specifically in the city of Herat.

“Since taking over the city on Aug. 12, 2021, the Taliban have instilled fear among women and girls by searching out high-profile women, denying women freedom of movement outside their homes, imposing compulsory dress codes, severely curtailing access to employment and education, and restricting the right to peaceful assembly,” the watchdog groups said. “Women in Herat told the two organizations that their lives had been completely upended the day the Taliban took control of the city.”

Honoring women’s rights has been a key factor for the U.S. and other governments mulling whether to offer some sort of formal diplomatic recognition to the Taliban. Incidents such as the one in Herat over the weekend make such recognition far less likely.

Meanwhile, Taliban officials have proudly declared that they will resume executions and the amputation of hands of criminals. The group’s leaders suggested they may avoid such punishments in public areas like soccer stadiums but will instead carry them out behind closed doors.

“Everyone criticized us for the punishments in the stadium, but we have never said anything about their laws and their punishments,” top Taliban official Mullah Nooruddin Turabi told The Associated Press last week. “No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran.”

The Biden administration slammed the announcement.

“We condemn in the strongest terms reports of reinstating amputations and executions of Afghans,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters last Friday. “The acts the Taliban are talking about here would constitute clear gross abuses of human rights, and we stand firm with the international community to hold perpetrators of these, of any such abuses, accountable.”

India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name

India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz /Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By Mallika Sen

Associated Press

Saturday, September 25, 2021

NEW YORK (AP) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t directly mention Pakistan or China in his Saturday speech to the United Nations General Assembly, but the targets of his address were clear.

He called upon the international community to help the women, children and minorities of Afghanistan and said that it was imperative the country not be used as a base from which to spread terror.

“We also need to be alert and ensure that no country tries to take advantage of the delicate situation there, and use it as a tool for its own selfish interests,” he said in an apparent reference to Pakistan, neighbor to Afghanistan and India.

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Modi also highlighted what he called the need to protect oceans from “the race for expansion and exclusion.” India and China have long competed for influence in the Indian Ocean.

On the heels of waves of coronavirus surges that have ravaged India, Modi made no mention of his own country’s death toll. But he reaffirmed last week’s announcement that India would restart exporting vaccines next month.

“Deeply conscious of its responsibility towards mankind, India has resumed the process of providing vaccines to those who need it in the world,” Modi said, also inviting vaccine manufacturers to come to India.

Modi said it was incumbent on the United Nations itself to strengthen its own effectiveness and boost its credibility.

“Today, all kinds of questions have been raised about the U.N.,” he said. “We have seen such questions being raised related to the climate crisis. And we also saw that during COVID, the proxy war going on in many parts of the world, terrorism, and the recent Afghan crisis have further highlighted the seriousness of these questions.”

U.S., Pakistan face each other again on Afghanistan threats

U.S., Pakistan face each other again on Afghanistan threats

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In this Sept. 23, 2021, file photo Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, left, meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, on the sidelines of the 76th UN General Assembly in New York. The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul … more >

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By Nomaan Merchant

Associated Press

Saturday, September 25, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Taliban‘s takeover of Kabul has deepened the mutual distrust between the U.S. and Pakistan, putative allies who have tangled over Afghanistan. But both sides still need each other.

As the Biden administration looks for new ways to stop terrorist threats in Afghanistan, it probably will look again to Pakistan, which remains critical to U.S. intelligence and national security because of its proximity to Afghanistan and connections to the Taliban leaders now in charge.

Over two decades of war, American officials accused Pakistan of playing a double game by promising to fight terrorism and cooperate with Washington while cultivating the Taliban and other extremist groups that attacked U.S. forces in Afghanistan

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Islamabad pointed to what it saw as failed promises of a supportive government in Kabul after the U.S. drove the Taliban from power after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as extremist groups took refuge in eastern Afghanistan and launched deadly attacks throughout Pakistan.

But the U.S. wants Pakistani cooperation in counterterrorism efforts and could seek permission to fly surveillance flights into Afghanistan or other intelligence cooperation. Pakistan wants U.S. military aid and good relations with Washington, even as its leaders openly celebrate the Taliban‘s rise to power.

“Over the last 20 years, Pakistan has been vital for various logistics purposes for the U.S. military. What’s really been troubling is that, unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of trust,” said U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat who is on the House Intelligence Committee. “I think the question is whether we can get over that history to arrive at a new understanding.”

Pakistan‘s prime minister, in remarks Friday to the U.N. General Assembly, made clear there is a long way to go. Imran Khan tried to portray his country as the victim of American ungratefulness for its assistance in Afghanistan over the years. Instead of a mere “word of appreciation,” Pakistan has received blame, Khan said.

Former diplomats and intelligence officers from both countries say the possibilities for cooperation are severely limited by the events of the past two decades and Pakistan‘s enduring competition with India. 

The previous Afghan government, which was strongly backed by India, routinely accused Pakistan of harboring the Taliban. The new Taliban government includes officials that American officials have long believed are linked to Pakistan‘s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence. 

Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, said he understood “the temptation of officials in both countries to try and take advantage of the situation” and find common ground. But Haqqani said he expected Pakistan to give “all possible cooperation to the Taliban.” 

“This has been a moment Pakistan has been waiting for 20 years,” said Haqqani, now at the Hudson Institute think tank. “They now feel that they have a satellite state.”

U.S. officials are trying to quickly build what President Joe Biden calls an “over the horizon” capacity to monitor and stop terrorist threats.

Without a partner country bordering Afghanistan, the U.S. has to fly surveillance drones long distances, limiting the time they can be used to watch over targets. The U.S. also lost most of its network of informants and intelligence partners in the now-deposed Afghan government, making it critical to find common ground with other governments that have more resources in the country.

Pakistan could be helpful in that effort by allowing “overflight” rights for American spy planes from the Persian Gulf or permitting the U.S. to base surveillance or counterterrorism teams along its border with Afghanistan. There are few other options among Afghanistan‘s neighbors. Iran is a U.S. adversary and Central Asian countries north of Afghanistan all face varying degrees of Russian influence.

There are no known agreements so far. 

CIA Director William Burns visited Islamabad this month to meet with Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan‘s army chief, and Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, who leads the ISI, according to a Pakistani government statement. Burns and Hameed have separately visited Kabul in recent weeks to meet with Taliban leaders. The CIA declined to comment on the visits.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi noted this past week that Islamabad had cooperated with U.S. requests to facilitate peace talks before the Taliban takeover and that it had agreed to U.S. military requests throughout the war.

“We have often been criticized for not doing enough,” Qureshi told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “But we’ve not been appreciated enough for having done what was done.”

Qureshi would not directly answer whether Pakistan would allow the basing of surveillance equipment or overflight of drones. 

“They don’t have to be physically there to share intelligence,” he said of the U.S. “There are smarter ways of doing it.”

The CIA and ISI have a long history in Afghanistan, dating to their shared goal of arming bands of mujahedeen — “freedom fighters” — against the Soviet Union’s occupation in the 1980s. The CIA sent weapons and money into Afghanistan through Pakistan

Those fighters included Osama bin Laden. Others would become leaders of the Taliban, which emerged victorious from a civil war in 1996 and gained control of most of the country. The Taliban gave refuge to bin Laden and other leaders of al-Qaida, which launched deadly attacks on Americans abroad in 1998 and then struck the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

After 9/11, the U.S. immediately sought Pakistan‘s cooperation in its fight against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Declassified cables published by George Washington University’s National Security Archive show officials in President George W. Bush’s administration made several demands of Pakistan, from intercepting arms shipments heading to al-Qaida to providing the U.S. with intelligence and permission to fly military and intelligence planes over its territory.

