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.

 

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.

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.”

Top generals dispute Biden’s claims on Afghan withdrawal

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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. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang and Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Pentagon’s top brass were on the defensive early Tuesday as the Senate Armed Services Committee kicked off its highly anticipated hearing on President Biden‘s troubled withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Anticipating tough questions from lawmakers on the panel, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin assured that the military remained in lockstep with Mr. Biden and had begun preparing for the withdrawal well in advance — even as he acknowledged that the Pentagon‘s leadership originally opposed the White House’s mandated Sept. 11 withdrawal deadline.

“We wanted to be ready. And we were,” Mr. Austin said in his opening remarks, pushing back on the widely held perception that the Biden administration was caught flat-footed as the Taliban swept Kabul in less than two weeks in late August.

SEE ALSO: Gen. Milley defends calls to Chinese: ‘I was certain’ Trump wouldn’t order attack

“To be clear, those first two days were difficult,” he said. “We all watched with alarm the images of Afghans rushing the runway and our aircraft. We all remember the scenes of confusion outside the airport. But within 48 hours, our troops restored order, and the process began to take hold.”

Having skirted congressional hearings on Afghanistan earlier this month, Mr. Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley, and head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie appeared before the panel in what’s expected to be a lengthy, heated hearing focused 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

A second grilling before the House Armed Services Committee is set for Wednesday.

Although the military has escaped much of the political vitriol for the chaotic withdrawal, lawmakers have become increasingly critical of the Pentagon leadership. Some leading Republicans on Capitol Hill have called for both Mr. Austin and Gen. Milley to resign over their handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal.

Those calls grew louder after disclosures in a book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa which 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. The authors also claimed that Gen. Milley effectively told China that the U.S. had no plans to attack in the fraught final days of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

The general has spoken little about those incidents, and in his opening remarks attempted to head off lawmakers’ questions and defend his actions. He said the calls to his Chinese counterpart were made with the “knowledge and coordination of civilian oversight,” and under Department of Defense guidance, and were made because of intelligence suggesting Beijing thought military action was looming.

“I’ve served this nation for 42 years,” he said. “I spent years in combat, and I buried a lot of my troops who died while defending this country. My loyalty for this nation, its people, and the Constitution hasn’t changed and will never change. As long as I have a breath to give. My loyalty is absolute.”

Both Mr. Austin and Gen. Milley’s remarks will likely do little to lighten the blows from lawmakers in the hearing.

Republican lawmakers, especially, have zeroed in on what they believe was a disconnect between Pentagon leadership and the president’s White House team. They questioned why Mr. Biden would have stuck by his original withdrawal plan, overruling his military advisers, amid mounting evidence that the U.S.-backed Afghan government was on the verge of a quick collapse and the Islamist Taliban ready to rapidly overrun the entire country.

The result: a quick collapse of the Kabul government, a hasty,chaotic evacuation highlighted by a deadly terrorist attack and the abandonment of U.S. supplies and weaponry, and the failure to secure safe passage out for a number of U.S. citizens and an even larger number of Afghans who aided the allied war effort and were in danger of being targeted by the Taliban.

“President Biden made a strategic decision to leave Afghanistan which resulted in the death of 13 U.S. service members, the deaths of hundreds of Afghan civilians, including women and children, and left American citizens surrounded by the very terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 — and they’re still there,” said Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe, the Armed Services panel’s ranking Republican in his opening remarks.

“President Biden and his advisers didn’t listen to his combat commander,” he said. “He didn’t listen to Congress. And he failed to anticipate what all of us knew would happen. So in August, we all witnessed a horror of the president’s own making,” he said.

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.”

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.

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.

Lloyd Austin, defense secretary, orders high-level probe into errant Kabul missile

Defense secretary orders high-level probe into errant Kabul missile

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, and Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, at the … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Monday, September 20, 2021

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wants a senior military officer to look into an Aug. 29 missile strike on a car in Kabul that killed almost a dozen innocent civilians, including children, instead of terrorists planning to attack U.S. military personnel.

Mr. Austin told Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall to choose a 3 or 4-star general who will take charge of a review into what U.S. military officials called a “tragic mistake.” It is expected to be completed within 45 days of the general being named, Pentagon officials said Monday.

The decision to launch the Hellfire missile was made by the targeting commander on the ground in Kabul. The study will look into what went wrong that day and what procedures might need to be changed, chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

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“Part of the review will be to examine the investigation itself — the thoroughness of the investigation,” Mr. Kirby said. “And, of course, to then take a look at what levels of accountability might be appropriate and, if so, at what level.”

On Friday, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said the decision to launch the Hellfire missile was taken in the “earnest belief” that it would prevent an imminent threat to U.S. troops and the evacuees at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The strike happened three days after an ISIS-K suicide bomb attack at the airport resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. personnel and more than 100 civilians. Gen. McKenzie said the “substantial body of intelligence” indicated that another attack was imminent.

The targeting team in Kabul took notice of the white Toyota Corolla when it was parked outside a compound believed to be linked to ISIS, Gen. McKenzie said.

For weeks, Pentagon officials stood by their contention that the drone strike had taken out an ISIS-K attacker even as reporting at the scene indicated they had actually targeted a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group instead. 

While they touted a secondary blast when the car was hit by the Hellfire missile as a sign it was carrying explosives, officials now say it was likely the explosion of a propane tank in the car.

“Such an ignition would have created the brief but massive fireball oriented directly up and out of the compound that was observed in the video,” Gen. McKenzie said Friday.

Officials at U.S. Central Command are attempting to reach out to the family members of the victims to offer them compensation. Mr. Kirby said the defense secretary would also support helping them come to the United States, assuming it’s their wish and all legal hurdles have been cleared.

Afghan survivors of errant US drone strike seek probe

Afghan survivors of errant US drone strike seek probe

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FILE – In this Monday, Sept. 13, 2021 file photo, the Ahmadi family pray at the cemetery next to family graves of family members killed by a US drone strike, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Sorry is not enough for the Afghan … more >

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By Kathy Gannon

Associated Press

Saturday, September 18, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A survivor of an errant U.S. drone strike that killed 10 members of his family demanded Saturday that those responsible be punished and said Washington’s apology was not enough.

The family also seeks financial compensation and relocation to the United States or another country deemed safe, said Emal Ahmadi, whose 3-year-old daughter Malika was among those killed in the Aug. 29 strike.

On that day, a U.S. hellfire missile struck the car that Ahmadi‘s brother Zemerai had just pulled into the driveway of the Ahmadi family compound as children ran to greet him. In all, 10 members of the family, including seven children, were killed in the strike.

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On Friday, U.S. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, called the strike a “tragic mistake” and said that innocent civilians were indeed killed in the attack.

The U.S. military initially defended the strike, saying it had targeted an Islamic State group’s “facilitator” and disrupted the militants’ ability to carry out attacks during the chaotic final stage of the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan late last month.

Discrepancies between the military’s portrayal of the strike and findings on the ground quickly emerged. The Associated Press and other news organizations reported that the driver of the targeted vehicle was a longtime employee at a U.S. humanitarian organization. There were no signs of a large secondary blast, despite the Pentagon’s assertion that the vehicle contained explosives.

The drone strike followed a devastating suicide bombing by IS – a rival of the Taliban – that killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. military personnel at one of the gates to the Kabul airport in late August. At that time, large numbers of Afghans, desperate to flee the Taliban, had crowded the airport gates in hopes of getting on to evacuation flights.

McKenzie apologized for the error and said the United States is considering making reparation payments to the family of the victims.

Emal Ahmadi told the AP on Saturday that he wants the U.S. to investigate who fired the drone and punish those responsible.

“That is not enough for us to say sorry,” said Ahmadi who heard of the U.S. apology from friends in America. “The U.S.A. should find the person who did this.”

Ahmadi said he was relieved that an apology was offered and the family members he lost were recognized as innocent victims, but that this won’t bring them back. He said that he was frustrated that the family never received a call from U.S. officials, despite repeated requests.

He looked exhausted as he sat in front of the charred ruins of his brother’s car.

