Daily Archives: December 2, 2017

US General: $50 Million Worth of Taliban Narcotics Destroyed in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD The top U.S. general in Afghanistan said Saturday recently launched joint strikes against Taliban sources of revenue have destroyed more than $50 million worth of narcotics in southern Helmand province.

Afghanistan produces about 85 percent of the world’s opium. Income generated from drugs is providing 60 percent of the Taliban’s funding, according to U.S. military estimates.

Together in the last few weeks alone, we have destroyed over 50 million dollars worth of narcotics in Helmand. This is the Taliban’s financial engine and the Taliban drug cartels are now on notice that they are in our sights and we are coming after them, said General John Nicholson.

The general commands American troops and NATO’s Resolute Support mission in the country.

The counternarcotics combined air and ground strikes began on November 19 and have since destroyed a number of factories and heroin processing labs. Nicholson said at the time authorities granted by President Donald Trump in August prompted the crackdown to curb terrorists and their revenue streams.

Helmand is the largest Afghan province and opium-poppy producing region, bordering Pakistan. Many of the districts in the volatile province are either controlled or influenced by the Taliban.

The Islamist insurgency, however, has denied any links to the illicit narcotics trade. The Taliban points to the historic reduction in poppy cultivation due to official eradication efforts when the Islamic group was ruling Afghanistan.

The U.S. has spent about $8.6 billion on narcotics eradication in Afghanistan since 2002, but the production has risen to historic levels.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crimes revealed in a new survey last month that narcotics production almost doubled in 2017 in Afghanistan to a record 9,000 tons, with a 63 percent increase in cultivation areas compared with 2016.

Narcotics trade fuels official corruption and undermines governance as well as rule of law in Afghanistan

U.S. officials say drugs lords provide weapons and funding to the Taliban in return for the protection of drug trade routes, cultivation fields, laboratories and trafficking organization. The Taliban, which controls or influences more than 40 percent of Afghan territory, generates revenue by taxing drugs trafficked through areas they control.

Critics say without eradicating opium production, U.S.-led efforts to eliminate terrorism and establish peace in Afghanistan will remain a daunting task. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has stated that the heroin is a very important driver of the war in his country.

Source: Voice of America

Pakistan always played positive role for unity of Muslim Ummah: Yousaf

Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Muhammad Yousaf says Pakistan has always played a positive role for unity of the Muslim Ummah.

He was speaking at a dinner hosted by him in the honor of the foreign guests of International Seerat Conference in Islamabad. The Minister said Muslim countries should set their direction in light of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (SAWW).

He said participation of scholars from the Muslim world in the International Seerat Confernce is a matter of pride for Pakistan. Scholars from various countries, including the United Sates, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Oman attended the dinner. Besides, diplomats from Muslim countries in Pakistan also participated in the event.

Source: Voice of America

Analysts: Pro-Iran Remarks May Trigger Regional Rivalry in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON Recent pro-Iranian and Syrian regime remarks by an Afghan Shiite leader may attract regional sectarian rivalries to Afghanistan, and incite more violence and terror by the Islamic State terrorist group in the war-torn country, analysts warned.

Deputy Afghan Chief Executive Mohammad Mohaqeq, a leader of the country’s Shiite minority, said last week, “I thank all the warriors who cooperated in these wars from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the world.” He was speaking about fighters in Syria while addressing an international summit of scholars from Iran and other Muslim nations in Tehran.

Mohaqeq called it Islam’s war against infidelity and world arrogance. He was praising foreign fighters, including Afghans, who fought in Syria alongside the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in support of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Mohaqeq, who led one of the warring parties that engaged in a brutal civil war that killed tens of thousands of Afghans in the early 1990s, also praised the role of Major General Qasem Soleimani, who commands IRGC’s foreign operations, and Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah, whose forces are engaged in various conflicts in the region.

Two days after Mohaqeq’s speech in Tehran, Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense, General Tariq Shah Bahrami, stood next to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman at the inaugural meeting of the Saudi-led Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are regional rivals.

Afghanistan’s government and many of the country’s lawmakers reacted strongly to Mohaqeq’s remarks, insisting they are not representative of the country’s foreign policy.

“Recent comments by Mohammad Mohaqeq in Tehran are in contradiction of the principles of foreign policy, national interests, stability and security of the country and the laws of Afghanistan, and in no way represent the views of the Afghan government,” Kabul said in a statement this week.

Fazal Hadi Muslimyar, chairman of the Afghan Senate, demanded the Mohaqeq apologize and be prosecuted.

Regional rivalry

Analysts charge that the controversial remarks are an open invitation for the regional rivalry to engulf Afghanistan, which is already suffering from decades of alleged interference by its neighboring countries.

“Mohaqeq’s remarks can certainly incite rivalry [between Iran and Saudi Arabia] in Afghanistan,” Wadir Safi, a professor of law and political science at Kabul University, told VOA.

“The Iranians had asked him to make those remarks to counter Saudi Arabia politically and militarily, and to start a proxy war against Iran’s opponents in Afghanistan,” Safi added.

