American University Attacked in Kabul Carnage

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Afghanistan descends further into chaos as Islamists gain ground.

Front Page Magazine, by Ari Liebeman, August 26, 2016:

An attack on the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul on Wednesday has claimed the lives of at least 13. Another 36 were wounded in the carnage which began with a massive explosion at the entrance to the university. Gunmen then stormed the building and began shooting indiscriminately. Some students sustained fractured legs and other injuries when they jumped out of windows in a desperate bid to escape the terrorists. Fortunately, no Americans were killed.

Two terrorists were shot dead by U.S.-backed, Afghan security forces. A third terrorist was killed when he set off the bomb that signaled the start of the attack.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack though it is almost certainly the work of ISIS or the Taliban. Though the two groups despise each another and have on occasion clashed, they maintain a shared, visceral hatred of the West and routinely target foreigners and symbols of foreign presence.

The university made for a tempting target and has come under attack before. On August 7, just days after the Obama administration paid the Islamic Republic of Iran a $400 million ransom for the release of four American hostages, two university professors, one of whom was American (the other was an Australian national) werekidnapped by unknown assailants in military uniforms. It is not known whether the kidnappers were influenced by the ransom payment and the whereabouts of the abducted faculty members are unknown.

Afghanistan has a history of repelling foreign invaders but is essentially a failed state beset by a pandemic of violence and tribalism. It hosts a plethora of ethnic groups who share little in common except for Islam and distrust of foreigners.

In mid-July, twin suicide blasts in Kabul killed at least 80 people and injured 260. Those targeted were Afghan Hazaras, Persian-speaking people who are followers of the Shia brand of Islam; the rest of the nation practices Sunni Islam. ISIS claimed responsibility for the gruesome attack.

Afghanistan represents a foreign policy failure for Obama amid a string of foreign policy failures. After eight years, the U.S. has lost, rather than gained influence in that country. By conservative estimates, the Taliban fully or partially control at least 20 percent of the country. Some estimate that their area of control could be as high as 50 percent.

Pakistan and Iran are attempting to exert influence there as well. The former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, admitted to receiving bags of cash from the Iranians. There is absolutely no doubt that the practice continues today. Moreover, Iranian spies in the country are fomenting additional mischief, including providing support for the Taliban. In addition, Iran has recruited Afghan mercenaries to fight its proxy wars in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. They are largely drawn from the Persian-speaking Hazaras, who share a kinship with their Shia brethren in Iran.

The U.S. currently maintains a military force of fewer than 10,000 in Afghanistan. Whatever influence the U.S. does have in Afghanistan is maintained by its armed presence. Should those forces be withdrawn, the Taliban, Iran and militias loyal to Pakistan would quickly move to fill the void left by the Americans. Afghanistan would then Balkanize and would likely revert to the state that existed before the U.S. intervention in 2001.

Moderates don’t do well in that part of the world as evidenced by the chaos currently reigning in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and to a lesser extent, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria and Bahrain. Part of the blame rests with the very nature and belief systems of the people who reside there. They are hopelessly mired in a convoluted mix of medievalism, Islamic fundamentalism, conspiracy, tribalism, misogyny and xenophobia. But fault also lies with the Obama administration, which continuously dismissed emerging threats like ISIS, routinely chose to side with the bad guys, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, engaged in policies of appeasement with Iran, failed to follow through with promised action when red lines were crossed in Syria and betrayed long-time, democratic allies like Israel.

Obama has continuously misjudged, mismanaged and mischaracterized threats against the United States and its allies. The chaos prevalent in Afghanistan and in the rest of the Muslim Mideast could have been militated had Obama pursued more responsible and robust policies that recognized allies as allies and enemies as enemies. Sadly, the opposite has occurred.

Also see:

The Problem Isn’t Nation-Building. It’s Islam-Building

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Front Page Magazine, by Daniel Greenfield, Aug. 19, 2016:

Nation-building has become a very controversial term. And with good reason. Our conviction that we can reconstruct any society into another America is unrealistic. It ignores our own exceptionalism and overlooks the cultural causes of many conflicts. It assumes that a change of government and open elections can transform a tribal Islamic society into America. They can’t and won’t.