In the days before the Pentagon’s apology, accounts from the family, documents from colleagues seen by the AP and the scene at the family home – where Zemerai’s car was struck by the missile – all sharply contradicted the accounts by the U.S. military.

Instead, they painted the picture of a family that had worked for Americans and were trying to gain visas to the U.S., fearing for their lives under the Taliban.

Zemerai Ahmadi was the family’s breadwinner and had looked after his three brothers, including Emal, and their children.

“Now I am then one who is responsible for all my family and I am jobless,” said Emal Ahmadi. The situation “is not good,” said Ahmadi of life under the Taliban.

International aid groups and the United Nations have warned of a looming humanitarian crisis that could drive most Afghans below the poverty level.

McKenzie said the decision to strike a white Toyota Corolla sedan, after having tracked it for about eight hours, was made in an “earnest belief” – based on a standard of “reasonable certainty” – that it posed an imminent threat to American forces at the Kabul airport. The car was believed to have been carrying explosives in its trunk, he said.

But Ahmadi wondered how the family’s home could have been mistaken for an Islamic State hideout.

“The U.S.A. can see from everywhere,” he said of U.S. drone capabilities. “They can see that there were innocent children near the car and in the car. Whoever did this should be punished.”

“It isn’t right,” he added.

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. 

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.

Afghan killed by drone praised by co-workers in US aid group

‘Righteous strike?’ Afghan killed by drone praised by co-workers in U.S. aid group as ‘best of us’

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Amal Ahmadi, 32, holds a picture of his slain brother Zemerai Ahmadi at the family house in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. Zemerai Ahmadi the Afghan man who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last month was an … more >

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By Kathy Gannon and Eric Tucker

Associated Press

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan man who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last month was an enthusiastic and beloved longtime employee at an American humanitarian organization, his colleagues say, painting a stark contrast to the Pentagon’s claims that he was an Islamic State group militant about to carry out an attack on American troops.

Signs have been mounting that the U.S. military may have targeted the wrong man in the Aug. 29 strike in Kabul, with devastating consequences, killing seven children and two other adults from his family. The Pentagon says it is further investigating the strike, but it has no way to do so on the ground in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover, severely limiting its ability to gather evidence.

Accounts from the family, documents from colleagues seen by The Associated Press, and the scene at the family home – where Zemerai Ahmadi’s car was struck by a Hellfire missile just as he pulled into the driveway – all seem to sharply contradict the accounts by the U.S. military. Instead, they paint the picture of a family that had worked for Americans and were trying to gain visas to the United States, fearing for their lives under the Taliban.

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At the home, the mangled, incinerated Toyota Carolla remains in the driveway. But there are no signs of large secondary blasts the Pentagon said were caused by explosives hidden in the car trunk. In the tightly cramped, walled compound, the house is undamaged except for broken glass, even a badly built wooden balcony remains in place. A brick wall immediately adjacent to the car stands intact. Trees and foliage close to the car are not burned or torn.

The family wants the United States to hear their side of the story and see the facts on the ground.

“We just want that they come here. See what they did. Talk to us. Give us the proof,” Emal Ahmadi, Zemerai’s younger brother, said of the U.S. military. Near tears, he opened a photo on his phone of his 3-year-old daughter, Malika, in her favorite dress. Another photo showed her charred remains after she was killed in the strike.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged he did not know if the man targeted in the strike was an IS operative or an aid worker. “I don’t know because we’re reviewing it,” he said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

The strike was carried out in the final days of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, as American troops were carrying out evacuations at Kabul’s airport. Only days earlier, an IS suicide bombers at the airport killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. servicemembers.

The Pentagon says the strike prevented another IS attack at the airport. Officials said the U.S. military had been observing the car for hours as it drove and saw people loading explosives into the back. Days after amid reports of the children killed, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called it a “righteous strike,” and said “at least one of the people that were killed was an ISIS facilitator,” using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

The U.S. acknowledged reports of civilian casualties and said they may have been caused by secondary explosions. The family said when the 37-year-old Zemerai, alone in his car, pulled up to the house, he honked his horn. His 11-year-old son ran out, and Zemerai let the boy get in and drive the car into the driveway. The other kids ran out to watch, and the missile incinerated the car, killing seven children and an adult son and nephew of Zemerai.

“That was my last memory, the sound of his horn,” said another of Zemerai’s brothers, Romal Ahmadi, who was inside the house at the time. His three children, aged two to seven, were killed.

Zemerai worked for 15 years for Nutrition & Education International, a California-based non-profit aimed at countering malnutrition in Afghanistan. Romal also worked briefly for NEI.

Only days before the strike, Zemerai and Romal applied for special visas to the U.S. for those who had worked with U.S. companies. His brother, Emal and the nephew who was killed, Ahmad Naser Haideri, had also applied for special visas because of their work for the U.S. military.

Emal provided the AP with documents including their visa applications, letters of recommendation and even a medal Haideri had received for his service with a special U.S. trained elite special force. Haideri also had a letter of reference from the U.S.-based Multi Country Security Solutions Group, where he worked as a contractor, calling him “an important part of our commitment to provide the best faithful service to the U.S. Special Forces.”

“He was an excellent employee,” the firm’s president, Timothy Williams, who wrote the letter of reference, told the AP. “I’m not going to change from that just because of the incident that happened. I’m going to stand behind my guys.”

Zemerai’s colleagues at NEI described him as a talented worker who worked his way up from a handyman to a skilled engineer and an essential employee.

Last year, when the company was unable to pay employees at full salary because of the coronavirus pandemic, employees were given the opportunity to leave their positions for better paying work elsewhere.

But Ahmadi declined, saying, “I am NEI. From beginning to end, until we accomplish our goal,” the company’s founder and president, Steven Kwon, told the AP.

Colleagues recalled him as a doting father and enthusiastic dancer who kept an optimistic spirit amid the chaos of his surroundings and was quick to comfort those around him with a joke. He had grown up poor in Kabul and maintained “such a heart for the poor,” said a co-worker who asked to be identified only as Sonia for safety reasons.

“He was definitely the best of us. Absolutely,” she said.

He also always supported the company’s efforts to hire more women and create women’s programs, which is one of many reasons that colleagues said the suggestion that he was connected to any sort of extremism seems preposterous to them.

“Everything we’re hearing about him is just so disturbing and so absurd because he had such love for his people,” said Sonia. “How would he overnight turn around and start wanting to kill his own people. It makes absolutely no sense at all whatsoever.”

It seems unlikely the U.S. will send anyone to the Ahmadi home to investigate. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said he’s “not aware of any option that would put investigators on the ground in Kabul.” The U.S. Central Command said it would rely on “other means,” without elaborating but apparently meaning surveillance video and intercepts that led to the strike.

The family, grieving and furious, still wants refuge in the United States. On top of their already existing worries over their past work with the U.S., they now fear the new Taliban rulers will suspect them of being IS. The Islamic State group is a violent rival of the Taliban.

“The U.S. has accused us. They haven’t cleared our name and they won’t even talk to us, and now the suspicion is on us,” Email said. “We are angry, but we don’t know what to do. For our safety we would go to America, but it must be all our families, not just me.”

Much to their dismay, Ahmadi’s colleagues say they haven’t been contacted by anyone from the Biden administration about what happened.

“Just talk to us because our teams are now terrified,” Sonia said. “I mean, in addition to being afraid of the Taliban and ISIS, they’re now even more afraid of the U.S. government.”

Pentagon faces questions on true loss of U.S. arms in Afghanistan

Humbled Pentagon faces questions on true loss of U.S. arms in Afghanistan

Milley sees 'lessons to be learned' as Taliban hold parade of American gear

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Taliban special force fighters arrive inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. military’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 … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Updated: 5:15 p.m. on
Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The nation’s top general said Wednesday that there are “lessons to be learned” from a chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, all while he and other top Pentagon leaders face growing questions over whether the Biden administration has tried to hide the true extent of the weapons haul lost to the Taliban.