The Saudi-led Muslim counterterrorism coalition is largely believed to have been created to counter the growing influence of Iran and its proxy militants groups, such as Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Riyadh is leading a military alliance against the Iran-backed militant group that overthrew the Yemeni government in 2014.

“Escalation in the Iran-Saudi rivalry will have a negative impact on the situation in Afghanistan and the wider region,” Dawood Azami, a researcher at the University of Westminster, told VOA. “The growing competition for regional dominance between Riyadh and Tehran will put more pressure on the government and powerful figures in Afghanistan to take sides.”

Abdullah Sharif, a scholar at the University of Cincinnati, said Mohaqeq’s remarks can create serious foreign policy challenges for Kabul.

“Afghanistan is trying to stay out of regional conflicts by not officially siding with one group or another. Mohaqeq’s statement, if not officially denounced by the government, will undermine that stance,” Sharif said.

In addition to making Afghanistan an arena for regional rivalries, analysts warn the remarks may provide an excuse for the Islamic State terror group to become even more violent in Afghanistan. The group has already claimed responsibility for several deadly attacks across the country.

“Mohaqeq’s statement could lead to an increase in IS violence against the Shiites in the country,” a Kabul based activist who belongs to the Shiite minority told VOA on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.

Kabul university’s Wadir, however, believes Mohaqeq’s stance could incite IS violence not only against the Shiite but also against Sunnis in the country.

Fatemiyoun brigade

Over the years, Iran has reportedly sent thousands of Shiite Afghan refugees to Syria to fight in support of the Assad regime. The Afghan fighters are part of the “Fatemiyoun Brigade,” the second-largest group of foreigners fighting for Assad in Syria.

Western media estimate they have 10,000 to 12,000 fighters.

A recent Human Rights Watch report accused Iran of committing war crimes by recruiting and sending Afghan refugee children “as young as 14” to fight in Syria.

The prospects of Afghan fighters returning home after the war in Syria is over is worrisome for Afghans.

“This is quite dangerous: What happens to this Fatemiyoun force when the war in Syria is over?” Rahmatullah Nabil, a former Afghan intelligence chief, recently told The New York Times.

“The fear is that rivalry in the region, between Iran and Saudi, will shift to Afghanistan. And I think that clash is already shifting here,” Nabil added.

Azami, of Westminster, echoed Nabil’s concerns and said IS’s goal in Afghanistan is to turn the country’s conflict into a sectarian war between the minority Shiite and predominant Sunnis, and remarks like those made by Mohaqeq in Iran may help contribute to the realization of that goal.

“Referring to some of its attacks in Afghanistan, IS has said that they were in retaliation for the support of Afghan Shiite militia to the Syrian regime,” Azami said.

Source: Voice of America

Mattis Suggests Change in Posture Toward Kurdish YPG

CAIRO U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis suggested the United States will move away from arming Syrian Kurdish fighters, as part of a wider shift from a military-led to a diplomatic-led approach in Syria.

Mattis’ comments help clarify the status of the U.S. relationship with Kurdish YPG fighters, who have been a crucial U.S. partner in the Syrian war.

Turkey last week said President Donald Trump vowed to stop arming the YPG, during a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ankara, which sees the YPG as a terrorist group, has opposed the U.S. arming the Kurdish fighters.

However a White House statement issued after the call was more circumspect. It said Trump also informed President Erdogan of pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria, now that the battle of Raqqa is complete and we are progressing into a stabilization phase to ensure that ISIS cannot return.

But Mattis’ comments seem to confirm the U.S. intends to change its posture toward the YPG, as the U.S. makes that shift.

That fighting is now dropping off in terms of the need for offensive capability. Consistent with that, we’re changing the composition of our forces to something that supports the diplomats and the Geneva Process, Mattis said.

As Islamic State is defeated, the U.S. is shifting from a military-led effort to a diplomatically led effort, Mattis said. That approach will also affect U.S. allies in the region, he added.

The YPG is armed. And as the coalition stops offensive ops then obviously you don’t need that. You need security � you need police forces. That’s local forces to make sure that ISIS doesn’t come back, he said.

Asked whether this means the U.S. will stop arming the YPG, Mattis replied: We are going to go exactly along the lines of what the president announced.

Mattis’ comments came as he headed to the Middle East, where he will make stops in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Pakistan.

YPG

Source: Voice of America

Mattis Meets with Egyptian President to Discuss Terrorism, Middle East Challenges

CAIRO U.S. defense chief Jim Mattis met with Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, ahead of a counter-extremism conference focused on West Africa on Sunday.

During the meeting, Secretary Mattis offered condolences for the recent terrorist attack on a mosque in Bir al-Abed, Egypt, and recognized Egypt as a strategic defense partner with the United States.

Mattis noted Egypt’s importance to the stability of the Middle East as well as Egypt’s ongoing fight against terrorism and efforts to protect Egypt’s borders.