But it’s also important to recognize that what we have been doing isn’t nation-building, but Islam-building.

Nation-building in Germany and Japan meant identifying a totalitarian ideology, isolating its proponents from political power and recreating a formerly totalitarian state as an open society. That is the opposite of what we did in Afghanistan and Iraq, never mind Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and all the rest.

We did temporarily pursue de-Baathification in Iraq. But the Baathists were just Saddam’s cult of personality. Saddam was a problem in Iraq. But he wasn’t the problem in Iraq. His rule was a symptom of the real problem which was the divide between Sunnis and Shiites. The real problem was Islam.

Because we failed to recognize that, de-Baathification failed. The Baathists just folded themselves into ISIS. The Sunni-Shiite war went on even without Saddam. Today Sunnis and Shiites are still killing each other in Iraq much as they had for a long time. We have boiled this war down to ISIS, but ISIS, like Saddam is just another symptom of the political violence and divisiveness inherent in Islam.

Instead of secularizing Iraq, our efforts at democracy only heightened divisions along religious lines. The “Lebanon” model for Iraq with power sharing arrangements between Sunnis and Shiites was doomed.

Iraq’s first election was dominated by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. If that name rings a bell, it should. It came out of Iran. You know, the original Islamic Revolution. The “free” election had given a boost to an Islamic terror group whose goal was the creation of an Islamic State in Iraq.

The bloodiest days of the Iraq War actually came when two sets of Islamic terror groups fighting to create an Islamic State began killing each other… and us. We know one of those groups today as ISIS. The other group is the Iraqi government. And a decade later, they’re still killing each other.

Instead of nation-building in Iraq, we practiced Islam-building. Iraq’s constitution made Islam the official religion and the fundamental source of legislation. Its first real law was that, “No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.” The new Iraq we had built was an Islamic State.

We did no better in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan whose constitution declared much the same thing. Its first parliamentary elections saw victories for the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan and the Islamic Society. As in Iraq and Syria, the distinctions between the bad Islamists and the good Islamists were often fuzzy at best. We had replaced the bad Islamist warlords who raped and murdered their enemies with the good Islamist warlords who raped and murdered their enemies.

Our nation-building had created an Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and an Islamic State in Iraq. It was no wonder that the fighting never stopped.

Matters grew much worse with the Arab Spring when Obama and Hillary’s Islam-building project flipped countries that had been democratic and secular in the loosest sense into the tar pit of political Islam.

Coptic Christians were massacred and churches were burned in Egypt. The Christian communities in Iraq and Syria were threatened with annihilation.  The Jewish community in Yemen may be close to disappearing entirely. The Yazidis were raped and murdered on a genocidal scale by the Islamic State.

But in many cases they were just collateral damage from fighting between Sunni and Shiite Islamists, and among Sunni Islamists battling each other for dominance.

The ugliest part of Islam-building was that the resulting conflicts between Islamists and secularists in Egypt and Tunisia highlighted starkly just how wrong our policy was. Instead of backing secular and democratic forces, Obama had thrown in with Islamists. And even after the Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown in Egypt, his administration continued advocating on behalf of its Islamic reign of terror.

If we had practiced actual nation-building, then we would have identified Islamic tribalism as the central corrosive force in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Islamic political movements as the totalitarian threat in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Our efforts would have been directed at isolating them and keeping them out of power while working to democratize and secularize these countries on the old Turkish model. It might not have worked, but at least it would have been nation-building, not Islam-building.

Nation-building might very well have failed. America doesn’t have infinite resources and the lives of our soldiers are precious. Assuming that we can upend radically different societies is excessively optimistic.

But we didn’t even try.

What we have been doing in this century isn’t nation building. Instead we’ve been empowering our enemies. We’ve been sticking our hands into Islamist snake pits and playing, “Find the Muslim moderate” and refusing to learn any better no matter how many times we get bitten.

We have been perfectly happy to help the Islamic terrorists that our soldiers were shooting at last week so long as their leader signed some sort of accord paying lip service to equality yesterday. We didn’t just get into bed with the Muslim Brotherhood, but with former affiliates of Al Qaeda and current proxies of Iran. We allied with the Sunni and Shiite Islamist murderers of American soldiers in Iraq.

And all we got for it was more violence, chaos and death.