In his first remarks since the last U.S. troops exited Afghanistan, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan and last month’s rushed exit — which left more than 100 U.S. citizens stranded in the country — will be studied for years to come. His sobering take on the conflict came on the same day that the Islamist Taliban held a major victory parade in the Afghan city of Kandahar and flaunted the cutting-edge U.S. vehicles, weapons, and other military equipment it captured after quickly defeating Afghan government forces en route to retaking control of the country.

Exactly how so much equipment so easily fell into Taliban hands is just one of the key questions before Gen. Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, both of whom have fended off loud calls to resign amid the Afghan withdrawal debacle.

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But they will eventually have to address whether the military could and should have done more to prevent U.S. arms from falling into Taliban hands. And new evidence that’s emerged in recent days suggests that the Biden administration may have tried to shape the release of key information about the size of the arsenal abandoned in Afghanistan.

Officials with the Government Accountability Office confirmed Wednesday that they took down roughly 400 studies posted online relating to Afghanistan, including a 2017 document that provided a comprehensive list of American military gear given to Afghan security forces from the start of the war in 2001. GAO officials said the removal came at the direct request of the State Department, which did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Times.

The reports were removed, officials said, out of fear that they could identify Afghans who had supported the U.S. war effort and could be targeted for retribution by the Taliban.

“Given ongoing events in Afghanistan, the State Department requested we temporarily remove and review reports on Afghanistan to protect recipients of U.S. assistance that may be identified through our reports and thus subject to retribution,” the GAO said in a statement to The Times. “We did so out of an abundance of caution” about Aug. 16, a day after the U.S.-backed government in Kabul fell to the Taliban.

GAO officials said that of those 400 reports initially removed, about 300 have been reviewed and are back online. But the 2017 study detailing all of the equipment given to Afghan forces remains under review, as do about 75 other documents related to Afghanistan, according to the GAO.

Weapons haul

Over the past 20 years, the U.S. provided a cumulative total of more than $82 billion in arms and training to the forces of the U.S.-backed Kabul government, which quickly folded in the face of a major Taliban military offensive last month. While the GAO has not yet reposted the 2017 report, it can still be found using Google’s Wayback Machine and other tools.

According to that study, the U.S. from 2003 to 2016 directly provided or funded the purchase of a massive amount of equipment for Afghan forces, including: 162,643 pieces of communications gear; 75,898 vehicles; 599,690 weapons; 29,681 pieces of explosive ordnance disposal equipment; 16,191 pieces of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, equipment; and 208 aircraft.

No one believes all of that equipment is now in Taliban hands. Much of the military materiel was reclaimed earlier in the struggle, and many large pieces of equipment still in Afghanistan, such as aircraft given to Afghan forces, were rendered inoperable by American troops before they left the country, Pentagon officials said this week. In addition, a massive amount of military equipment was moved out of the country during the U.S. withdrawal effort over the spring and summer.

But Taliban fighters in recent days have been seen flying U.S. helicopters and driving armored vehicles. The insurgent group also appears to have captured a cache of guns, night-vision goggles, surveillance equipment, camouflage uniforms, and a host of other military gear.

On Wednesday, the group held a victory parade, showing off much of that very same equipment.

As images have spread online of Taliban fighters proudly displaying their American-made guns and uniforms, watchdog groups have accused the Biden administration of trying to hide just how well-armed the Taliban has become.

“The war in Afghanistan has always been a black box, but now we’ve reached an entirely new level,” Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of the watchdog group Open the Books, said in a statement Wednesday.

The Taliban’s newfound military prowess and the widely-criticized final withdrawal also have fueled calls for Gen. Milley and Mr. Austin to step down.

“The loss of billions of dollars in advanced military equipment and supplies falling into the hands of our enemies is catastrophic,” more than 90 retired military officers wrote in a letter earlier this week, calling for both officials’ resignations.

“The damage to the reputation of the United States is indescribable,” they wrote. “We are now seen, and will be seen for many years, as an unreliable partner in any multinational agreement or operation. Trust in the United States is irreparably damaged.”

At the Pentagon Wednesday, Gen. Milley didn’t offer specifics on what he would have done differently in Afghanistan with the benefit of hindsight — though lawmakers have pressed for answers on the lost equipment issue and surely will grill the general when he eventually appears before Congress.

“We’re going to learn from this experience as a military. How we got to this moment in Afghanistan will be analyzed and studied for years to come. And we in the military will approach this with humility, transparency and candor,” he said during a Pentagon press conference, his first public comments since the U.S. mission in Afghanistan officially ended on Monday. 

“There are many tactical, operational and strategic lessons to be learned,” he said.

Mr. Austin also seemed to concede some parts of the mission could’ve been handled differently.

“There hasn’t been a single operation that I’ve ever been involved in where we didn’t discover something we could have done better or more efficiently or more effectively,” he told reporters. “No operation is ever perfect.”

Biden administration removed lists of U.S. military gear in Afghanistan

Biden officials removed lists of U.S. military gear in Afghanistan from government websites

Taliban parade captured U.S. vehicles amid accounting questions

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Taliban special force fighters stand guard outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. military’s withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. The Taliban were in full control of Kabul’s airport on Tuesday, after the last U.S. plane … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Biden administration two weeks ago removed online reports that provided key details on the U.S. military equipment provided to Afghan security forces over the past 20 years, some of which has found its way into Taliban hands after the abrupt American withdrawal from the country last month.

Officials with the Government Accountability Office confirmed Wednesday that they took down roughly 400 studies relating to Afghanistan, including a 2017 document that provided a comprehensive list of American military gear given to Afghan security forces up until that point. GAO officials said the removal came at the direct request of the State Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Times.

The reports were removed, officials said, out of fear that they could be used by Afghanistan‘s new leaders to identify Afghans who had supported the U.S. war effort and target them for revenge attacks.

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Biden officials removed lists of U.S. military gear in Afghanistan from government websites

“Given ongoing events in Afghanistan, the State Department requested we temporarily remove and review reports on Afghanistan to protect recipients of U.S. assistance that may be identified through our reports and thus subject to retribution,” the GAO said in a statement to The Times. “We did so out of an abundance of caution” about Aug. 16, a day after the U.S.-backed government in Kabul fell to the Taliban.

GAO officials said that of those 400 reports initially removed, about 300 have been reviewed and are back online. But the 2017 study detailing all of the equipment given to Afghan forces remains under review, as do about 75 other documents related to Afghanistan, according to the GAO.

Over the past 20 years, the U.S. provided more than $82 billion in arms and training to the Afghan forces, which quickly folded in the face of a major Taliban military offensive last month.

Watchdog groups have accused the Biden administration of trying to hide the extent of U.S. weapons, vehicles and equipment now in the hands of the Taliban.

“The war in Afghanistan has always been a black box, but now we’ve reached an entirely new level,” Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of the watchdog group Open the Books, said in a statement Wednesday. “Biden officials recently directed U.S. federal agencies to scrub their websites of official reports detailing the $82.9 billion in military equipment and training provided to the Afghan security forces since 2001.”

The Taliban on Wednesday held a victory parade, showing off much of the U.S. gear it has acquired over the past several weeks. 

Afghans face hunger crisis, adding to Taliban’s challenges

Afghans face hunger crisis, adding to Taliban’s challenges

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Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint near the gate of Hamid Karzai international Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. The Taliban have sealed off Kabul’s airport to most would-be evacuees to prevent large crowds from gathering after … more >

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By Kathy Gannon and Rahim Faiez

Associated Press

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Food could run out this month in Afghanistan, a senior U.N. official warned Wednesday, threatening to add a hunger crisis to the challenges facing the country’s new Taliban rulers as they endeavor to restore stability after decades of war.

About one third of the country’s population of 38 million is facing “emergency” or “crisis” levels of food insecurity, according to Ramiz Alakbarov, the local U.N. humanitarian coordinator. With winter coming and a severe drought ongoing, more money is needed to feed the population, he said.

The U.N.’s World Food Program has brought in food and distributed it to tens of thousands of people in recent weeks. But of the $1.3 billion needed for aid efforts, only 39% has been received, he said.

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“The lean winter season is fast approaching, and without additional funding, food stocks will run out at the end of September,” Alakbarov said.