The CIA would carry out hundreds of drone strikes launched from Pakistan targeting al Qaeda leaders and others alleged to have ties to terrorist groups. Hundreds of civilians died in the strikes, according to figures kept by outside observers, leading to widespread protests and public anger in Pakistan.

Pakistan continued to be accused of harboring the Taliban after the U.S.-backed coalition drove the group from power in Kabul. And bin Laden was killed in 2011 by U.S. special forces in a secret raid on a compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, home to the country’s military academy. The bin Laden operation led many in the U.S. to question whether Pakistan had harbored bin Laden and angered Pakistanis who felt the raid violated their sovereignty.

For years, CIA officials tried to confront their Pakistani counterparts after collecting more proof of Pakistani intelligence officers helping the Taliban move money and fighters into a then-growing insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan, said Douglas London, who oversaw the CIA’s counterterrorism operations in South Asia until 2018. 

“They would say, ‘You just come to my office, tell me where the location is,’” he said. “They would just usually pay lip service to us and say they couldn’t confirm the intel.”

London, author of the forthcoming book “The Recruiter,” said he expected American intelligence would consider limited partnerships with Pakistan on mutual enemies such as al-Qaeda or Islamic State-Khorasan, which took responsibility for the deadly suicide attack outside the Kabul airport last month during the final days of the U.S. evacuation.

The risk, London said, is at times “your partner is as much of a threat to you as the enemy who you’re pursuing.”

___

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Witness: Taliban hang dead body in Afghan city’s main square

Witness: Taliban hang dead body in Afghan city’s main square

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Fighters of the Haqqani network secure an area during a demonstration organised by the Afghan Society of Muslim Youth, demanding the release of frozen international money in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. Afghanistan faces an economic meltdown after the … more >

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By Associated Press –

Saturday, September 25, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban hanged a dead body from a crane in the main square of Herat city in western Afghanistan, a witness said Saturday, in a gruesome display that signaled a return to some of the Taliban‘s methods of the past.

Wazir Ahmad Seddiqi, who runs a pharmacy on the side of the square, told The Associated Press that four bodies were brought to the main square and three bodies were moved to other parts of the city for public display.

Seddiqi said the Taliban announced in the square that the four were caught taking part in a kidnapping and were killed by police.

SEE ALSO: Alleged assault of female Fort Bliss service member by Afghan evacuees prompts FBI investigation

Ziaulhaq Jalali, a Taliban appointed district police chief in Herat, said later that Taliban members rescued a father and son who had been abducted by four kidnappers after an exchange of gunfire. He said a Taliban fighter and a civilian were wounded by the kidnappers but “the four (kidnappers) were killed in crossfire.”

Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, one of the founders of the Taliban and the chief enforcer of its harsh interpretation of Islamic law when they last ruled Afghanistan, told The Associated Press this week that the hard-line movement will once again carry out executions and amputations of hands, though perhaps not in public.

Since the Taliban overran Kabul on Aug. 15 and seized control of the country, Afghans and the world have been watching to see whether they will re-create their harsh rule of the late 1990s. The group’s leaders remain entrenched in a deeply conservative, hard-line worldview, even if they are embracing technological changes, like video and mobile phones.

Also on Saturday, a Taliban official said a roadside bomb hit a Taliban car in the capital of eastern Nangarhar province wounding at least one person.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. The Islamic State group affiliate, which is headquartered in eastern Afghanistan, has said it was behind similar attacks in Jalalabad last week that killed 12 people.

Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Hanif said the person wounded in the attack is a municipal worker.

To protect Afghan girls, UN panel urges conditions on aid

To protect Afghan girls, UN panel urges conditions on aid

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An Afghan girl working as a shoe cleaner sits in the street while men pray during Friday prayers in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) more >

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By Aya Batrawy

Associated Press

Friday, September 24, 2021

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Aid to Afghanistan should be made conditional to ensure the protection of women’s rights and access to education under the rule of the Taliban government, a panel of high-level speakers said at the United Nations on Friday.

Since taking control of the country last month when the U.S.-backed government collapsed, the Taliban have allowed younger girls and boys back to school. But in grades six to 12, they have allowed only boys back to school along with their male teachers.

The United Nations says 4.2 million children are not enrolled in school in Afghanistan, and 60% of them girls.

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The Taliban have also said female university students will face restrictions, such as a compulsory dress code, and will not be allowed in the same classrooms as their male counterparts. Additionally, the subjects being taught will be reviewed, the new government said.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said that “by and large, we’re very concerned” about measures restricting girls’ access to education since the Taliban took control of the country following the U.S. withdrawal and collapse of the Afghan government in August.

“I think the international community here, first and foremost, has to draw on the expertise, on the leadership of Afghan women… to stop the reversal, to remain in school,” she said in the U.N. panel that focused on ways to support girls’ education in Afghanistan. The virtual discussion took place on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, where the Taliban have requested to speak as representatives of Afghanistan.

Mohammed said aid to Afghanistan can “absolutely” be made conditional on education for girls and women. She said the United Nations and the international community can help ensure Afghanistan’s economy does not collapse and that educators and health care workers continue to be paid.

“This is where we have to really have resolve that recognition comes with your ability to be part of a global family that has a certain set of values and rights that must be adhered to,” she said. “Education is up front and center, especially for girls and for women.”

Afghanistan, which relies heavily on foreign aid, faces near total poverty resulting from political instability, frozen foreign reserves and a collapsed public finance system. This month, U.N. donors pledged more than $1.2 billion in emergency assistance to help provide a lifeline to Afghanistan.

The executive director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, said such aid gives the United Nations some leverage in tackling both the “humanitarian emergency” and the emerging “human rights emergency” in Afghanistan. UNICEF is responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children.

The Taliban, while promising inclusivity and an open government, have excluded women from their all-male Cabinet and set up a ministry for the “ propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice ” in the building that once housed the Women’s Affairs Ministry. During the previous era of Taliban rule in the 1990s, before they were ousted by a U.S.-led coalition, girls and women were denied an education and were excluded from public life.

More than 100,000 people have fled Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover last month, including thousands of female activists, students and intellectuals.

The first revelation of the Quran that came to the Prophet Muhammad was ”iqra,” which means “read”, said Fawzia Koofi, first woman deputy speaker of parliament in Afghanistan. She spoke on the panel from Qatar.

“To the international community… my message would be to emphasize on girls’ return to school,” Koofi said. She asked participants to realize that an Afghanistan that is oppressing more than half its population cannot be a reliable partner in the world.

Activist Malala Yousafzai, who serves as a U.N. “messenger of peace,” said the world cannot make compromises on the protection of women’s rights. Yousafzai was shot in the head on her way home from school as a teenager in 2012 by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan’s Swat Valley for her campaigning for girls’ education.

The Taliban‘s “atrocities are countless,” she said. “My worry is that this will continue in Afghanistan. My worry is that the same situation will repeat all over again.”