Even without Islam, ethnic and tribal divisions would have made nation-building into a difficult challenge. But Islam-building didn’t just leave wrecked societies, but terror threats. Tensions between Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds wouldn’t have led to massacres in Paris and Nice. Only Islam could do that.

Islam takes local conflicts and makes them global. That’s why disputes over the authority of the House of Saud led to the mass murder of thousands of people in New York or why Arab attacks on Israel became a burning international issue. Or why Sunni and Shiite feuds in Iraq and Syria led to a massacre of attendees at a rock concert in Paris.

That is also why the combination of Islam and politics in any form is an existential threat to us.

Not only should we not be subsidizing it in any way, shape or form, but we should be doing our best to stamp it out. If we must have any form of nation-building, it should be the building of secular nations in which Islam is isolated and detached from any political involvement.

We have two options for preventing the spread of Islamic political violence into our countries. The first is a ban on Muslim immigration. The second is a ban on Muslim politics. The former has been dubbed isolationism and the latter nation-building. Neither term is truly accurate, but they capture the essence of the choice.

We however have chosen a choice that is far worse than either. We have opened our doors to Muslim migration while opening Muslim countries to further Islamic political involvement. We have Islamized terror states and ourselves. Is it any wonder that we suffer from a severe Islamic terror threat?

Open borders for Islamic terror and Islam-building have led to our current state of national insecurity. We have made the world more dangerous by backing Islamic politics and we have made our countries more dangerous by welcoming in Muslim migrants to be indoctrinated into terror by Islamist organizations. The more we build up Islam, the more we destroy ourselves.

Also see:

Islamic State, Taliban form alliance in Afghanistan to focus on US-backed forces

694940094001_5073706091001_0abb71c1-8898-4331-ad29-f0b5799abc87Fox News, Aug. 9, 2016:

Islamic State and the Taliban, after more than a year of fierce combat, have forged a patchwork cease-fire across much of eastern Afghanistan that has helped both insurgencies regroup and counter U.S.-backed efforts to dislodge them.

Until several months ago, Islamic State fought bloody battles with local Taliban units over fighters and territory in several provinces. The long-running Taliban insurgency has sought to stamp out its smaller rival, which only emerged in 2014. Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces took advantage of the conflict, engaging the militants on multiple fronts to push them back and reclaim territory they held.

But recently, Afghan officials say, the two insurgencies have worked out local deals to stop fighting each other and turn their sights on the government. The upshot is that Islamic State has been able to focus on fighting U.S.- backed Afghan forces in Nangarhar province and shift north into Kunar province, establishing a new foothold in a longtime Taliban and former al Qaeda stronghold.

“They fought deadly battles with the Taliban before. But over the past two months, there has been no fighting among them,” said Gen. Mohammad Zaman Waziri, who commands Afghan troops in the east.

Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan is still nascent. Even in its stronghold Nangarhar, Afghan officials estimate the group remains several times smaller than the Taliban. And the cease-fire between them could break apart at any time.

But Islamic State has exploited the relative peace with its rival to extend the reach of its deadly attacks. In July, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Kabul that killed more than 80 people, one of the worst attacks in the capital since 2001.

Islamic State’s alliance with the Taliban comes as the U.S. steps up efforts to combat it. A joint Afghan-U. S. operation against Islamic State in February was hailed as a success until it became clear the militants had regrouped and were regaining lost ground.

In recent weeks, the U.S. military has pulled more troops into Afghanistan for a new joint offensive with Afghan forces involving heavy airstrikes and operations targeting commanders. The U.S.-Afghan operation in the east has cleared Islamic State strongholds in several districts in Nangarhar province, driving the militants further into mountainous areas close to the border and north to Kunar and Nuristan provinces.

The top U.S. military commander in the country, Army Gen. John Nicholson, said the cease-fire between the militant groups in Kunar didn’t reflect a broader agreement. “There’s still a conflict even though they may have a local cease-fire in place,” he said. “There’s always been a live-and-let-live dimension to some of the social fabric.”