The Taliban, who seized control of the country ahead of the withdrawal of American forces this week, now must govern a nation that relies heavily on international aid and is in the midst of a worsening economic crisis. In addition to the concerns about food supplies, civil servants haven’t been paid in months and the local currency is losing value. Most of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves are held abroad and currently frozen.

Mohammad Sharif, a shopkeeper in the capital of Kabul, said that shops and markets there have supplies, but a major concern is rising food prices.

“If the situation continues like this and there is no government to control the prices, that will cause so many problems for local people,” he said.

In the wake of the U.S. pullout, many Afghans are anxiously waiting to see how the Taliban will rule. When they were last in power, before being driven out by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, they imposed draconian restrictions, refusing to allow girls to go to school, largely confining women to their homes and banning television, music and even photography.

But more recently, their leaders have sought to project a more moderate image. Schools have reopened to boys and girls, though Taliban officials have said they will study separately. Women are out on the streets wearing Islamic headscarves – as they always have – rather than the all-encompassing burqa the Taliban required in the past.

While many Afghans fear a return to the Taliban‘s brutal rule, they are also concerned that the nation’s economic situation holds little opportunity – and tens of thousands sought to flee the country in a harrowing airlift.

Thousands who had worked with the U.S. and its allies, as well as up to 200 Americans, remained in the country after the efforts ended with the last U.S. troops flying out of Kabul international airport just before midnight Monday. President Joe Biden later defended his handling of the withdrawal.

The challenges the Taliban face in reviving the economy could give Western nations leverage as they push the group to fulfill a pledge to allow free travel, form an inclusive government and guarantee women’s rights. The Taliban say they want to have good relations with other countries, including the United States.

Biden focused on ‘perception’ of Afghan forces in final call with Ghani: Report

Biden focused on ‘perception’ of Afghan forces in final call with Ghani: Report

Said Afghan leader needed to paint different picture 'whether it is true or not'

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President Joe Biden speaks about the end of the war in Afghanistan from the State Dining Room of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

President Biden told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in late July that Afghanistan had a “perception” problem that should be manipulated for the public, suggesting Mr. Biden was aware of Afghan forces’ weaknesses even as he assured Americans they could defend their nation against the Taliban.

“I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban. And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture,” Mr. Biden told Mr. Ghani in their last call on July 23, according to a report from Reuters, which reviewed audio and a transcript.

Mr. Biden told Mr. Ghani that if prominent Afghan officials held a press conference to announce a new military strategy it “will change perception, and that will change an awful lot I think.”

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Biden officials removed lists of U.S. military gear in Afghanistan from government websites

Weeks later, provincial capitals and Kabul fell to the Taliban with amazing speed, indicating Mr. Biden‘s fears about the faltering campaign were accurate as he focused on public optics by cheering Afghan forces and assuring Americans they wouldn’t see the type of rooftop evacuations that, nonetheless, unfolded weeks later.

However, parts of the call suggest neither Mr. Biden nor Mr. Ghani appreciated the speed with which Afghan forces would be overrun.

“You clearly have the best military,” Mr. Biden told Mr. Ghani. “You have 300,000 well-armed forces versus 70-80,000 and they’re clearly capable of fighting well.”

“We are going to continue to fight hard, diplomatically, politically, economically, to make sure your government not only survives but is sustained and grows,” Mr. Biden said.

A White House readout of the July 23 call did not suggest defeat was imminent. It focused on U.S. support for Afghanistan and its military and said the Taliban‘s “current offensive is in direct contradiction to the movement’s claim to support a negotiated settlement of the conflict.”

The Reuters report says Mr. Ghani underscored the potential threat posed by the Taliban. He said there might be a chance to “rebalance the military solution,” but “we need to move with speed.”

“We are facing a full-scale invasion, composed of Taliban, full Pakistani planning and logistical support, and at least 10-15,000 international terrorists, predominantly Pakistanis thrown into this,” he told Mr. Biden.

A series of provincial capitals and Kabul fell to the Taliban less than a month later.

Biden’s challenges mount with fallout from chaotic Afghanistan exit

Biden’s challenges mount with fallout from chaotic Afghanistan exit

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President Joe Biden speaks about the end of the war in Afghanistan from the State Dining Room of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Seth McLaughlin

The Washington Times

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

As the dust settled from the chaotic U.S. troop pullout, the politics of war and withdrawal revved up in Washington with President Biden declaring the end of the 20-year mission an “extraordinary success” and Republicans ripping his decision to leave Americans behind in Afghanistan.

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the tumultuous evacuation and the deaths of 13 U.S. service members in a suicide bomb attack at the Kabul airport all lay at Mr. Biden’s doorstep.

The president was already dealing with a surge in COVID-19 as schools began to reopen, renewing polarizing debate over masks and vaccination holdouts, and raising broader concerns about the economy.

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His administration also has struggled with a flood of migrants jumping the southern border.

Seeking to regain his footing, Mr. Biden on Tuesday defended his decision on Afghanistan. He said it boiled down to a choice between “leaving or escalating” the war.

He made it clear that he thinks American voters are on his side.

Republicans on Capitol Hill said the commander in chief had violated the “no man left behind” credo of the armed forces — a jab expected to echo in Washington for months to come and likely in next year’s midterm election campaigns.

The lawmakers said the president’s poor decision-making bolstered America’s adversaries and unnerved its allies.

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Biden praised the armed services and intelligence agencies for “the incredible skill, bravery and selfless courage” in evacuating over 120,000 people by a self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline.

“The bottom line is 90% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave, and for those remaining Americans, there is no deadline,” he said. “We remain committed to getting them out if they want to come out.”

Mr. Biden said the administration reached out 19 times since March to the Americans in Afghanistan “with multiple warnings and offers to help them leave” the country.

The president said he had delivered on his promise to end a war that left 2,461 service members dead and 20,000 more injured and cost taxpayers over $2.3 trillion.

“I refused to continue a war that was no longer in the service of the vital national interest of our people,” he said. “I refused to open another decade of warfare in Afghanistan.”

He vowed to continue to hunt down terrorists in Afghanistan and around the globe “without American boots on the ground, or very few if needed.”

James Carafano, a leading expert in national security and foreign policy at The Heritage Foundation, said public opinion will turn sharply against the pullout decision if Afghanistan again becomes a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists.

“There is a question of how popular it will be in the future if the consequences of leaving result in bad things, including terrorist attacks and more destabilization,” Mr. Carafano said on C-SPAN. “So the assumptions the American people are with the American president on this, I think, is a very open question.”

What is clear is that Mr. Biden and other Democrats are taking lots of criticism, including from some parents of fallen soldiers.

Shana Chappell, the mother of Kareem Nikoui, one of the Marines killed in the suicide bombing in Kabul, used social media to call Mr. Biden a “traitor.” She said the president bristled when she criticized him to his face at a “dignified transfer” ceremony Sunday at Dover Air Force Base.

“You are no leader of any kind! You are a weak human being and a traitor!!!!” she said on Facebook. “You turned your back on my son, on all of our Heros!!! you are leaving the White House one way or another because you do not belong there! MY SONS BLOOD IS ON YOUR HANDS!!!”

In Washington, Republicans said Mr. Biden did the unthinkable by leaving American civilians and Afghan allies behind and providing safe harbor to a “fundamentalist Taliban regime.”

“What is the plan to get Americans out?” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said at a press conference. “Never in my lifetime would I ever believe America would have an administration knowingly make a decision to leave Americans behind.”

House Republicans tried and failed to get Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to allow a vote on a bill that would require the Biden administration to detail how it plans to evacuate the remaining American citizens, account for the military equipment left behind and bar funding for the Taliban.

Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said it was “sickening” that the Biden administration greenlit an “unconditional surrender” to the Taliban.

“Now they are celebrating their victory over the United States of America,” Mr. McCaul said. “I never thought I’d see this in my life. It is embarrassing, it is shameful and it is wrong to our veterans who served so well.”

Mr. McCaul said Mr. Biden owns the mess after ignoring the advice of his top generals and members of the intelligence community.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this week that over 123,000, including roughly 6,000 American citizens, were flown out of Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover.