Mohammed, the U.N. deputy secretary-general, noted the Prophet Muhammad’s wife, Khadija, was a successful businesswoman whom he supported in her business – an observation she said can be used by countries in the region to show that “you’re not outside of Islam, you’re not outside of the preachings of the Quran, when we promote the rights of women and girls.”

Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. top military officer, meets with Russian counterpart

Top U.S. Gen. Milley meets with Russian counterpart on post-Afghanistan path

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In this Sept. 1, 2021, file photo, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley speaks during a briefing with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon in Washington. The top U.S. military officer met with … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

America’s top military officer on Wednesday with his Russian counterpart in Finland even as U.S. officials struggle to secure basing rights from former Soviet countries bordering Afghanistan for a regional anti-terrorism campaign now that the Taliban are in charge in Kabul.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley met with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff, in Helsinki to discuss “regional conflicts, strategic stability, and other operational and strategic issues,” according to Col. David Butler, spokesman for the Joint Staff.

“The meeting was a continuation of talks aimed at improving military leadership communication between the two nations for the purposes of risk reduction and operational de-confliction,” Col. Butler said in a statement.

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In accordance with past practice, both military leaders kept the specific details of the conversation private, Col. Butler said.

Following the abrupt U.S. pullout from Afghanistan ordered by President Biden, Pentagon officials have said they will continue to maintain a “robust over-the-horizon” military capability to monitor events in the country now fully under the control of hardline Taliban fighters. But, that goal is contingent on the ability to launch U.S. assets from nearby bases and Moscow is putting obstacles in the way.

Russia told the U.S. not to deploy troops to the former Soviet Central Asian nations following its exit from Afghanistan.

“We told the Americans in a direct and straightforward way that it would change a lot of things not only in our perceptions of what’s going on in that important region but also in our relations with the United States,” said Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, according to the AP. “We also have had a frank talk on the subject with our Central Asian allies, neighbors and friends and also other countries in the region that would be directly affected.”

Gen. Milley‘s meeting with his Russian counterpart also comes amid swirling controversy over revelations about his actions in the final days of the Trump administration. The Russian Defense Ministry in a statement characterized Wednesday’s talks as “constructive.”

Iranian president taunts Biden, Trump in United Nations speech

Iranian president taunts Biden, Trump in United Nations speech

'Sanctions are the U.S.'s new way of war with nations of the world'

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In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Ebrahim Raisi attends a live televised interview with state-run TV, at the presidency office in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office … more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Updated: 4:27 p.m. on
Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Tuesday took sharp aim at the U.S. in a speech before the United Nations, saying America’s pledge to end wars is hollow because Washington is using sanctions as a mechanism of war.

In pre-recorded remarks from Tehran, Mr. Raisi lashed out at President Biden and his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, by mocking their oft-repeated mantras.

“Today, the world doesn’t care about ‘America First’ or ‘America is Back,’ he said.

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Mr. Raisi made his remarks after Mr. Biden addressed the world body. In his speech, Mr. Biden called on nations to cooperate to solve problems such as COVID-19, terrorism and climate change.

The U.S. president urged the world to turn the page from military conflict and begin an era of “relentless diplomacy,” solving problems at the negotiating table instead of through armed conflict.

Mr. Raisi, who took the oath of office last month, said the U.S. has no right to lecture anyone. He accused the U.S. of waging war through diplomatic means to keep its hands clean.

“Sanctions are the U.S.’s new way of war with nations of the world,” he said.

Mr. Trump imposed sanctions in 2018 in response to Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. He also pulled the U.S. out of a nuclear pact with Iran that was struck under President Obama.

Mr. Biden has sought to salvage the Obama-era deal, but talks have stalled.

Mr. Raisi says he also wants to reach an agreement to revive the deal, but he didn’t hold back criticism Tuesday.

He mocked the withdrawal from Afghanistan and accused the U.S. of trying to transform the world.

“What is seen in our region today proves that not only the hegemonist and the idea of hegemony, but also the project of imposing Westernized identity have failed miserably,” Mr. Raisi said. “Today, the U.S. does not get to exit Iraq and Afghanistan but is expelled.”

Biden presses skeptical world leaders to work together in first U.N. speech

Biden presses skeptical world leaders to work together in first U.N. speech

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks to the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

President Biden pressed the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday to work together on challenges like COVID-19, climate change, and human rights abuses, even as U.S. allies question his leadership on the world stage.

In his first speech as president to the U.N., Mr. Biden defended his widely panned military withdrawal from Afghanistan and assured leaders around the globe that the U.S. will take the lead in international diplomacy.

“We’ve ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan and as we close this era of endless war, we are opening an era of endless diplomacy,” Mr. Biden said.

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During the nearly 40-minute speech, Mr. Biden ticked off a list of crises that nations must work together to solve, including trade, cyber threats, and terrorism.

He argued that the world is entering a “decisive decade” for determining the global community’s success, saying that each nation’s welfare is dependent upon its allies. The president said the U.S. does not seek another Cold War, without mentioning adversaries China and Russia by name.

“As a global community, we’re challenged by urgent and looming crises wherein lie enormous opportunities if — if — we can summon the will and resolve to seize these opportunities,” the president said.

The president laid out his case for cooperation before a skeptical audience whose members have been disappointed in some of his foreign policy missteps.

Mr. Biden frustrated allies following the U.S.’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and angered France after announcing a security pact with the United Kingdom and Australia.

The move undercut France’s own multibillion-dollar nuclear submarine deal with Australia. French officials claimed they were blindsided by the deal and recalled ambassadors to both nations.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Tuesday that Mr. Biden “has damaged longstanding alliances, emboldened enemies, and failed to stand for freedom.”

“The first eight months of the Biden presidency have been riddled with crises he has created and failed to address – from a humanitarian disaster at the border, to a catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan, to folding to totalitarian governments in China and Cuba,” she said in a statement. “Americans and the world know Biden has lost all credibility at home and abroad.”

Still, Mr. Biden pledged to work with world leaders, asserting that the U.S. will resume its traditional leadership role in international diplomacy.

“As the United States seeks to rally the world to action, we will lead not just with the example of our power, but God willing, with the power of our example,” he said.

He declared the U.S. is “back at the table” by re-engaging the World Health Organization and rejoining the Paris climate agreement, adding that America will also take a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Former President Trump had pulled the U.S. out of both the WHO and the Paris Climate agreement as part of his “America First” agenda.

Mr. Biden highlighted the moves as part of his effort to mend fences among world leaders who view him as having the same go-it-alone approach as Mr. Trump.

Several NATO allies had urged Mr. Biden to push back his self-imposed Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan, but the president rebuffed their calls. Others griped that the chaotic scenes at the Kabul airport left them scrambling to get their own citizens out of the country ahead of a Taliban takeover.

Mr. Biden used his speech in an effort to turn on the page on the bungled withdrawal.

While insisting that the U.S. will continue to defend itself and its allies, Mr. Biden said “bombs and bullets” cannot defend against COVID-19 or climate change.

“Instead of continuing to fight the wars of the past, we are fixing our eyes on devoting our resources into the challenges that hold the keys to our collective future,” he said.

Mr. Biden pledged to battle terrorism by working with local partners, not through large overseas military deployments. He noted that the world has changed in the 20 years since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

He also stressed the need to combat climate change, noting that his administration pledged to double international financing to assist developing nations with tools to tackle the issue. Mr. Biden said he would work with Congress to double the funds again to make the United States the leader in financing climate change efforts.

Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team

Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team

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Taliban fighters sit on the back of a pickup truck as they stop on a hillside in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) more >

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By Kathy Gannon

Associated Press

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban expanded their interim Cabinet by naming deputy ministers Tuesday, but failed to appoint any women, doubling down on a hard-line course despite the international outcry that followed their initial presentation of an all-male Cabinet lineup earlier this month.

The international community has warned that it will judge the Taliban by their actions, and that recognition of a Taliban-led government would be linked to the treatment of women and minorities. In their previous rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the Taliban had barred girls and women from schools, work and public life.

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid defended the latest additions to the Cabinet at a news conference Tuesday, saying it included members of ethnic minorities, such as the Hazaras, and that women might be added later.

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Mujahid bristled at international conditions for recognition, saying there was no reason for withholding it. “It is the responsibility of the United Nations to recognize our government (and) for other countries, including European, Asian and Islamic countries, to have diplomatic relations with us,” he said.

The Taliban have framed their current Cabinet as an interim government, suggesting that change was still possible, but they have not said if there would ever be elections.

Mujahid was also asked about the recent restrictions imposed on girls and women, including a decision not to allow girls in grades six to 12 to return to classrooms for the time being.

Mujahid suggested this was a temporary decision, and that “soon it will be announced when they can go to school.” He said plans were being made to allow for their return, but did not elaborate.

Boys in grades six to 12 resumed their studies over the weekend.

Joe Biden stresses international cooperation ahead of meeting with UN secretary general

Biden stresses international cooperation ahead of meeting with UN secretary general

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President Joe Biden speaks at a meeting with business leaders and CEOs on the COVID-19 response in the library of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Monday, September 20, 2021

President Biden on Monday hammered home the theme of his two-day trip to the United Nations by stressing the need for international cooperation ahead of his meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“The enormity of the task already ahead for each one of us and it’s real, but the vision of the United Nations has never been short on ambition,” Mr. Biden said moments before the meeting.

“Ambition matters,” Mr. Biden continued, calling on world leaders to work together and deliver “economic prosperity, peace and security” across the globe.

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Mr. Guterres praised the president for his “strong commitment” to the United Nations and multilateralism.

“The cooperation between the U.S. and the UN is a fundamental pillar of the work of the UN,” he said. “The U.S. with its strong commitment to human rights, its strong commitment to peace and security around the world, its strong commitment to development, cooperation and now, with your leadership, a very strong commitment on climate change, the U.S. represents a fundamental pillar of our activity,” he said.

“And I’d like to assure you, Mr. President, that we want to deepen that cooperation,” he said.

Neither responded to questions shouted by the press.

Mr. Biden’s meeting with Mr. Guterres comes ahead of his first speech as president to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday morning.

The president will talk about how ending the 20-year war in Afghanistan has opened up a new era of “intensive diplomacy” with nations working together to solve issues such as COVID-19, climate change and infrastructure.

Mr. Biden also will hammer home his message that “America is back” after what he has previously described as the unreliable leadership of his predecessor, Donald Trump. That message has been dented, however, by his foreign policy missteps.

The president ignored pleas from other nations to extend his self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline to exit Afghanistan, and France is furious after the U.S. undercut a multi-billion submarine pact it had struck with Australia.

Reaction from world leaders after Mr. Biden’s speech could suggest whether they are willing to move on or still harbor grievances over how those events played out.

‘Fundamental shift’ in post-9/11 era shifted trillions of dollars to major defense firms

‘Fundamental shift’ in post-9/11 era shifted trillions of dollars to major defense firms

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FILE – In this Jan. 25, 2011, file photo, is the Boeing Company logo on the property in El Segundo, Calif. China’s government said Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, it will impose sanctions on U.S. military contractors including Boeing Co.’s defense … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The post-9/11 era brought permanent changes to U.S. military strategy.

For defense contractors, it also sparked a significant cash windfall as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and conflicts in other hot spots in the Middle East and beyond, funneled trillions of dollars away from the rank-and-file military and toward profit-driven companies.

That reality has fueled questions about whether the Pentagon has become too reliant on private industry for critical missions, potentially opening holes in national security and even compromising the world’s greatest military, some critics say.

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As defense spending exploded in the 2000s, so too did the profits of defense firms. Of the $14 trillion in total Defense Department spending since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, at least one-third has gone to contractors, according to a recent study published by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University and the Center for International Policy.

At least $4.4 trillion was spent on weapons purchases and research and development, and the vast majority flowed to well-known defense firms such as Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. Private-sector companies have assumed an irreplaceable role atop the U.S. war-fighting machine. Long-term deals and service contracts for weapons, vehicles and other military tools make it difficult, if not virtually impossible, to shrink that role.

Analysts and defense insiders say the shift has accelerated in the past two decades. Ten years earlier, defense companies began searching for new services to provide and other avenues to make money as the threat of a U.S.-Soviet world war faded away.

“There’s been a fundamental shift. I think that shift goes back to the ‘90s,” said Michael Brenes, a Yale University historian who studies the defense industry.

“The end of the Cold War brought a crisis point. There’s a period of crisis, or concern, for the defense industry and for defense contractors overall,” he said. “There’s no more Cold War, and they’re concerned about profitability in the long run and where they can go to obtain further profits.”

The landscape changed before arriving at the post-9/11 partnership between the Pentagon and industry. In many ways, the military now can call on companies to do virtually everything except fight the war itself.

“To me, there is no discernible line beyond the fact that the use of kinetic force is primarily under the purview of officers of the Marine Corps, the Army, the military,” Mr. Brenes said.

Industry leaders largely attribute the rapid expansion of the defense industrial base to better personnel management at the Defense Department. Military leaders, they say, zeroed in on the best, most efficient ways to use highly trained soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

“There was a shift. … Post 9/11, you got into a new paradigm,” said retired Air Force Col. Wesley Hallman, now the senior vice president of strategy and policy at the National Defense Industrial Association.

In years past, he said, “DoD could just throw people at the problem. People didn’t cost a lot. They were, frankly, cheap.”

Service members sometimes painted buildings and performed landscaping and other jobs for which highly trained military women and men were essentially overqualified.

“You never see that anymore because of … the skills that we demand out of them in the military, the all-volunteer force,” Mr. Hallman said. “We’ve invested a lot into it, and they’re not cheap. We’ve developed a system that we retain people and their skills. We retain the investments. Because of that, they’re not cheap.”

Money and controversy

Indeed, while most media attention over the past 20 years centered on contractors with firms such as Blackwater that provided armed security in war zones, the vast majority of industry work in-theater was much more routine.

Many logistical duties related to food, housing, infrastructure and other domains fell to defense contractors. For short-term missions, officials and analysts say, it can make sense for service members to handle relatively mundane tasks. But if the U.S. intends to maintain a large presence for any considerable time, as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, outsourcing jobs to private industry makes sense, specialists generally agree, assuming that the civilian contractors are kept safe and don’t hinder the military mission.

Critics say the involvement of more individuals and companies in military missions dramatically increases opportunities for waste and fraud.

“The Pentagon’s increasing reliance on private contractors in the post-9/11 period raises multiple questions of accountability, transparency, and effectiveness,” reads a portion of the Brown University study, authored by William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy.