What’s Hillary’s plan to help Special Ops caught in Obama’s Afghan meat grinder? (crickets)

us army special forcesConservative Review, by Daniel Horowitz, July 29, 2016:

A few weeks ago, I sounded the alarm about Obama’s dyslexic policy in Afghanistan in which U.S. Special Operators are being placed into the worst combat zones without the ability to engage in combat and without any understanding of the broader mission. Now it appears that we are again taking casualties in eastern Afghanistan, but don’t count on the mass media to ask questions.

Here is a disturbing update from the NATO Commander in the theater from a press conference yesterday:

[Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John] Nicholson revealed that American special operations forces have been heavily involved in ground fighting in Nangarhar in recent days, and five commandos have been wounded — three of whom had to be evacuated out of the country for treatment. All are expected to recover.

The revelation that American forces are again engaged in close-quarters combat in America’s longest war comes at a time when President Barack Obama has been slowly walking back his earlier efforts to pull out all American troops by the end of his term in January. [Foreign Policy Magazine]

Remember, as these warriors are placed in the most precarious situations with no strategic mission and in some of the most rugged parts of the world, they have to call a lawyer before even calling in close air support. This dangerous convergence of mitigating factors is getting our soldiers injured and killed for no reason.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is doing its best to cover up the casualties, and most of the media is not interested in covering this during their nightly broadcasts like they did when Republicans were in power. As the Military Times reported last month, with the surge in troops in Iraq that we are not supposed to know about, the Pentagon has worked even harder to block information concerning casualties on the battlefield. They contend that they are concerned about giving our troop locations away to our enemies, but it is quite evident that they don’t want the American people to know that our troops are indeed on a battlefield (as opposed to being “advisors”).

With no oversight from Congress or the media, Obama is continuing to destroy our military. At the same time, the social engineering of the military is in full swing.

It is extremely disappointing that neither presidential candidate mentioned this 800-pound gorilla in the room. We have never been engaged in any war for 15 years, much less one that has netted no positive result. We have nothing to show for our efforts but over 1,800 military deaths, 20,000 wounded, and the Taliban control more territory than ever before – all to establish a sharia-compliant government with a constitution (set up by U.S. officials) which fosters the type of Islamic supremacism we are at war with. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State when Afghanistan was lost in 2011 and when we sustained the most casualties. She owns this foreign policy, yet she acted like the firefighter just coming on the scene and obfuscated any mention of this disaster.

Last night, Hillary criticized Trump for observing that the state of our military is a disaster. She boldly proclaimed that “our military is a national treasure” and that we have the most powerful military in the world. She is right. Putting our soldiers in a meat grinder with appalling rules of engagement and no favorable outcome is not a way to treat our national treasure and is not a way to project strength. Nor is the social engineering and making our generals draw up logistical plans for transgenderism rather than a national objective and an end to the 15-year war in Afghanistan.

The American people recognize that the status quo in the war on Islamic terror is not working and nowhere is this more evident than in Afghanistan.

Islamic State claims suicide bombings at Kabul protest

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Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, July 23, 2016:

The Islamic State claimed credit for a double suicide attack today in Kabul that killed more than 60 people, wounded at least 200 more and caused much of the city to be shut down.

The Islamic State’s suicide bombers detonated their explosives as Afghan Hazara, an ethnic Shia minority, gathered to protest in the capital. The Hazara were demonstrating to influence the government to allow an electric power line project to pass through Bamayan province.

The Islamic State claimed credit for the deadly Kabul bombings on its semi-official Amaq News Agency. According to Amaq, two “fighters of the Islamic State” executed the attack on the protesters.

The Taliban, via one of its official spokesmen, Zabihullah Mujahid, quickly denied any involvement for the Kabul bombings.

“The Mujaheedin [Taliban] does not have anything to do with today’s attack in Kabul,” Mujahid said on his Twitter account immediately after the bombings. He claimed the “enemies of Afghanistan” were responsible, likely a reference to the Islamic State. The Taliban and the Islamic State have been at odds since the latter group established its “Khorasan province” in 2014. The group is comprised of disaffected commanders from the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

While the Islamic State has experienced difficulty establishing a significant presence in Afghanistan – and has lost ground in areas such as Helmand, Zabul, and Farah – it still has a foothold in the eastern province of Nangarhar, where it fights both the Taliban and Afghan forces. The Islamic State likely is using this position of strength in Nangarhar to launch attacks into the capital. Additionally, the group may be leveraging legacy networks from the greatly weakened Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a portion of which defected to the Islamic State.