Mr. Blinken told reporters Monday that fewer than 200 Americans were still in Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats are hoping the American public will ultimately agree with his decision.

Mr. Biden‘s net approval rating has sunk about 10 percentage points over the past month, according to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker.

The website’s analysts said Mr. Biden‘s slide started with the uptick in COVID-19 cases. Even though most voters agreed with winding down the war, they panned the way the withdrawal was carried out.

That helps explain why Democrats are eager to shift the focus back to the president’s domestic agenda, which includes infrastructure, a massive spending push and his coronavirus mitigation efforts.

Republicans say the bungled withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is among many failed responses from the Biden administration that deserve more oversight from Congress.

Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee said Tuesday that the situation is so dire that Democrats should put the brakes on the president’s proposed $3.5 trillion expansion of America’s social safety net. They said lawmakers should instead address the nation’s mounting foreign and domestic problems.

“This week is not the time for the committee’s majority to be advancing partisan wish lists,” the Republicans said in a letter.

They said thousands of Afghan refugees are arriving daily, hurricanes and wildfires are wreaking havoc, and a “humanitarian, public safety and environmental crisis continue to rage as a result of this administration’s failure to secure our southern border.”

Republicans are confident that the frenetic nature of the Afghanistan withdrawal is boosting their hand ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when Democrats will be defending control of the House and Senate.

“Voters know that Joe Biden and House Democrats’ failures in Afghanistan have made America less safe, and they will hold them accountable for that,” said Michael McAdams, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Mr. McAdams said the NRCC is experiencing a “tremendous amount of interest from veterans” who want to run for public office and turn the clock back on the “failed policies of House Democrats.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm for House Democrats, did not respond to requests for comment.

Christopher Preble, a foreign policy analyst at the Atlantic Council, said the political fallout from the end of the war in Afghanistan is messy.

“It is predictable that Republicans will use this to score points, and if the shoe were on the other foot, the Dems would almost certainly do the same thing,” Mr. Preble said. “The problem for many of them is that, well, they were on the record, less than a year ago in many cases, arguing in favor of withdrawal. And now, if they change their mind, someone is going to call them on it.”

To his chagrin, Mr. Preble said, the public doesn’t pay much attention to foreign policy, and the Afghanistan issue is far from a slam-dunk for Republicans.

“First, if they try to make it a political issue, they are running into the headwinds of public opinion that believe the decision to withdraw was correct. And second, if they try to make the focus on this August, they and any others have to account for the 19 other Augusts that came before it,” he said.

Adam Weinstein, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute who served as a Marine in Afghanistan, said the withdrawal will go down as one of the best decisions of the entire war.

“I think the American people are capable of understanding that the withdrawal was the right decision, but maybe the evacuation didn’t go as planned, and I think the American people understand the dysfunction we saw in this evacuation over the last week is an extension of the dysfunction we saw over the last 20 years,” he said on C-SPAN.

• Haris Alic contributed to this report.

Conservative GOP House caucus calls on Biden, Austin, Milley to resign

Conservative GOP House caucus calls on Biden, Austin, Milley to resign

White House, Pentagon under fire for chaotic Afghan endgame

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Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., and other members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus call for the removal of President Joe Biden over the close of war in Afghanistan, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott … more >

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By Mica Soellner and Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A leading group of conservative House Republicans are calling on President Biden and key members of his Cabinet to resign in the wake of the U.S.’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus returned to Capitol Hill Tuesday while on recess to propose three resolutions calling for the resignations of Mr. Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.

“America faces a great division coming into this era of unspeakable grief as we look upon the failure of our executive branch to execute a well-planned withdrawal of American forces, citizens, allies and weaponry in Afghanistan,” said Rep. Clay Higgins, Louisiana Republican, who introduced the resolutions. “This administration has abandoned its oath to the American people, and it is the right thing to do for President Biden, Secretary Austin, and Chairman Milley to step down.”

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Mr. Higgins was joined by 25 Republican co-sponsors in the House.

Representatives from the Pentagon did not provide a comment on the measures. The White House was not immediately available to respond to The Washington Times request for comment.

Last week, two members of the caucus, Reps. Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Andy Harris of Maryland, introduced articles of impeachment against Mr. Blinken for “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the wake of a suicide bombing targeting the airport in Kabul which killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 170 Afghan civilians, amid a growing outcry from lawmakers over the chaotic withdrawal and the swift victory of the hard-line Taliban insurgency.

Mr. Norman and Mr. Harris said “inexcusable failures” on behalf of Mr. Blinken led to the lives lost in Thursday’s terrorist attack in Kabul and “set a horrible precedent on the international stage.”

While sharply critical, the majority of lawmakers have so far stopped short of calling for anyone’s job. The Freedom Caucus resolution that Mr. Biden himself should step down marks a significant escalation in rhetoric on the day after the U.S.’s longest war came to an end.

While House Republicans remain incensed with the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal and by the fact that U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan after all troops have departed, the party’s leaders are far from on-board with the demand for mass resignations at this point.

When asked directly about seeking impeachment proceedings, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, told reporters Monday that Republicans are focused for now on demanding a plan for the evacuation of those left behind.

“Look, right now you’ve got American citizens that were told to go to the airport that are wondering what are they supposed to do,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Our only focus should be on them.” 

The resolutions also stand little chance with Democrats in the majority in both the House and Senate.

But House Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican, told The Washington Times Tuesday that he thinks the measures will gain steam, even among some Democrats.

“I think we’re looking for a win,” Mr. Biggs said. “I think it’s possible that we could get enough Democrats to come over with regard to [the impeachment of] Blinken, for instance. And I do believe that with a unified voice, outside one or two members of the Republican conference, you have a unified voice on the resignations as well.”

“They’re angry,” he said, speaking of his House colleagues. “And so we’re providing an outlet for them. And hopefully, we can get a win.” 

Taliban celebrate, al Qaeda leaders return to Afghanistan day after U.S. exit

Taliban celebrate, al Qaeda leaders return to Afghanistan day after U.S. exit

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Taliban special forces fighters stand guard outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. military’s withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. The Taliban were in full control of Kabul’s airport on Tuesday, after the last U.S. plane … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Taliban fighters celebrated at the Kabul airport Tuesday while key al Qaeda leaders made a triumphant return to Afghanistan, signaling a dark new reality for the country a day after Western troops withdrew and America ended the longest-running war in its history.

Finally free of a U.S. military presence after 20 years, Taliban leaders promised they will soon form a new “inclusive” government in Afghanistan. The Islamist group has tried hard to shed the hard-line reputation it  earned during its previous time in power in the late 1990s, though troubling reports of Taliban violence, retribution and collaboration with terrorists have already undercut that effort in recent days.

On the ground at the Kabul airport, the Taliban reveled in having taken full control of a facility that just days earlier was the site of the largest airlift in American history.

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Afghanistan is finally free,” Hekmatullah Wasiq, a top Taliban official, told The Associated Press. “Everything is peaceful. Everything is safe.”

Back at home, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley faced mounting calls to resign over the military’s handling of the Afghanistan evacuation effort and the apparent intelligence failure to conceive that the Taliban could so quickly conquer the capital and the country. 

More than 100 U.S. citizens remain stranded in the country despite President Biden’s promise just weeks ago that he would leave no American behind, government officials estimate.

Pentagon officials stressed Tuesday that the military portion of the Afghanistan mission has ended and that the State Department now will work with the Taliban to get those Americans back home, though it’s not clear how or when that may happen.

“It’s not completely unlike the way we do it elsewhere around the world. We have Americans that get stranded in countries all the time,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC in an interview Tuesday.

In remarks at the White House, Mr. Biden pledged that rescue efforts will continue.

“For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline,” he said.

Military leaders may have declared the Afghanistan mission over, but there are already clear signs that U.S. national security threats emanating from the country are by no means a thing of the past. Mounting evidence suggests that an Afghanistan under Taliban rule is posed to again become the global epicenter of Islamist terrorism, just as it was in the days leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Video footage posted to social media this week appears to show Amin al Haq, the former head of al Qaeda‘s elite Black Guard, returning to his native Nangarhar province in a white SUV and accompanied by a large contingent of armed Taliban fighters. While it’s not entirely clear when the video was taken, some U.S. analysts say it is telling that the al Qaeda figure resurfaced so quickly in Afghanistan and that he and his supporters are comfortable being seen in public.