“This is problematic because privatizing key functions can reduce the U.S. military’s control of activities that occur in war zones while increasing risks of waste, fraud and abuse,” the study says. “Additionally, that the waging of war is a source of profits can contradict the goal of having the U.S. lead with diplomacy in seeking to resolve conflicts.”

Large defense firms have played central roles in the U.S. military for more than a century, but the money flowing to those companies today is staggering.

From 2001 to 2020, the five leading Pentagon weapons contractors — Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman — pulled in $2.1 trillion in defense contracts, according to the Brown University study.

Those companies are often targets on Capitol Hill for the outsized roles they play in national security, but they provide weapons and vehicles, not armed personnel in war zones.

In the years after 9/11, security firms essentially redefined the role of a defense contractor. Blackwater provided security and other services in Afghanistan and Iraq and was viewed by critics as a mercenary American force not bound by the same rules that applied to the military.

“This is the greater problem for how the DoD has relied on private contractors — that they’re unaccountable,” Mr. Brenes said.

Industry officials, however, say security contractors are bound by military rules of engagement and subject to commanders on the ground.

Blackwater gained much of its notoriety after a September 2007 incident in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, where four Blackwater employees were convicted of killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians. The Blackwater employees said they were defending a U.S. military convoy.

President Trump pardoned all four in December.

Biden tasked with repairing relationships with allies at U.N. this week

Biden tasked with repairing relationships with allies at U.N. this week

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FILE – In this Sept. 16, 2021, file photo President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Biden will address the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 21, hold … more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Sunday, September 19, 2021

When President Biden steps up to the podium Tuesday to deliver his first speech as president to the United Nations, he’ll be under tremendous pressure to repair relationships he’s fractured with some of America’s closest allies.

The speech comes at a time of shaky U.S. credibility on the world stage. After a series of foreign policy blunders, including the botched military withdrawal from Afghanistan, allies are questioning whether America remains a reliable partner.

Mr. Biden’s judgment suffered another blow last week when the Pentagon acknowledged that a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan killed 10 civilians, including 7 children, not terrorist militants as the administration originally claimed.

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“With all of the recent events there is a certain fear in Europe that all this talk about the importance of allies is merely window dressing,” said Carisa Nietsche, who specializes in European security at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank.

“President Biden will mention the importance of multilateralism, but Europe wants the U.S. not to talk the talk, but walk the walk on this issue.”

Mr. Biden’s mingling at the U.N. General Assembly will be cut short due to coronavirus concerns, according to the White House. He will meet with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday and address the assembly on Tuesday. The rest of the week’s diplomacy will be relegated to virtual and Washington settings.

Mr. Biden’s speech is expected to outline steps for increasing COVID-19 vaccinations around the globe and push other leaders to take stronger action against climate change.

He will also hammer the same message he’s been proclaiming to world leaders since taking office: “America is back.” He has pitched himself as a team player to draw a contrast with former President Donald Trump’s America first policies.

Behind the scenes at the U.N., however, Mr. Biden will have his work cut out for him trying to convince his counterparts that he means what he says.

Last week, Mr. Biden’s frustrated France, a long-standing partner, by cutting a multi-billion nuclear submarine deal with Australia. The move angered France, which lost its $90 billion submarine pact with Australia.

In response, France took the shocking step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia. France, which is America’s oldest ally, also canceled a gala at its Washington embassy to celebrate its close ties with the U.S.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the submarine deal “a stab in the back,” and compared Mr. Biden to Mr. Trump.

“This brutal, unilateral, and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr. Trump used to do,” Mr. Le Drian told a French radio station. “I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.”

Ms. Nietsche, the European security scholar, said she expects the French to give the president a hostile reception at the U.N. on Tuesday.

“[Europeans’] chief complaint against President Trump was that he was unpredictable and I think they feel that way again,” she said. “It’s a massive blow to President Biden’s credibility in Europe if they are comparing him to President Trump and claiming he’s just as unpredictable and unreliable.”

The Afghan pullout and Australian submarine deal are not the only foreign policy decisions that have chafed allies abroad.

Mr. Biden angered Israel by restoring $235 million of aid to Palestinians that had been cut under Mr. Trump.

He lifted Trump-era sanctions on a company building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, a project pushed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The move drew sharp criticism from Ukraine, with Kyiv accusing Mr. Biden of handing Russia “a dangerous geopolitical weapon.”

Even Democrats in Congress blasted the decision. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said the pipeline advances Russian aggression in Europe.

Mr. Biden’s policy shifts left U.S. allies grumbling that they’ve been cut out of decisions that put their national security at risk. They are now questioning whether they can rely on Mr. Biden and the U.S. to keep its promises.

Several of Washington’s closest European allies have complained bitterly about the administration’s handling of the Afghanistan military pullout.

The chaotic withdrawal left the Taliban in control of Afghanistan, creating a potential safe haven for terrorists and triggered a massive humanitarian crisis.

European allies had pressured Mr. Biden to extend his self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline for leaving Afghanistan, but the president refused to bend.

By turning his back on them, Mr. Biden left many of America’s long-standing partners reeling as the U.S. walked away from a crisis it created and which reverberates around the world.

It has raised questions about America’s once unflappable commitment to NATO. Some in Europe are considering a defense force less dominated by the U.S.

Mr. Biden will have additional opportunities for a reset after the U.N. speech. Later this month, Mr. Biden will host the first-ever in-person summit of the so-called Quad countries — the U.S. India, Japan, and Australia — to counter China’s military aggression.

Also in September, U.S. and E.U. leaders will convene in Pittsburgh at the inaugural Trade and Technology Council meeting. The initiative will focus on boosting trade, fighting climate change, and protecting worker rights.

And there are plenty of areas of agreement between the U.S. and its partners, especially on climate change and human rights.

Still, the Afghan pullout has opened a wound with America’s European allies that may take decades to heal, according to analysts.

Britain, America’s closest ally, has voiced some of the harshest criticism of the Afghanistan pullout. British politicians torched Mr. Biden during sessions of Parliament.

Keir Starmer, a member of the British Labour Party, ripped Mr. Biden for “catastrophic error of judgment.

Tom Tugendhat, a conservative British lawmaker who served in Afghanistan, expressed outrage over Mr. Biden blaming the Afghan military for surrendering to the Taliban.

“To see [Mr. Biden] call into question the courage of men I fought with, to claim that they ran, is shameful,” he said.

Germany, which has spent billions funding Afghanistan’s reconstruction, also reacted with outrage.

Norbert Roettgen, the chairman of the German parliament’s foreign relations committee, called the pullout a “serious and far-reaching miscalculation by the [Biden] administration.

The falling out is recoverable, however. It will require Mr. Biden to listen to European nations about their priorities, Ms. Nietsche said.

“If the U.S. goes in to set the agenda and is not interested in hearing from allies, it’s not going to work. It will be seen as hollow rhetoric.”

The barbecue king: British royals praise Philip’s deft touch

The barbecue king: British royals praise Philip’s deft touch

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FILE – In this June 14, 2014 file photo, Britain’s Prince Harry talks to Prince Philip, left, as members of the Royal family appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, during the Trooping The Colour parade, in central London. In … more >

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By Pan Pylas

Associated Press

Saturday, September 18, 2021

LONDON (AP) — When Prince Philip died nearly six months ago at 99, the tributes poured in from far and wide, praising him for his supportive role at the side of Queen Elizabeth II over her near 70-year reign.