The Islamic State has not shied away from directly targeting Hazaras. In February 2015, it kidnapped 30 Hazara men in Zabul. Later that year, seven Hazara, including children, were beheaded by the Islamic State.

The rise of the Islamic State as well as the resurgence of the Taliban has led to the rise of militias in the Afghan north. Hazara make up a component of the “Marg,” or Death Militia in northern Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, Afghan ‘Death’ militia emerges, vows to fight Islamic State, Taliban.]

While the Islamic State has used its suicide bombers in the capital to hit soft targets such as political demonstrations, the Taliban has targeted Afghan security personnel and foreign workers. The Taliban’s last major attack in Kabul, on June 30, targeted a convoy of police cadets and killed more than two dozen police and first responders. On June 20, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying individuals who worked at the Canadian embassy, and killed 23 people, including 14 Nepali security guards. A suicide assault team also struck a security headquarters in the heart of the city on April 19, killing at least 60 people and wounding more than 300.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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Also see:

12 Freed Guantánamo Terrorists Have Killed ‘About a Half-Dozen Americans’

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Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, June 9, 2016:

The Obama administration reports that at least 12 terrorists from the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — all released under George W. Bush — have killed an estimated half-dozen Americans, the Washington Post (WaPo) has learned from current and former U.S. officials on condition of anonymity.

Although the officials reportedly declined to provide a specific figure for former Guantánamo prisoners involved in attacks that killed and injured Americans, one is quoted as saying the number “was fewer than 15.”

The revelation follows the starling acknowledgement to the House Foreign Affairs Committee made by a top Pentagon official in March that detainees released from the U.S. military prison in Cuba have killed Americans.

Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s special envoy for President Barack Obama’s relentless efforts to shut down the Guantánamo facility, declined to provide the GOP-led House panel with more details. The Obama administration has since refused to further elaborate publicly on the official’s comments, claiming the intelligence behind it is classified.

However, an unnamed administration official was quick to tell the Associated Press (AP) that Lewis was referring to an incident involving the release of an Afghan prisoner from Guantánamo under Obama’s predecessor.

Some U.S. lawmakers are urging the Obama administration to declassify the information about suspected attacks attributed to former Guantánamo prisoners that they have been privy to but are prohibited from discussing publicly.

“There appears to be a consistent and concerted effort by the Administration to prevent Americans from knowing the truth regarding the terrorist activities and affiliations of past and present Guantánamo detainees,” wrote Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a vocal opponent of Obama’s efforts to shut down the prison, in a letter to the president this week.

Some jihadists released from Guantánamo under President Obama have returned to terrorist activities, including one of the five high-level Taliban commanders released in the controversial exchange for deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Former and current U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, provided the Postwith “additional details about the suspected attacks [that Lewis was allegedly alluding to], including the approximate number of detainees and victims involved and the fact that, while most of the incidents were directed at military personnel, the dead also included one American civilian: a female aid worker who died in Afghanistan in 2008.”

According to the Post, the officials also revealed that NATO troops who have been fighting alongside their American counterparts throughout most of the nearly 14-year-old Afghanistan war have also suffered casualties at the hands of the released prisoners.

One U.S. official familiar with the intelligence told the Post that, of the detainees suspected of attacking U.S. and allied personnel, nine are currently dead or in the custody of a foreign government.

The Pentagon official’s comments in March sparked criticism from Republicans opposed to closing the detention center.

“Some lawmakers see the violence against Americans as further evidence that the president’s plans for closing the prison are misguided and dangerous,” points out WaPo. “They also describe the administration’s unwillingness to release information about the attacks as another instance of its use of high levels of classification to avoid discussion of a politically charged issue that could heighten political opposition to its plans.”

President Obama continues to push ahead in his efforts to shut down the Guantánamo detention center, commonly known as Gitmo.

The Guardian reported in late May that his administration is secretly preparing to transfer up to 24 prisoners out of Gitmo by the end of the summer, a move that would bring the detainee population down to 56 from the 242 who were held there when Obama took office.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon submitted to Congress the Obama administration’s proposal for closing the Guantánamo detention center, which would require transferring prisoners to the United States, a move that is opposed by many lawmakers and is prohibited by law.