A report on the meeting said the two leaders discussed a range of Middle East security issues and talked about a mutual desire to cooperate on terrorism and regional challenges.

Earlier, on the flight to Cairo, Mattis told reporters that counterterrorism cooperation with Egypt is growing. He said the U.S. remains committed to strong ties with Cairo, despite freezing some military aid to Egypt over rights concerns earlier this year.

Cairo was the first stop on a four-nation tour that also includes Jordan, Kuwait, and Pakistan.

The trip comes as the U.S. military shifts its focus in the Middle East, after having driven out the Islamic State militant group from its self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

A major focus of the trip will be pressuring Pakistan to end its alleged ties to militant groups that have attacked U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

We have heard from Pakistan leaders that they do not support terrorism, so I expect to see that sort of action reflected in their policies, Mattis told reporters.

In October, Mattis said the United States would try one more time to work with Islamabad before taking whatever steps are necessary to address its alleged support for the militants.

Egypt and terrorism

Egypt last week suffered what officials called the deadliest terror attack in the country’s modern history, when 25-30 militants carrying Islamic State flags killed over 300 worshippers at a mosque frequented by Sufi Muslim worshippers.

Mattis said he will deliver his condolences for the attack, which occurred in the restive Sinai Peninsula.

We are working closely with Egypt on how they can best defeat this common threat, Mattis said, adding that U.S.-Egypt counterterror cooperation has grown during his time as defense chief.

Egypt aid cuts

But earlier this year, the Trump administration denied Egypt $96 million in aid and delayed a further $195 million over human rights concerns.

Egyptian officials called the move a misjudgment.

The United States gives Egypt approximately $1.3 billion in military aid every year.

Trump has since said he would consider reinstating the full aid. Mattis did not say whether he would discuss reinstating the assistance during his visit to Cairo.

The Sinai attack could help justify that decision, said Timothy Kaldas, who specializes in U.S.-Egypt relations at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

But, he warned, Egypt’s rights record has not progressed since the aid suspension was announced.

“Moreover, there are no indications from the government, nor legislation under consideration that suggests the rights situation will improve in the near future,” he added.

President Sissi has vowed to use “all brute force” necessary to respond to the Sinai attackers, and to secure the restive Sinai within the next three months.

Since 2011 the militant group Sinai Province has been active in North Sinai, a remote desert region that borders the Gaza Strip. It has carried out several deadly attacks against police, soldiers, and Coptic Christians.

Securing the area has proven problematic for Sissi. Egypt’s military launched a large-scale military campaign against militants in September 2015. But, as evidenced by last week’s attack, its effectiveness has been questionable.

Rights groups have also accused Egypt’s military of carrying out extrajudicial killings and torture.

Pakistan

Perhaps the highest-profile portion of the trip will occur in Pakistan, where Mattis is expected to try to persuade Islamabad to destroy what the U.S. calls terrorist safe havens.

The U.S. has for a decade accused Pakistan of sheltering terrorists, including the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan denies sheltering the militants, and the issue has served as a major irritant to bilateral ties.

The dispute has a direct impact on Afghanistan, where U.S. generals acknowledge the NATO coalition remains in a stalemate with Taliban insurgents after 16 years of war.

Thousands more U.S. troops are headed to Afghanistan, along with an increase in U.S. airpower, as part of a new White House strategy announced in August.

U.S. officials have said Pakistan has not changed its behavior since President Donald Trump’s speech, in which he called out Pakistan for continuing to “harbor criminals and terrorists.”

They have had many of their innocent people killed, they’ve had many of their soldiers killed and wounded, Mattis says. The bottom line is Pakistan has to act in its own best interest. They know this.

In response, the Trump administration is considering measures that include expanding U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan or downgrading the country’s status as a major non-NATO ally, according to media reports.

Other more severe options include declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism or sanctioning individual Pakistani leaders suspected of having ties with the Taliban.

But the Trump administration is not likely to take any kind of punitive action for at least a few weeks, said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia analyst with the Woodrow Wilson Center.

“I think it (the administration) wants to give the Pakistanis a bit more time to see if they’re responding to the various demands that the United States made of them when it comes to cracking down on terrorists,” said Kugelman.

One of the likelier U.S. responses, according to Kugelman, is expanding not only the geographic scope of the drone war, but also widening the type of targets the United States goes after.

“I think we could start seeing the U.S. trying to target more Haqqani Network and Afghan Taliban targets,” especially in the sparsely populated Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, he said.

The United States has much to lose if ties were to deteriorate. Pakistan controls U.S. military supply routes to landlocked Afghanistan, and could close them down, as they did in 2011. The U.S. would also like Pakistan to scale back its nuclear modernization, improve ties with India, and stay engaged in the broader fight against Islamic militants.

But despite the risks, Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, warns that Washington appears to be running out of patience.

“For many years we were trying to hold out hope that the Pakistanis would change their mind about Afghanistan and our role there,” he said. “But those kinds of hopes aren’t as prevalent anymore. And on balance, therefore, I think we are closer to using some of those tougher methods.”

Source: Voice of America