Now, it has emerged that Philip had another crucial role within the royal family. He was the family’s barbecue king – perhaps testament to his Greek heritage.

He adored barbecuing and he turned that into an interesting art form,” his oldest son Prince Charles said in a BBC tribute program that will be broadcast on Wednesday. “And if I ever tried to do it he … I could never get the fire to light or something ghastly, so (he’d say): ‘Go away!’”

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In excerpts of ‘Prince Philip: The Royal Family Remembers’ released late Saturday, members of the royal family spoke admiringly of the late Duke of Edinburgh’s barbecuing skills and his love of cookery shows, with the “Hairy Bikers” Si King and Dave Myers among his favorites.

“Every barbecue that I’ve ever been on, the Duke of Edinburgh has been there cooking,” said Prince William, Philip‘s oldest grandson. “He’s definitely a dab hand at the barbecue … I can safely say there’s never been a case of food poisoning in the family that’s attributed to the Duke of Edinburgh.”

More than a dozen royals including all four of the queen and Philip’s children – Charles, Prince Andrew, Princess Anne and Prince Edward – and their adult grandchildren, including Charles‘ two sons, William and Prince Harry, took part in the one-hour program. The program, which was filmed before and after Philip‘s death on April 9, was originally conceived to mark his 100th birthday in June,

The 95-year-old queen was not interviewed but granted special access to her private film collection. Nor were the spouses of Philip‘s grandchildren, including Harry’s wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.

Harry, who stepped down from royal duties last year and moved to California, spoke for the first time about how the Duke of Edinburgh gave him the space to talk about serving in Afghanistan. Harry says his grandfather would “never probe” but listen about his two tours of duty to Helmand province during the war in Afghanistan.

“Going off to Afghanistan, he was very matter of fact and just said, ‘Make sure you come back alive’,” Harry said. “Then when I came back, there wasn’t a deep level of discussion, more a case of, ‘Well, you made it. How was it?’ That’s how he was.’”

“He was very much a listener, he sort of set the scene for you to be able to share as much as you wanted to share, but he would never probe,” he added.

Harry first served in Afghanistan as a forward air controller, during 2007-08, coordinating air strikes on Taliban positions before his presence was revealed by foreign media and he was flown home. He returned in 2012, this time as an Apache helicopter co-pilot gunner.

Charles also spoke about Philip‘s dedication to the military.

He took very seriously the fact that he was involved in the three armed forces. And obviously the Navy was his main service, but he took an inordinate interest in everything to do with the other two,” Charles said.

He read up an awful lot and thought about it and so he certainly put a lot of the generals and others through their paces, if you know what I mean. He’d always thought of a better way of doing it,” he added.

Biden beset by leadership woes at home, abroad after eight months in office

Biden beset by leadership woes at home, abroad after eight months in office

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President Joe Biden boards Air Force One, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) more >

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By Dave Boyer and S.A. Miller

The Washington Times

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Self-inflicted crises are piling up for President Biden.

His leadership suffered serious blows on multiple fronts in rapid succession Friday. From the acknowledgment of a misguided and deadly U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan to mounting chaos on America’s southern border, Mr. Biden tangled with emergencies foreign and domestic as he heads into his ninth month as commander in chief.

“Joe Biden has completely lost control only 8 months in,” tweeted Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican.

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The Pentagon admitted that a drone strike in Afghanistan accidentally killed 10 civilians instead of terrorist militants, as originally claimed by the administration.

The FDA rejected plans for widespread COVID-19 booster shots, though days early Mr. Biden announced plans for “every adult to get a booster shot” starting Monday.

The FDA said it needs more data before approving a third shot. The vote against the plan was 16-2.

France announced an unprecedented withdrawal of its ambassador to the U.S., deepening an embarrassing feud with America’s oldest ally over Mr. Biden’s foreign policy dealmaking.

The row erupted over Mr. Biden inking a deal to build nuclear-powered submarines for Australia as part of an effort to counter China in the Indo-Pacific. It also undercut France’s $100 billion submarine deal with Australia.

“We understand their position and will continue to be engaged in the coming days to resolve our differences, as we have done at other points over the course of our long alliance,” said Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the president’s National Security Council. “France is our oldest ally and one of our strongest partners, and we share a long history of shared democratic values and a commitment to working together to address global challenges.”

At the southern border, an out-of-control migrant crisis grew exponentially with a massive migrant camp — about 10,000 mostly Haitian migrants — established underneath the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

Homeland Security announced late Friday that it was shutting down the border crossing in Del Rio, which was another black eye for the Biden administration that just a day earlier disputed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s claim that Customs and Border Protection was considering closing the entry point.

The administration on Saturday was working on plans to start flying the migrants back to Haiti, possibly with eight flights per day that would begin Sunday, an official with knowledge of the plan told The Associated Press.

Most of the alarming developments came on Friday afternoon after Mr. Biden had left the White House for a weekend at his home in Delaware.

Mr. Biden had no public events scheduled for Saturday or Sunday.

As the emergencies piled up at Mr. Biden’s feet, his job-approval rating continued to slide. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Friday showed Mr. Biden with the lowest numbers of his presidency amid growing criticism of his handling of the pandemic and the botched Afghanistan withdrawal.

The poll showed that 44% of adults approve of Mr. Biden’s performance in office. That reflected a nine-point drop in just a few weeks.

The Pentagon’s admitted that the U.S. drone strike on Aug. 29, which Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley originally called a “righteous” attack, instead had killed seven innocent children among its victims.

“The Biden Afghanistan catastrophe keeps getting worse,” Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, tweeted.

“Did the Taliban provide the faulty ‘intel’ that led to the Biden admin killing 10 innocent civilians, including 7 children? If so, why did Biden trust the Taliban?”

Tensions also mounted over the migrants congregating in Del Rio, Texas. Critics charge the administration was either unable or unwilling to handle the surge of illegal immigration.

Del Rio’s Democratic mayor warned the president that the number of illegal migrants in the crowd was nearing one-third of Del Rio’s population.

Republican lawmakers called the steady flow of migrants across the Rio Grande an “invasion.”

Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, tweeted: “The Biden Administration .. Won’t let reporters in border facilities. Won’t answer questions about the crisis. And now, won’t let news drones fly over the border. What are they hiding?”

What’s more, the escalating crises came as Mr. Biden’s centerpiece $3.5 trillion safety-net spending plan appeared to be on the ropes. Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key Democratic vote needed for the plan, reportedly told the president to his face in a private meeting Thursday that he won’t support the huge price tag.

Former President Donald Trump said of the drone strike in Afghanistan, “How disgraceful that so many people have been killed because of our incompetent generals.”

“The Biden administration wanted to show that they were tough guys after they surrendered to the Taliban, which left many soldiers injured or dead, and left Americans and the best military equipment in the world behind,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “Our country has never been so embarrassed or humiliated.”

• Stephen Dinan and Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.

Taliban replace ministry for women with one restricting them

Taliban replace ministry for women with one restricting them

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A member of the Taliban prays inside a mosque during Friday prayers in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) more >

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By Kathy Gannon

Associated Press

Saturday, September 18, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers set up a ministry for the “propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice” in the building that once housed the Women’s Affairs Ministry, escorting out World Bank staffers Saturday as part of the forced move.