Currently, 80 terrorists are being housed at the prison.

In March, the office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reported that as of mid-January, about 3 out of every 10 detainees were suspected or confirmed to have re-engaged in terrorist activities after being transferred out of Gitmo.

Although that includes some terrorists released under President Obama, his administration suggests that none have been linked to attacks against the United States or its allies.

“Human rights activists say the statistics are suspect and cannot be verified because the administration provides almost no information about whom it is counting and why,” notes the Post.

Also see:

State notes ‘severely degraded’ al Qaeda operated large training camp in Afghanistan

Qaeda-training-camp-e1444748558794Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, June 6, 2016:

The US government continues to underestimate al Qaeda’s strength in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US Department of State noted that a “severely degraded” al Qaeda was able to operate “a large training camp” inside Afghanistan, one of three that were known to be in operation inside the terrorist hotbed over the past year.

State noted the al Qaeda camp and and a secondary facility, plus the raid to destroy them in Country Reports on Terrorism 2015, which was released last week.

“While al Qaeda (AQ) has been severely degraded in the region, its regional affiliate, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), continued to operate in Afghanistan,” State reported. “Notably, AQIS members were active at a large training camp in a remote area of Kandahar Province. On October 11, U.S. and Afghan forces conducted a coordinated joint operation that successfully destroyed the AQIS training camp and a related facility, and killed dozens of AQ-linked trainees.”

The camps that State referred to were located in the Shorabak district in Kandahar. In October 2015, a large US military strike force took four days to clear two al Qaeda camps in Shorabak. One camp covered over 30 square miles, and included large caches of weapons, ammunition, and other supplies. An al Qaeda media cell was also based there. [See LWJ reports, US military strikes large al Qaeda training camps in southern Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda’s Kandahar training camp ‘probably the largest’ in Afghan War.]

After the Shorabak raid, General John Campbell, then the commander of Resolute Support, noted that US military and intelligence officials were surprised that the camp even existed.

“It’s a place where you would probably think you wouldn’t have AQ [al Qaeda]. I would agree with that,” Campbell said, according to The Washington Post. “This was really AQIS [al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent], and probably the largest training camp-type facility that we have seen in 14 years of war.”

Al Qaeda has not been “severely degraded in the region”

State’s insistence that al Qaeda has been “severely degraded in the region” is at odds with recent evidence from Afghanistan and Pakistan. For more than six years, The Long War Journal has warned that official estimates of al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan are inaccurate. The jihadist group remains a significant threat to this day and bonds between al Qaeda and the Taliban remain strong.

The US military has targeted at least three known al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in the past year. Evidence used to target the Shorabak camp was obtained during a raid on another al Qaeda camp in Paktika province in July 2015. Abu Khalil al Sudani, one of al Qaeda’s most senior figures, is thought to have been killed during that raid. Al Qaeda clearly assessed the situation in Paktika as being safe enough to place one of their top leaders there.

The US raided another al Qaeda facility in Afghanistan this year. On May 9, US special operations forces rescued Ali Haider Gilani, the son of Pakistan’s former prime minister, during a raid against an al Qaeda safe house in Paktika province. Gilani was held by al Qaeda for more than three years.

Additionally, Resolute Support, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, was forced to admit that previous long-held estimates on al Qaeda’s strength in Afghanistan, were wrong. Since 2010, US officials have claimed that al Qaeda has been “decimated” in Afghanistan and has maintained a consistent minimal presence of 50 to 100 operatives. In April, Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, the top spokesman for Resolute Support, told The Washington Post that al Qaeda has forged close ties to the Taliban and is resurgent in the country.

Additionally, Buchanan told CNN that al Qaeda may have upwards of 300 operatives in the country, “but that number does include other facilitators and sympathizers in their network.” [See LWJ report, US military admits al Qaeda is stronger in Afghanistan than previously estimated.]

Buchanan said the military was forced to revise the estimate upward after the Shorabak raid, where more that 150 al Qaeda were at a single location.

“If you go back to last year, there were a lot of intel estimates that said within Afghanistan al Qaeda probably has 50 to 100 members, but in this one camp we found more than 150,” Buchanan told CNN.

