Tag Archives: Taliban

Pentagon: ISIS ‘Operationally Active’ in Afghanistan

by Jason Ditz

Delivering its bi-annual assessment of Afghanistan to Congress, the Pentagon today warned that the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan has progressed beyond its “initial exploratory phase to a point where they are openly fighting the Taliban for the establishment of a safe haven, and are becoming more operationally active.”

Previously, officials had downplayed talk of ISIS in Afghanistan being more than a passing branding effort by some disaffected figures in the Taliban, but growing in-fighting in the Taliban, and the ISIS affiliate asserting itself with some territory of its own, appears to be shifting this perspective.

Gen. John Campbell, the US commander in Afghanistan, confirmed that the ISIS faction is growing, and is trying to establish itself out of the city of Jalalabad, saying that there are growing numbers of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria showing up on the ground there.

With the Taliban’s leadership still in disarray, a situation that has grown even worse, and with two factions vying for leadership in the Taliban, ISIS is offering a unified alternative for recruits, giving them a potential new pool of fighters.

President Obama Cancels Plan to Withdraw from Afghanistan

President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he is canceling his plan to withdraw from Afghanistan during his presidency and instead will leave the current force of 9,800 troops in place throughout 2016.

Under the new plan, troop levels are set to drop to 5,500 at an unspecified point in late 2016 or early 2017. The U.S. will continue operations out of bases in Kandahar, Bagram, and Jalalabad, a departure from Obama’s previous plan in which America’s presence in Afghanistan would have been scaled back to 1,000 troops garrisoned at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be. Meanwhile, the Taliban has made gains particularly in rural areas and can still launch deadly attacks in cities, including Kabul,” said President Obama in a Thursday speech from the White House, according to the Washington Post.

“I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again,” he added.

[RELATED: Doctors Without Borders Leaving Afghan City After U.S.-Led Coalition Bombs Hospital]

The New York Times notes, “The Taliban are now spread through more parts of the country than at any point since 2001, according to the United Nations, and last month they scored their biggest victory of the war, seizing the northern city of Kunduz and holding it for more than two weeks before pulling back on Tuesday.

Beltway hawks have reportedly been pressuring the president to bolster U.S. presence in Afghanistan after ISIS rose to power in a vacuum created by years of war and destabilization in Iraq.

President Obama’s new plan, which is estimated to cost $14.6 billion, leaves flexibility for U.S. military leaders or the next president to decide when troops levels will be scaled back from 9,800 to 5,500.

[RELATED: Doctors Without Borders Hospital Raided By Afghan Forces Months Before US Airstrike]

U.S. troops have been fighting in Afghanistan for 14 years. To date, 2,345 U.S. military members have been killed in the conflict and 20,071 have been wounded in action, according to NBC News.

President Obama, who had pledged while campaigning to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan during his presidency, said that he is not disappointed by the change in plans.

War Crimes Probe Urged After US Airstrikes Kill 22 Civilians in Kunduz Hospital

by Jason Ditz

Doctors Without Borders are demanding a full, independent inquiry into Saturday’s incident on the outskirts of the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, in which a US warplane repeatedly attacked a Doctors Without Borders hospital, killing 22 people within, including 12 members of staff and 10 civilian patients.

Though Doctors Without Borders informed the US and Afghan governments immediately upon the first strike near the hospital, they reported being repeatedly and precisely targeted by the warplane for over 30 minutes after that, and are saying that the presumption of any investigation should be that a war crime was committed.

The Pentagon insists they are conducting a full investigation themselves. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says the situation is “confused,” but that they would hold anyone responsible if the bombing is “something they shouldn’t have done.” He refused to rule out further strikes, saying it was up to Gen. Campbell to do whatever he thinks is appropriate. The hospital has been closed and the workers evacuated.

The Afghan government is claiming attacks on the hospital were “retaliation” and that the site was actually a “Taliban base.” Doctors Without Borders has rejected this claim as absurd, noting they’ve been at that site for some time, and it was well known it was a hospital.

The UN Human Rights Chief also declared the attack “inexcusable,” saying that if it is confirmed that the attack was deliberate it would amount to a war crime. The US has ruled out ever allowing any of their soldiers to be charged with war crimes under any circumstances, and has a law on the books dating back to 2002 allowing a military invasion of the Netherlands to stop the International Criminal Court from carrying out such charges.

Pentagon investigations are rarely particularly credible, and usually end with some sort of blanket excuse and statement of “regret,” and any punitive action tends to be taken against only the lowest ranked personnel possible.

Taliban Members ‘Pledge Allegiance’ Amid Leadership Rift

Video Aims to Quiet Reports of Faction Split

by Jason Ditz, August 03, 2015

Faced with growing reports of a split among key commanders on who should lead them, the Afghan Taliban today released a video showing members of the group, including commanders, pledging loyalty to Mullah Mansour, who was elected to replace former leader Mullah Omar.