“The confidence to travel and operate out in the open — in plain sight for the first time in a decade — speaks to the marked change in Afghanistan over the last month,” Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who closely tracks the war in Afghanistan, wrote in an analysis.

The al Qaeda leader served as bin Laden’s head of security during the Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, a key moment in the U.S. quest to capture bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks. Al Haq is believed to have escaped into Pakistan in 2007, while bin Laden was ultimately killed in a 2011 U.S. raid at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

With the Biden administration under fire for its handling of the withdrawal and unfolding al Qaeda resurgence, Mr. Austin and Gen. Milley will answer questions at a Pentagon press conference on Tuesday. The two Pentagon leaders are facing their own blowback over how the U.S. endgame in Afghanistan played out.

“If they did not do everything within their authority to stop the hasty withdrawal, they should resign,” nearly 90 retired U.S. generals and other officers said in a scathing letter made public Tuesday.

On the other hand, “if they did do everything within their ability to persuade [President Biden] to not hastily exit the country without ensuring the safety of our citizens and Afghans loyal to America, then they should have resigned in protest as a matter of conscience and public statement,” the letter said.

• Tom Howell Jr. and David R. Sands contributed to this story.

Short-term gains: Pakistan a strategic winner with Taliban triumph — for now

Short-term gains: Pakistan a strategic winner with Taliban triumph — for now

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Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi speaks during a press conference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas after their meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, August 31, 2021. Maas arrived in Islamabad on two-day visit to hold talks with Pakistani leadership … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The fall of Kabul to the Taliban — a hard-line Islamist group created largely by Pakistani intelligence in the 1990s — delivers what could be a major strategic victory for Pakistan, according to national security sources who say Islamabad has spent the past 20 years carefully playing both sides of the war in Afghanistan to protect its own interests.

Pakistani officials sharply deny such claims and assert that their only goal in Afghanistan has been to help America crush terrorists and create a stable government in its volatile neighbor. However, regional experts say there’s little question that elements of the Pakistani government have been playing a double game, and that the Biden administration has played into Islamabad‘s hand by ceding Kabul to the Taliban.

Pakistani officials, according two high-level regional sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, have always sought to uphold an Islamist government in Kabul, one that would align with Pakistan‘s core geopolitical goal of undermining rival India — a Hindu-majority country — from wielding influence in Afghanistan and creating a threat in Islamabad‘s strategic back yard.

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“[But] it’s not all about screwing India,” said one of the sources, who asserted that the Pakistani establishment has long dreamed of “colonizing” Afghanistan, and that helping foster the rise of the Taliban more than two decades ago was also driven partly by a desire to control Afghan nationalists and prevent them from rising up and challenging Pakistan.

All the while, according to another source, Pakistan has sought to appease regional extremists — effectively dissuading them from attacking Pakistan — by providing them a safe haven in what would be a hard-line Islamist society of nearby, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

But it’s a risky game and one that now has the potential to literally blow up in Islamabad‘s face, while creating major security headaches for the U.S., India and others in the region going forward.

As with so much else, it’s deeply unclear what the impact of a Taliban-run Afghanistan will be for U.S.-India relations. The Taliban has made headlines this week by claiming that no anti-India activity will be tolerated in Afghanistan under their emerging rule. But some believe the Indians are privately outraged by the sloppiness with which the Biden administration handled the American withdrawal.

The Taliban takeover in Kabul also comes at a moment when the administration has sought Indian support for wider U.S. strategic initiatives, such as the Quad alignment of Asian democracies aimed at countering China. New Delhi has so far been guarded in its reaction to developments of the past two weeks, although the Indian government has announced that Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla will visit Washington next week for meetings with the Biden administration.

And some regional analysts argue that the Taliban takeover will amount to a short-lived victory for Pakistan, as Afghanistan could soon devolve into a pariah state hosting a widening slate of Islamic extremist terror groups that ultimately seek to attack not only the West, but secular targets in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation.

 

Crisis in the making

It’s foreign policy crisis in the making, say analysts who note the U.S.-Pakistan relationship was already fraught with tension and mistrust.

Successive U.S. administrations have relied upon Islamabad as a security partner in the war against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, including the Afghan- and Pakistan-based Haqqani Network. U.S. taxpayers have channeled tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Pakistan since 2001.

But U.S. sources say Pakistan‘s powerful intelligence establishment has continued to aid the Taliban and provide a safe haven for the Haqqani network even after the group was listed by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012. One former high-level U.S. counterterrorism official expressed outrage this week when asked if Pakistan should remain a trusted security partner.

Pakistan may be our worst ally — not even an ally — maybe our worst partner in the world,” the former official told The Washington Times, asking for anonymity in order to speak candidly about the U.S.-Pakistan security relationship.

“They’ve been playing a double game, pretending to help the United States while funneling substantial support to the Taliban and the Haqqanis,” the former official said. “They’ve been doing that for two decades. Well, now they’ve gotten what they wanted.”

When asked what Pakistani officials say behind closed doors when confronted with such charges by U.S. diplomats, the former official said: “They just flat-out lie.”

Former President Trump himself had harsh words for Pakistan in 2018, when he briefly suspended roughly $1 billion in U.S. security aid to Islamabad and publicly accused Pakistani officials of “lies and deceit,” claiming they were providing safe haven for terrorists.

The Trump administration later restored the security aid, a move that underscored the vexing nature of the relationship, which had previously hit a low point after American intelligence discovered al Qaeda founder and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani hideout in 2011. A clandestine U.S. Special Forces raid subsequently killed the terrorist leader at his safe-house in the city of Abbottabad, less than a mile from Pakistan‘s preeminent military academy.

 

Pakistan the ‘arsonist’

That Washington continued to provide security aid to Islamabad following the Bin Laden raid, and is now likely to rely upon Pakistani intelligence to exert influence over the Taliban-controlled government in Kabul is a source of growing unease in the U.S. national security circles.

Former Trump administration National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said last week on MSNBC that “Pakistan acts as the arsonist and then poses as the fireman, and I think they need to pay a price for this.”

“They should suffer economic and diplomatic isolation to force them to make a choice,” adding, “I think Pakistan should be faced with a future that looks like an isolated country with a single-state sponsor, China. And you know what that looks like to me? That looks like North Korea.”

Pakistani officials bristle at the claim that Islamabad has duplicitously backed the Taliban and is somehow the strategic victor from the militant group’s takeover in Kabul. They frequently cite the number of Pakistani military and civilian casualties racked up over the years in the government’s campaign against jihadist groups in the largely lawless border areas with Afghanistan. Pakistani workers are also nearing the completion of a long border fence to improve security — and prevent yet another stampede of refugees from Afghanistan.

“The events in Afghanistan over the past few weeks have clearly shown that such insinuations were completely baseless, misleading and self serving,” Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Asad Khan told The Times on Tuesday. “Pakistan rejects all such assertions. Instead of looking for scapegoats it is time for reflection and introspection by all in the context of Afghanistan.”

The “absurdity” of claims such as that put forward by Mr. McMaster would “become clearer” if “one were to look at the huge losses that Pakistan suffered on account of the conflict in Afghanistan, with over 80,000 Pakistanis dead and economy suffering over $150 billion losses,” the ambassador said.

But the question remains of what will become of U.S.-Pakistan relations going forward.

Husain Haqqani, who served as Islamabad’s ambassador to the U.S. a decade ago and is now a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, emphasized Afghanistan‘s geographic significance in an interview this week, noting how Washington has long relied upon Pakistan as a strategic lever vis-a-vis Afghanistan, which shares borders with Russia, China and Iran as well.

“But the U.S. still has no idea how to deal with Pakistan,” Mr. Haqqani told The Times. “The U.S. is in a bind. Going forward, Washington may not be able to manage its counterterrorism strategy in relation to Afghanistan without Pakistan.”