In addition to al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan, the group has a significant base in Pakistan, and not just the tribal areas where the group is always assumed to operate. Last week, The Washington Post published a disturbing report on al Qaeda’s growing presence in Karachi, Pakistan. Hundreds if not thousands of al Qaeda operatives and recruits are thought to be operating in that Pakistani city.

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“Counterterrorism officials in Karachi have a list of several hundred active al Qaeda members, which makes them assume there are at least a few thousand on the streets,” the Post reported. “In Karachi, AQIS has divided itself into three operational segments — recruitment, financial and tactical — made up of four-to-six-person cells. The recruitment cells work in madrassas and schools, casually preaching Islam before targeting certain students for potential recruitment, officials said.”

Al Qaeda is executing its strategy of incorporating elements from the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Harakat-ul-Muhajideen, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Brigade 313, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Indian Mujahideen, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Turkistan Islamic Party, Junood al Fida, and other groups based in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. This vision was outlined by Ayman al Zawahiri in September 2014, after he announced the formation of AQIS. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent incorporates regional jihadist groups.]

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

Taliban kills dozens in suicide assault in Kabul

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, April 19, 2016:

The Taliban targeted a unit responsible for providing security for Afghan officials in a coordinated suicide assault in the Afghan capital today. The Taliban claimed credit for the deadly attack, in which at least 28 people were killed and more that 300 were wounded, according to reports on the ground.

The Taliban took responsibility for the attack on its official propaganda outlet, Voice of Jihad, and said it was part of Operation Omari, the 2016 spring offensive named after Mullah Omar, its founder and first emir. The Taliban reported a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle at the gate, which allowed armed fighters to breach the compound. This is a tactic that has been effectively employed by the Taliban and other jihadist groups throughout the world over the past decade.

“Amid the ongoing ‘Omari’ annual campaign at around 09:00 am local time this morning, a martyrdom seeking unit of Islamic Emirate launched a heavy attack on 10th directorate intelligence building located in PD1 of Kabul city,” the statement said. “The operation began when a martyrdom seeker detonated his explosives laden vehicle at the gate of the building, removing all barriers and killing the guards followed by a number of other martyrdom seekers rushing inside and engaging the remaining enemy targets.”

The Taliban’s account was substantiated by press reporting from Afghanistan. According to TOLONews, the compound that was attacked belonged to a “Secret Service Unit tasked with protecting VIPs.” Afghan officials said the attack began when a suicide bomber detonated at the gate, and one or more Taliban fighters then penetrated the perimeter and began firing on the survivors inside the compound. At least 28 people were killed and 327 more were wounded, according to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health.

The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan claimed that the attack was proof that the Taliban were unable to fight Afghan forces face to face “on the battlefield.”

“Today’s attack shows the insurgents are unable to meet Afghan forces on the battlefield and must resort to these terrorist attacks,” General John Nicholson, the commander of Resolute Support, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, said in an email sent to The Long War Journal. “We strongly condemn the actions of Afghanistan’s enemies and remain firmly committed to supporting our Afghan partners and the National Unity Government.”

However, the Taliban are openly engaging Afghan forces on the battlefield on multiple fronts throughout Afghanistan. In the south, the Taliban controls nearly half of Helmand province and has pressured Afghan forces to retreat from key district there. The provincial capital of Lashkar Gah is under siege. In the north, the Taliban launched a coordinated offensive in all seven districts of Kunduz just after announcing the commencement of Operation Omar last week. The Taliban are also fighting in the open in multiple provinces in the east and west.

The Long War Journal estimates that the Taliban controls or hotly contests more than 80 of Afghanistan 400 plus districts.

Today’s attack in Kabul is the largest of its kind since Aug. 7-8, 2015, when the Taliban launched two suicide bombers and a suicide assault over the course of 24 hours. Forty-four people, including 20 Afghan police recruits, 15 Afghan civilians, eight US-contracted Afghan personnel, and a US Army Green Beret were killed when the Taliban targeted a police academy, a US Special Forces base, and a residential district. [See LWJ report, Taliban continues terror attacks in Afghan capital.]

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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Also  see:

We Spent Billions Training Afghan Soldiers. Now They’re Defecting To The Taliban.