Omar was the founder of the Taliban and ruled it for decades. His death has created a major leadership question, and his eldest son is said to be leading a faction which opposes Mansour, and wanted him to replace his father. Several other commanders are said to be undecided on leadership, but unhappy on how the Quetta Shura went about choosing.

Those supportive of the Shura decision claimed Mansour was “unanimously” elected, though there was only unanimity among those still present at the time the vote was held, several commanders had walked out, and the Taliban admitted today that many weren’t even consulted on the matter.

Mansour gave a speech over the weekend calling for unity among the group, saying it would benefit their enemies to splinter now. Peace talks that were ongoing with the Afghan government have been suspended, and it is believed Mansour can’t bring the matter back up right now, because it is unclear he can deliver on promises to end fighting among commanders whose loyalty he may not command.

Sgt. Bergdahl to be questioned on his capture

After returning to duty just a few weeks ago, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will start being questioning today in San Antonio, Texas,  by U.S. Army investigator Major General Kenneth Dahl.

The investigation surrounds the circumstances of Sgt Bergdahl’s capture in 2009, which resulted in his release in May in exchange for five Taliban detainees.

The BBC reports Sgt. Bergdahl has hired civilian lawyer Eugene Fidell, a Yale law professor, to aid in his defense.

Fidell has said Sgt. Bergdahl, who is currently not facing any charges, “will be as co-operative as possible with General Dahl.”  However, Fidell has declined to speculate as to what Sgt. Bergdahl will say to the investigating general.

Many people have surmised Sgt. Bergdahl intentionally left his post in 2009 which led to his capture by Taliban forces.  According to CNN, a fact-finding investigation held by the Army in the months after Sgt. Bergdahl’s capture, found he had “deliberately and of his own free-will,” left his outpost and fellow soldiers while on duty in Afghanistan.

Newsmax has also reported several members of Sgt. Bergdahl’s former unit have hinted Sgt. Bergdahl was either absent without leave or had abandoned his post in Afghanistan.

Military attorney Greg Rinckey, who has heard and handled similar cases to Sgt. Bergdahl’s, has stated the meeting between Sgt. Bergdahl and Gen. Dahl will not be adversarial, but rather informal.

“This … general is going to be talking to Sergeant Bergdahl, asking him several questions with his lawyer present,” Rinckey said according to Newsmax.  “It is really not an interrogation, it’s more of an interview.”

After the investigation of Sgt Bergdahl, Gen. Dahl will likely follow-up with fellow members of Sgt. Bergdahl’s unit and his superiors before making recommendations up the chain of command.  Depending on his findings, Gen. Dahl can either, according to NBC News, say he found no wrongdoing and recommend no further action on the case, or recommend a court-martial which could ultimately result in the death penalty.

Rinckey said, because of the questionable circumstances and general lack of clear insight of the case, he does not believe the death penalty would be considered if Sgt. Bergdahl were to face a court-martial.

Five Americans killed in friendly fire incident

U.S. defense officials are saying five American NATO service members were killed Monday by what is thought to be friendly-fire in southern Afghanistan.

Five servicemen were reported to have been killed by an airstrike they had called in themselves while fighting Taliban insurgents in the Zabul province of Afghanistan.  A helicopter responded to the call and opened fire on the American soldiers the crew had mistaken as the targets.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousof Ahmadi has also claimed when Taliban insurgents engaged with the coalition forces, an assault helicopter had mistaken coalition forces as Taliban members, opening fire on them.

“We had launched a clearance operation in an area with a high security threat,” Zabul police chief, General Ghulam Sakhi, whose security forces have been working with NATO, said.  “When it was over and we were returning to base, the enemy opened fire and [the U.S. troops] asked for air support. The helicopters made a mistake and targeted their own people.”

Attacks from insurgent groups have increased in the country ahead of presidential runoff elections to be held this Saturday.  According to CBS News, officials are worried more violent attacks could be on the way until the elections are over.

The majority of U.S. forces station in Afghanistan are no longer involved in direct conflicts in the country, but when U.S. forces are involved, usually they are Special Operation Forces.  It is not uncommon for these Special Operation Forces to call in air support when under extreme pressure from attackers.

This incident has brought the total number of service members killed in Afghanistan to 36 for this year.

Senator Rand Paul warns of drone strikes on Taliban

After a nearly 13 hour-long filibuster a year ago where he demanded the government reform of the drone program abroad and domestically, Senator Rand Paul has warned the five freed Taliban members of possible strikes against them.