“The problem is that the geographic situation of Afghanistan means that unless the U.S. can get a military base in Central Asia, it will be very difficult to conduct any kind of surveillance and accurate counterterrorism action without Pakistan‘s involvement,” the former ambassador added. “

“On the other hand, there are those who feel that Pakistan is largely responsible for America’s failure in Afghanistan and so therefore needs to be treated with some heavy-handedness. So I think we will soon be back to old Washington debates of whether Pakistan is a reliable ally or not, instead of trying to understand what does Pakistan want and does that match with what America wants, and if Pakistan will not do what America wants, then does America have any alternatives?”

“These are very difficult questions,” Mr. Haqqani said.

Biden defends his ‘choice’ for U.S. pullout, leaving Americans behind

Biden defends his ‘choice’ for U.S. pullout, leaving Americans behind

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President Joe Biden speaks about the end of the war in Afghanistan from the State Dining Room of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A defensive President Biden on Tuesday insisted his self-imposed deadline for a complete U.S. troop pullout from Afghanistan was the right call despite weeks of chaos and hundreds of Americans left stranded in the Taliban-controlled country.

He fired back at critics, making the case for leaving Afghanistan by his Tuesday deadline and blaming former President Donald Trump for setting the stage for the deadly and chaotic exit from the 20-year war that cost the lives of roughly 2,500 troops.

“That was the choice, the real choice was between leaving or escalating,” he said from the White House. “I was not going to extend this forever war and I was not extending a forever exit.”

SEE ALSO: Nearly 90 retired military figures call for Austin, Milley to resign over chaotic evacuation

The last U.S. troops left Afghanistan on Monday, one day ahead of Mr. Biden‘s deadline. He repeatedly insisted on sticking to the deadline despite pressure from Democrats and Republicans to extend it to evacuate more of the remaining American civilians and allies in Afghanistan.

“The bottom line is there is no evacuation from the end of the war that you can run without the complexities, challenges and threats we faced,” he said.

Mr. Biden‘s remarks came just hours after the Taliban took control of the Kabul airport, unleashing celebratory gunfire into the air raising questions about whether they will turn it into another safe haven for terrorists.

SEE ALSO: Austin, Milley to address Afghanistan retreat in Pentagon speech Wednesday

By leaving Americans in Afghanistan, Mr. Biden broke his pledge on Aug. 18 to bring home all Americans and Afghans who aided the war effort.

“We’re going to stay until we get them all out,” the president said at the time.

While the administration acknowledges that Americans remain in Afghanistan, it won’t say how many are still there.

Mr. Biden said between 100 and 200 Americans who wanted to leave remain in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday the number is less than 200, while U.S. Central Command leader Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie placed the number in the “very low hundreds.”

“The bottom line is 90% percent of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted leave were able to leave,” Mr. Biden said. “For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to getting them out.”

He emphasized that the administration is committed to getting out stranded Americans through diplomatic means. He said the Taliban, which took control of Afghanistan, has assured them that people with travel documents can still leave the country.

More than 122,000 people had been airlifted from the Kabul international airport. Mr. Biden said Tuesday that 5,500 Americans were evacuated.

The president also acknowledged the 13 service members killed in a suicide bombing last week outside Kabul airport. The attack was the deadliest incident in Afghanistan involving U.S. troops in years.

“We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude we can never repay but we should, never, ever forget,” he said.

Mr. Biden on Sunday met with the families of the fallen troops during a dignified transfer of their remains at Dover Air Force base.

The U.S. carried out an airstrike on Sunday that targeted the suspected planners of the attack. The strike also killed nine members of a family, including six children, according to a relative of the family told media outlets.

Biden’s Afghanistan speech delayed for second time

Biden’s Afghanistan speech delayed for second time

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In this Aug. 16, 2021, photo, President Joe Biden speaks about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) **FILE** more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

President Biden‘s White House scheduled Tuesday afternoon remarks on the end of the war in Afghanistan were pushed back for a second time.

Reporters who had gathered to enter the room to hear Mr. Biden‘s speech were told to return to the press room about five minutes after the remarks were set to start.

The remarks, originally scheduled for 1 p.m., had been rescheduled for 2:45 p.m. It is not clear after the latest cancellation when Mr. Biden will speak, but reporters were told it would “not be any time soon.”

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president planned to thank U.S. troops who served in Afghanistan and lay out his reasons for sticking to the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, which already had passed in Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden repeatedly insisted on sticking to the deadline despite pressure to extend it coming from not just Republicans but also from some members of his own Democratic Party.

His refusal to move back the deadline drew criticism from both parties because an unknown number of Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan remain in the country.

By leaving Americans in Afghanistan, Mr. Biden broke his pledge to bring home all Americans and Afghans who aided the war effort.

It is estimated that between 100 and 200 Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan remain in the country. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday the number is less than 200, while U.S. Central Command leader Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie placed the number in the “very low hundreds.”

The administration has emphasized that it is committed to getting out stranded Americans through diplomatic means.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the Taliban, which took control of Afghanistan, has assured the U.S. that people with travel documents can still leave the country.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 122,000 people had been airlifted from the Kabul international airport. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said 5,400 Americans were among those evacuated.

Last week, 13 U.S. service members were killed in a suicide bombing outside Kabul airport in the deadliest attack on U.S. troops in Afghanistan for years.

Mr. Biden met Sunday with the families of the fallen troops during a transfer of their remains at Dover Air Force Base.

The U.S. carried out an airstrike Sunday that targeted the suspected planners of the attack. The strike also killed nine members of a family, including six children, a relative of the family told media outlets.

Taliban spokesman says new government coming within days

Taliban spokesman says new government coming within days

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In this handout photograph released by the Taliban, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center left, senior Haqqani group leader Anas Haqqani, center right, Abdullah Abdullah, second right, head of Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council and former government negotiator with the Taliban, … more >

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By David R. Sands

The Washington Times

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A top spokesman for the triumphant Taliban movement said Tuesday a new Afghan government will be formed in very short order, even as celebratory gunfire marked the final exit of U.S. troops and diplomats from Kabul a day earlier.

The U.S. and nations around the region are watching closely to see if and how the radical Islamist movement has changed in the 20 years since being driven from power by a U.S.-led invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Some senior Taliban officials have been on what analysts say is a PR drive to calm fears that the country’s new leaders plan to re-establish the strict Islamist state that suppressed women and civil liberties when they were last in power.

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Anas Haqqani, who has emerged as an unofficial spokesman for the Taliban leadership in Kabul, told the Al Jazeera news website Tuesday in an interview that much of the work in forming a new government has already been done.

“The government will take shape in the following few days,” Mr. Haqqani, whose father founded the violent, Taliban-allied Haqqani Network, told Al Jazeera. “We have covered about 90 to 95% and we will announce the final outcome in the following few days.”

But despite promises from the Taliban to form a more “inclusive” government, Mr. Haqqani said it was still too early to say who would serve in the new government Cabinet.

Mr. Haqqani also insisted the new Taliban-led government would confront Islamic State-Khorestan Province, the IS jihadist offshoot based in Afghanistan that carried out a suicide bombing last week at the Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. service personnel and some 170 Afghan civilians.

“We fought with the world empty-handed and came this far. We can get rid of such a group, as we have in the past,” he said. “This is not something to be stressed about.”

Trump calls for Biden apology, Pentagon brass to resign over Afghanistan

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In this July 11, 2021, file photo, former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File) more >

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By Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday demanded his successor apologize for the disastrous U.S. exit from Afghanistan.

He said that President Biden handed the Taliban “a country on a silver platter.”

“I think the best thing he can do is apologize to the American people and apologize to the world,” Mr. Trump said on Fox Business Network’s “Varney & Company.” “He ought to apologize and stop trying to, excuse the language, bull— everybody into thinking that what he did was good.”

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Mr. Trump also said the military was “humiliated” by the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and added his voice to scores of former military leaders calling for the resignations of Pentagon top brass.

“That withdrawal was an absolute humiliation of the United States of America and the admirals and generals are right,” he said. “And more than that should resign.”

His comments followed an open letter signed by nearly 90 retired generals and other military figures demanding Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley to resign for “negligence in performing their duties.”