It’s the latest troubling sign that the Taliban are restricting women’s rights as they settle into government, just a month since they overran the capital of Kabul. In their first period of rule in the 1990s, the Taliban had denied girls and women the right to education and barred them from public life.

Separately, three explosions targeted Taliban vehicles in the eastern provincial capital of Jalalabad on Saturday, killing three people and wounding 20, witnesses said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Islamic State militants, headquartered in the area, are enemies of the Taliban.

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The Taliban are facing major economic and security problems as they attempt to govern, and a growing challenge by IS insurgents would further stretch their resources.

In Kabul, a new sign was up outside the women’s affairs ministry, announcing it was now the “Ministry for Preaching and Guidance and the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.”

Staff of the World Bank’s $100 million Women’s Economic Empowerment and Rural Development Program, which was run out of the Women’s Affairs Ministry, were escorted off the grounds Saturday, said program member Sharif Akhtar, who was among those being removed.

Mabouba Suraj, who heads the Afghan Women’s Network, said she was astounded by the flurry of orders released by the Taliban-run government restricting women and girls.

Meanwhile, the Taliban-run education ministry asked boys from grades 7-12 back to school Saturday along with their male teachers but there was no mention of girls in those grades returning to school. Previously, the Taliban’s minister of higher education minister, had said girls would be given equal access to education, albeit in gender-segregated settings.

“It is becoming really, really troublesome. … Is this the stage where the girls are going to be forgotten?” Suraj said. “I know they don’t believe in giving explanations, but explanations are very important.”

Suraj speculated that the contradictory statements perhaps reflect divisions within the Taliban as they seek to consolidate their power, with the more pragmatic within the movement losing out to hard-liners among them, at least for now.

Statements from the Taliban leadership often reflect a willingness to engage with the world, open public spaces to women and girls and protect Afghanistan’s minorities. But orders to its rank and file on the ground are contradictory. Instead restrictions, particularly on women, have been implemented.

Suraj, an Afghan American who returned to Afghanistan in 2003 to promote women’s rights and education, said many of her fellow activists have left the country.

She said she stayed in an effort to engage with the Taliban and find a middle ground, but until now has not been able to get the Taliban leadership to meet with activists who have remained in the country to talk with women about the way forward.

“We have to talk. We have to find a middle ground,” she said.

Also on Saturday, an international flight by Pakistan’s national carrier left Kabul’s airport with 322 passengers on board and a flight by Iran’s Mahan Air departed with 187 passengers on board, an airport official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media, said the two flights departed Saturday morning. The identities and nationalities of those on board were not immediately known.

The international flights were the latest to depart Kabul in the past week as technical teams from Qatar and Turkey have worked to get the airport up to standard for international commercial aircraft.

A Qatar Airways flight on Friday took more Americans out of Afghanistan, according to Washington’s peace envoy, the third such airlift by the Mideast carrier since the Taliban takeover and the frantic U.S. troop pullout from the country.

Pentagon admits Afghan civilians, not ISIS-K terrorists, killed in drone strike: ‘Tragic mistake’

Pentagon admits Afghan civilians, not ISIS-K terrorists, killed in drone strike: ‘Tragic mistake’

Children, employee of U.S. aid group wrongly targeted in Aug. 29 attack amid troop pullout

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The Ahmadi family pray at the cemetery next to family graves of family members killed by a US drone strike, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) more >

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By Dave Boyer and Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Friday, September 17, 2021

A U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan last month killed 10 civilians, including children, not an Islamic State extremist as the Pentagon first claimed, the Defense Department acknowledged Friday after an internal review.

“The strike was a tragic mistake,” Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told a Pentagon news conference. 

Pentagon officials later confirmed that the driver of the vehicle was Zemari Ahmadi, a 43-year-old electrical engineer who had been working with an American aid group.

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Gen. McKenzie said the car driven by Ahmadi was struck “in the earnest belief” that the targeted vehicle posed an imminent threat to U.S. troops who were leading a frantic airlift out of the Kabul airport during the final hours of the American military presence in Afghanistan.

Days before the strike that killed Ahmadi, terrorists with the group ISIS-K killed 13 American troops and more than 160 Afghans in a suicide bombing at the airport.

Top U.S. officials were expecting more attacks and were on high alert. On Aug. 29, military leaders said that an armed U.S. drone targeted a car believed to be packed with explosives and being driven by an ISIS-K terrorist, destined for the Kabul airport. 

But Gen. McKenzie admitted Friday that was not the case.

“I am now convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that strike,” he said. “Moreover, we now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with ISIS-K, or a direct threat to U.S. forces.”

Later Friday afternoon, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he’s ordered a more thorough Pentagon review of the incident.

“On behalf of the men and women of the Department of Defense, I offer my deepest condolences to surviving family members of those who were killed, including Mr. Ahmadi, and to the staff of Nutrition and Education International, Mr. Ahmadi’s employer,” he said in a statement.

“We now know that there was no connection between Mr. Ahmadi and [ISIS-K], that his activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced, and that Mr. Ahmadi was just as innocent a victim as were the others tragically killed,” the secretary said in a statement. “We apologize, and we will endeavor to learn from this horrible mistake.”

For days after the Aug. 29 strike, Pentagon officials insisted the strike had been conducted correctly, despite numerous civilians being killed, including children. Until Friday, the Pentagon had not acknowledged that any civilians had been killed.

News organizations later raised doubts about the Defense Department‘s version of events, reporting that the driver of the targeted vehicle was a longtime employee at an American humanitarian organization and citing an absence of evidence to support the Pentagon’s assertion that the vehicle contained explosives.

A New York Times investigation earlier this month found that Ahmadi was loading canisters of water into his vehicle on the day of the strike. Those canisters may have been mistaken for explosives.

Some watchdog groups on Friday quickly called for a more detailed investigation and said the incident highlights underlying problems with U.S. drone strikes abroad.

“The U.S. must now commit to a full, transparent and impartial investigation into this incident,” said Brian Castner, senior crisis advisor with Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Program.

“Anyone suspected of criminal responsibility should be prosecuted in a fair trial. Survivors and families of the victims should be kept informed of the progress of the investigation and be given full reparation,” he said. 

Iran angling for invite to Chinese-led security pact after years of waiting

Iran angling for invite to Chinese-led security pact after years of waiting

President Raisi heads for summit in hopes of easing isolation

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In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Ebrahim Raisi attends a live televised interview with state-run TV, at the presidency office in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office … more >

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By David R. Sands

The Washington Times

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Iran looks likely to get a long-delayed invitation to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization when leaders of the 20-year-old Chinese-led security forum meet over the next two days in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

The expected invitation would be a coup for new hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who will be making his first foreign trip since taking office to Dushanbe to confer with leaders and officials of the current eight-country pact.

Tehran first applied for membership in the SCO in 2008, but its application has long been complicated by international sanctions it has faced over its suspect nuclear programs.

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The move also could put a dent in U.S.-led efforts to isolate Iran and maintain sanctions on its economy, as the Biden administration struggles to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that former President Donald Trump repudiated in 2018.

Although it has not developed into what some feared would be a kind of China-dominated NATO, the SCO has proven a useful if limited negotiating and coordinating forum for regional military, economic and political issues.