While talking with Fox News’ Neil Cavuto on “Your World with Neil Cavuto” following the prisoner trade of five Guantanamo Bay detainees for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Senator Paul said, “there would be a drone with their name on it.”

Senator Paul continued by saying “if people plot to attack our country, they will be dealt with, and they will be dealt harshly.”

This is not the first time Senator Paul has been in favor of using drones following his filibuster.  Not even a month after his speech, Senator Paul said he would be OK with the use of drones on American soil against violent criminals.

“If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and fifty dollars in cash,” says Paul in an interview with Fox News previously, “I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him.”

Senator Paul also took time to criticize President Obama’s decision surrounding the prisoner exchange.  The senator, who is aspiring for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, said he could never imagine a circumstance in which he would engage in open trade with enemy forces.

Taliban release video of prisoner handoff

A video released by the Taliban earlier shows the terrorist group and U.S. forces meeting for the handover of Sgt. Bergdahl in the Khost province in Afghanistan.

Video clip courtesy of Sky News via Youtube:

A Black Hawk helicopter lands in the middle of a field, and upon landing, the emaciated Sgt. Bergdahl is led by Taliban forces, carrying a white flag, to a meeting spot between the chopper and a white pickup truck.  The forces leading Sgt. Bergdahl out are just his escorts as the video shows other Taliban members in the area with RPGs, AKs and other assault weapons.

Once the two sides met in the middle, handshakes are exchanged, an oddity almost never before seen given many Americans views that their government “doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.”

After an initial pat down of Sgt. Bergdahl, the Black Hawk crew seem satisfied, they wave to the Taliban forces, and escort Sgt. Bergdahl to the chopper without further instance.

Narration by the Taliban can be heard over the course of the video describing how the Mujahideen in the area were told, according to CNN, “not to attack them.”  The narrator even describes how both sides agreed to send three member parties to meet each other for the handoff.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby made a statement to ABC News saying, “We have no reason to doubt the videos authenticity, but we are reviewing it.”

The video comes as many soldiers and civilians in America are calling for Sgt. Bergdahl to be brought up on charges of desertion, and the Joint Chiefs have said they will hold an investigation to find if these claims are valid.

Soldiers and civilians have claimed for a few years that Sgt. Bergdahl had deserted his post in Afghanistan and his being held in captivity was an unforeseen consequence.  These same people who make the claims say the the six soldiers who were killed in search attempts for the sergeant the following days should be Sgt. Bergdahl’s fault.

One former soldier, Nathan Bradley Bethea, wrote an article for the Daily Beast stating outright, “Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.”

Bethea writes how Sgt. Bergdahl failed to appear for roll call the morning of his disappearance.  His fellow soldiers found his “rifle, helmet, body armor and web gear,” but mysteriously his compass was missing.

Some soldiers in Sgt. Bergdahl’s squad told CNN they had signed nondisclosure agreements saying they would not talk about what had happened the night of Sgt. Bergdahl’s disappearance.

Many cite the mysterious circumstances surrounding his disappearance as well as his growing discontent with the military as reasons for their desertion claims against Sgt. Bergdahl.  The same article from CNN references a Rolling Stone article from 2012 where Sgt. Bergdahl’s fellow infantrymen claim Bergdahl “no longer supported the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.”

The Huffington Post reports chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said the Army will pursue an investigation into Sgt. Bergdahl’s disappearance, where the outcome could lead to desertion or other more severe charges against the former POW.

Freed in Swap, US POW Bowe Bergdahl Becomes Political Issue

This article was written by guest contributor Jason Ditz.

A surprising Saturday deal ended nearly five years of detention for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, in return for the release of five Guantanamo Bay detainees to Qatar.

Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in 2009, and has been held since in various sites along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The deal under which he was released was proposed by the Taliban in 2013, involving the release of the five detainees.

The five detainees, interestingly enough, were going to be released unilaterally by the administration in 2012 as a “confidence-building” measure for peace talks. The releases were delayed when the talks collapsed, but it was the Taliban who first suggested they’d reciprocate with Bergdahl’s release in the deal.

The Sunday talk show circuit made it clear that Bergdahl’s release also meant his transition from a mostly-forgotten POW, rarely mentioned by officials, into a political football.

The prisoner exchange was immediately condemned by several GOP hawks as “negotiating with terrorists,” and the hawks were unanimous today in condemning Bergdahl’s release as a “dangerous precedent.”

The administration seems just as willing to play politics with the issue, insisting that finally securing Bergdahl’s release, after nearly five years in captivity and a year after the Taliban initially offered this swap, as proof of their support for the troops.

In many ways, Sgt. Bergdahl’s release was less about his release than about replacing the ouster of VA Secretary Eric Shiniseki with a shiny new topic for the Sunday circuit. Judging from all the officials lining up to make hay of the issue today, it was “mission accomplished.”



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