“I think that’s absolutely correct,” Mr. Trump said, referring to the latter.

Mr. Trump said the buck stops with Mr. Biden, who has said Mr. Trump’s pullout deal with the Taliban set the stage for the chaos leading up to the final exit of U.S. troops from Kabul on Monday.

“I’m a person that wanted to get out,” he said Tuesday. “But I’m also a person that says, ‘Go back and get the damn equipment. Go back and bomb the hell out of it. Do one thing or another.’”

Mr. Biden did not brief the public Monday after the withdrawal was completed. The White House issued a statement thanking commanders and service members on the ground and remembering the 13 service members killed in last week’s suicide attack targeting the airport in Kabul. Mr. Biden is expected to make a public address later Tuesday.

Amin al Haq, Osama bin Laden’s security chief, makes triumphant return to Afghanistan as U.S. exits

As U.S. exits, bin Laden’s security chief makes triumphant return in Afghanistan

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Taliban special force fighters arrive inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. military’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 … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The former security chief for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has made a triumphant return to Afghanistan, fueling fears that the country is poised to again become the global epicenter of Islamist terrorism.

Video footage posted to social media appears to show Amin al Haq, the former head of al Qaeda‘s elite Black Guard, returning to his native Nangarhar province in a white SUV and accompanied by a large contingent of armed Taliban fighters. Apparent well-wishers rushed up to the vehicle to greet him, while others appeared to be taking photos and video of the return.

Bilal Siwary, an Afghan journalist working in the U.K., posted the footage on Twitter shortly after the final U.S. troops left the country on Monday, though it’s not entirely clear when the video was taken. Nangarhar fell to the Taliban several weeks ago.

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After being taken prisoner in Pakistan in 2008, it is believed that Mr. al Haq was released about a decade ago. His exact whereabouts over the past 10 years are unknown, but some U.S. analysts say it is telling that he so quickly resurfaced in Afghanistan and that he and his supporters are comfortable being seen in public.

Dr. Amin-ul-Haq, a major al-Qaeda player in Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden security in charge in Tora Bora, returns to his native Nangarhar province after it fell to the Taliban. Dr. Amin became close to OBL in the 80s when he worked with Abdullah Azzam in Maktaba Akhidmat. pic.twitter.com/IXbZeJ0nZE

— BILAL SARWARY (@bsarwary) August 30, 2021

“The confidence to travel and operate out in the open — in plain sight for the first time in a decade — speaks to the marked change in Afghanistan over the last month,” Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who closely tracks the war in Afghanistan, wrote in an analysis late Monday.

The al Qaeda figure served as bin Laden’s head of security during the Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, a key moment in the U.S. quest to capture bin Laden following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and subsequent invasion of Afghanistan. Bin Laden was ultimately killed at a compound in Pakistan in 2011.

Mr. al Haq also found his way to Pakistan. He reportedly crossed the border in 2007 before being taken prisoner in 2008. It’s unclear where he went after his release in 2011, specialists say.

Critics say a resurgence of al Qaeda is likely to be the inevitable result of President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. That withdrawal formally ended Monday as the final U.S. planes took off from the international airport in Kabul.

Several hundred Americans were left behind in Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters celebrate at Kabul airport; helicopters, supplies left behind

Taliban fighters celebrate at Kabul airport; helicopters, supplies left behind

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Taliban fighters stand guard in front of 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 … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers celebrated Tuesday on the tarmac at the Kabul airport that had served as a global focal point until the last U.S. planes flew out around midnight.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman for the fundamentalist group, declared victory in the 20-year war against U.S. forces as jubilant fighters surveyed helicopters and supplies used in the frantic effort to evacuate more than 120,000 Americans and allied Afghans from the country that fell swiftly.

However, Mr. Mujahid told a commando unit to be “very cautious” in dealing with Afghans, according to The Associated Press.

SEE ALSO: Last combat boot departs Afghanistan as U.S. ends longest war

“Our nation has suffered war and invasion, and the people do not have more tolerance,” he said.

Many are skeptical of the leaders’ pledge to be a kinder, gentler Taliban than the hardliners of the 1990s. They fear reprisals against those suspected of helping the U.S. war effort.

Americans left behind as final U.S. military planes leave Afghanistan

Americans left behind as final U.S. military planes leave Afghanistan

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A U.S military aircraft takes off from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon) more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Monday, August 30, 2021

Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, commander of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and Ambassador Ross Wilson, charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, were the final Americans to step aboard the last U.S. military C-17 cargo jet shortly before it lifted off from the Afghan capital’s sole international airport Monday.

All told about 6,000 U.S. citizens were evacuated from Afghanistan. They represent the “vast majority” of those who wanted to leave the war-torn country, Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters Monday. 

“There’s a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure. We did not get everybody out that we wanted to,” he said. “But if we had stayed another 10 days, we wouldn’t have gotten everybody out. It’s a tough situation.”

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It was both the end of a sometimes frantic U.S.-led evacuation from Afghanistan and the last action of a nearly 20-year mission in the war-torn country that began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. It was not a cheap undertaking. In addition to more than $2 trillion spent over the past two decades, America’s longest war cost the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. troops and more than 20,000 wounded in battle.

Over the past 18 days, the military conducted the largest non-combatant evacuation in history, Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday. During that time, about 79,000 civilians were evacuated from the airport. The figure includes 6,000 Americans and more than 73,000 third-country nationals and at-risk Afghans, he said.

On Aug. 15, the day after President Biden formally ordered the evacuation, Gen. McKenzie was in Doha, the capital of Qatar, speaking with Taliban officials about the mission. 

“I delivered a message. We would not tolerate interference and we would forcefully defend ourselves,” he said. The victorious Taliban “promised not to interfere with our withdrawal.”

Military commanders factored in a well-equipped and formidable Afghan military when they crafted their proposals on withdrawing American forces from the country. But the complete collapse of the government in less than two weeks rendered those plans moot. U.S. officials had to immediately switch from working alongside an ally to “initiating a pragmatic relationship of necessity with a longtime enemy,” Gen. McKenzie said.

“They wanted us out [and] we wanted to get out with our people and with our friends and partners,” said Gen. McKenzie, who served two tours in Afghanistan earlier in his career.

In the final days of the evacuation mission, U.S. troops destroyed an array of military equipment at their airfield, including about 70 heavily-armored MRAP trucks, 27 Humvees, and 73 military aircraft. 

“Most of [the planes] were non-mission-capable to begin with but certainly they’ll never be able to fly again,” Gen. McKenzie said.

Commanders at the airfield also directed the destruction of a defense weapon known as a C-RAM, Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar system, that had been used only hours before to handle a rocket attack against U.S personnel. Gen. McKenzie said they opted not to touch equipment such as fire trucks that are needed for normal airport operations. 

About 2,000 ISIS-K fighters — who claimed responsibility for the suicide attack last week that killed 13 US troops — are believed to be on the run in Afghanistan after the victorious Taliban released them from government custody during their advance. 

“I do believe that the Taliban is going to have their hands full with ISIS-K. They remain a very lethal force,” Gen. McKenzie said.

He predicted that the State Department would be able to help any Americans still in Afghanistan now that the U.S. military mission there is complete.

“While the military evacuation is complete, the diplomatic mission to ensure that additional U.S. citizens and eligible Afghans who want to leave continues,” Gen. McKenzie said. “The military phase of this operation has ended. The diplomatic sequel will now begin.”

Last U.S. planes leave Afghanistan, ending 20-year war

Last U.S. planes leave Afghanistan, ending 20-year war

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In this image provided by the U.S. Army, a paratrooper assigned to B Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute, Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division conducts security at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 28, … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Updated: 4:55 p.m. on
Monday, August 30, 2021

The final U.S. military planes left Kabul on Monday, military officials said, capping a frantic two-week evacuation effort and ending the longest war in American history.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, said the final American aircraft left the Afghan capital just before 3:30 p.m., just hours ahead of President Biden’s self-imposed Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.

Several hundred American citizens are believed to still be in the country, which is now under the control of the Islamist Taliban, which ascended to power on Aug. 15 after the rapid collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

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