China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan were founding members in 2001, and Pakistan and India joined in 2017.

“We attach great importance to regional cooperation, and the SCO is among the active organizations for regional cooperation,” Mr. Raisi told reporters accompanying the large Iranian delegation to Dushanbe Wednesday, according to the Iranian Tasnim News Agency. “Relations with countries of the region are among the Islamic Republic of Iran‘s priorities.”

Iran has had observer status at the SCO, and summit organizers were openly optimistic that a formal application to join — a two-year process — would be approved at the Dushanbe gathering.

“There is a general disposition for [Iranian membership], there is no doubt about that,” said Bakhtiyor Khakimov, Russia’s ambassador at large for SCO affairs.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Kahtibzadeh said in his weekly briefing Monday that “Iran‘s request will be considered at the SCO summit, and we hope this review will lead to the result we expect.”

The Russian newspaper Izvestiya, citing diplomatic sources in Moscow, said an invitation to join the SCO was likely at the Dushanbe gathering.

The instability in Afghanistan, with which Iran shares a 570-mile border, will be a central concern of the summit in the wake of the chaotic U.S. and allied military withdrawal and the struggles of the new Taliban leadership to form a new government.

Despite marking its 20th anniversary this year and adding members, the SCO has repeatedly found its effectiveness limited by clashing interests among key members.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to skip the summit to avoid an awkward meeting in the midst of bilateral tensions, and SCO members also are torn over recent events in Afghanistan and whether to reach out to the new Taliban leadership.

Second major felon found on Afghan evacuation flight

EXCLUSIVE: Second major felon found on Afghan evacuation flight

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In this Aug. 22, 2021, file photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, Afghan passengers board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III during the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (MSgt. Donald R. Allen/U.S. Air … more >

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By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Another Afghan who had been deported from the U.S. after an aggravated felony conviction was found on an evacuation flight back to the U.S. this month, The Washington Times has learned.

The man, who had a 2011 conviction for aggravated robbery and was deported in 2017, somehow cleared all the overseas checks the Biden administration says it is making. He was flagged only when he arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, making it tougher to oust him.

His case follows that of Ghader Heydari, an Afghan who was convicted of rape in Idaho in 2010 and was deported in 2017, but who also made it onto an evacuation flight and landed at Dulles.

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They are among tens of thousands of Afghans who have reached the U.S., and their arrivals signal potential problems within that broader population over how they are being vetted.

“A lot of time and effort and taxpayer dollars have gone into removing dangerous individuals from our society. In one fell swoop, we’re simply going to return them to the U.S. without thinking ahead of the consequences,” said Jon Feere, a former chief of staff at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and now director of investigations at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Both convicts were flagged by Customs and Border Protection officers.

Some analysts have argued that their flagging proves the process is working, while others say the fact that they reached U.S. soil is worrying because it creates a series of rights and erects significant hurdles to getting rid of them again.

Sheriff Kieran Donahue in Canyon County, Idaho, which borders Ada County, where Heydari was convicted of rape, noted another consideration: the potential impact on the victims of their crimes.

“This guy’s a threat. And the United States — the Biden administration — brought him here,” Sheriff Donahue said.

In Heydari’s case, the known rape victim has been alerted, he said, though the sheriff couldn’t say any more to protect the person’s identity.

Heydari is being held at an ICE detention facility in Virginia.

The robbery convict also was put into deportation proceedings, according to a document The Washington Times has reviewed. He has expressed a fear of being sent back to Afghanistan, which is the first step to block another deportation.

He likely is not eligible for asylum because of his felony. Aggravated robbery is a serious offense involving the use of a weapon or threats of force. Still, he could argue against removal under the Convention Against Torture.

It’s not clear whether the two cases were mistakes that should have been blocked overseas or whether they signal a broader policy in which aggravated felony records and previous deportations are not considered grounds for blocking an evacuee.

The Washington Times reached the Department of Homeland Security, which did not answer that question, though it acknowledged that sending back convicts could be difficult right now.

“Removal decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account a range of considerations. At this point, we are not removing individuals to Afghanistan,” the department said.

The State Department, reached by The Times, said its role was conducting overseas screening. It referred questions about U.S. operations to Homeland Security.

ICE deported about 210 people to Afghanistan from 2012 through 2020. With the latest case, at least two of them are known to have made it back on evacuation flights.

“Were all of those deportations for naught?” Mr. Feere asked. “Are we really going to bring every single one of them into the U.S. and have no plan to send them home again?”

Sheriff Donahue said local authorities will have to deal with the repercussions of returned criminals.

“We’re going to pay for this for some time, possibly for decades, and as law enforcement, we’re kind of that first line of defense out here,” he said. “These people are coming into the country without a thorough vetting process, and I don’t believe there is one being done thoroughly. We stand to have a whole bunch of law enforcement respond to tragic events, up to and including terrorist activity, on our soil.”

Biden administration officials insist they have confidence in their vetting process for the more than 45,000 Afghans who had been airlifted to the U.S.

The administration has been cagey about revealing exactly what it’s checking.

Testifying to Congress this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that most Afghans were airlifted out of Kabul without vetting. He blamed the crush of people at the airport.

He said the government set up waypoints in other countries where Afghans could be held and vetted and insisted that nobody reached the U.S. “without being checked somewhere else first to make sure that they don’t pose a security threat.”

Under questioning by Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, Mr. Blinken acknowledged “a handful” of cases in which Afghans were believed to have made it to the U.S. with child brides. The secretary said the government has “separated people” in those cases.

Mr. Blinken said the government will conduct further vetting in a year if Congress approves the Biden administration’s plan to give the Afghans a speedy path to citizenship.

Members of Congress, though, pointed out that once Afghans reach U.S. soil, there is no way to require them to stay on military bases for vetting. Some have walked away from the bases to blend in with communities.

Security experts said the administration should have blocked people from reaching the U.S. until all vetting was complete. While overseas, they have limited recourse to the courts. But once in the U.S., even if immediately flagged and detained, they can sue for release, can demand asylum and can complicate plans for deportation, even if the government was inclined to do so.

Most migrants who can’t be deported under current law are required to be released after six months in immigration detention unless the government can prove they are security risks or deportation is imminent.

In the case of Heydari, officials have other options to keep him off the streets.

He was paroled in Idaho in 2015, five years into his sentence, and reentering the U.S. is a violation of that parole. The state Commission of Pardons and Parole received a report of violation on Tuesday and is issuing a nationwide warrant and detainer.

The commission also is talking with ICE for information that could lead to new charges, said Executive Director Ashley Dowell.

Sheriff Donahue, who is part of the leadership team at the National Sheriffs Association, said the federal government also might be able to charge Heydari.

“This is truly an aggravated reentry from the federal guidelines,” the sheriff said. “He knowingly came back to the United States after being deported, and he was deported after a felony crime.”

The Biden administration has taken a more lenient approach toward immigration enforcement, though it says migrants with aggravated felonies remain priority targets for ousting. It’s not clear how that squares with the decision to allow rape and robbery convicts back into the country.

Kris Kobach, general counsel at the Alliance for Free Citizens, who is battling the Biden administration’s deportation rules in court, said they have found the government is “willfully ignoring” cases of felons with previous deportations.

Under the law, he said, a felon previously deported is required to be removed.