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Washington Times, by Joshua Yasmeh, April  12, 2016:

Scores of US-trained Afghan soldiers have deserted their posts and joined the Taliban, according to an exclusive report by CNN Senior International Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh.

Understaffed and under resourced, the Afghan military is finding it difficult to retain troops. “Death is not the only reason the Afghan army is losing troops: Desertion is rife within the ranks,” explains Walsh.

As the Taliban makes headway and regains territory in southern Afghanistan, an unstable  government in Kabul continues to lose ground. “The Taliban control or influence as much as 20% of Afghanistan, its highest levels of control since 2001,” notes CNN. Despite abstract assurances by the White House, Afghanistan is falling.

While the Taliban’s aims are grounded in political Islam, many Afghan soldiers are defecting for practical reasons. Walsh reports:

CNN met two deserters in Helmand whose stories show the breadth of the problem, who have taken their skills — months of U.S. taxpayer-funded training — to the Taliban.

“I did 18 months of army training and took an oath to serve this country,” one deserter said. “But the situation changed. The army let us down, so we had to come to the Taliban, who treat us like guests.”

The two men still had their old uniforms, army IDs, and even the bank cards they used to withdraw their official wages.

“I decided to leave the army when my dead and injured comrades lay in our base, and nobody took them to hospital. My army training is very useful now, as I am training Taliban fighters with the same knowledge.”

Here’s Walsh’s full report:

Perhaps it’s cowardice. Or maybe it’s a simple cost-benefit decision based on rational self-interests and the sheer impulse to survive. Without a stable US military presence on the ground, Afghan soldiers have been dropping like flies. 2015 may have been the worst year since the beginning of the US invasion.  Consider this: According to CNN, “U.S. officials estimate that 5,500 Afghan security force members died that year alone, far more than the 3,500 NATO lost in its entire decade long campaign. And 2016 may be much worse.”

“Afghanistan is at an inflection point; 2016 may be “no better and possibly worse than 2015,” stated America’s top commander in the country, Army Gen. John Campbell. “Now, more than ever, the United States should not waver in Afghanistan.” Campbell added: “Afghanistan has not achieved an enduring level of security and stability that justifies a reduction of our support in 2016.”

“Close air support has been the one resource and capability that the Afghans have asked me for every single day,” asserted the US commander. “Those who serve in Afghanistan understand it’s worth the investment.”

The Afghan army needs close US support. In December General Campbell confessed that ISIS had infiltrated Afghanistan posing a major threat to troops and allies on the ground. “There could be 3,000 or 4,000 or 5,000 ISIS men who are now trying to consolidate links to their ‘mothership’ in Iraq and Syria,”reports Independent. “ISIS wants to establish its pre-Afghan ‘Khorasan Province’ in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.”

Unfortunately, President Obama and his amateur national security team have made a habit of ignoring our military tacticians. As the region devolved into anarchy and social strife, Obama shifted his Afghanistan policy several times. In October, President Obama announced his plan to leave nearly 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan until early 2017. The plan will maintain the current levels of armed forces until shortly after the end of Obama’s presidency, kicking the can down the road for the next president.

Thanks to President Obama’s politically expedient decision to prematurely label combat operations in Afghanistan over, more Afghans are dying. Soldiers are defecting. And the government in Kabul is losing territory faster than it ever has. Obama’s reckless and abrupt end-all-wars campaign has cost countless lives. Since we are technically not at war, the US military operators have to abide by very narrow rules of engagement.

The rise of ISIS in Afghanistan places President Obama’s schizophrenic (anti)war strategy in stark relief. The latest developments in the war-torn terrorist hotbed directly undermine the administration’s narrative of a stabilized Afghanistan. This president ran as the anti-Bush pacifist, an agent of change that would end all wars. Instead, Obama’s reign as president has wrought nothing but bloodshed in a region mired in geopolitical instability.

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Pakistan is ‘very cooperative and very engaged in the fight against terrorism,’ Secretary Kerry tells Congress

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the FY2017 State Department Budget Request on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the FY2017 State Department Budget Request on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, Feb. 25, 2016:

US Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress that Pakistan’s government and military are “very cooperative and very engaged in the fight against terrorism” while Senator Bob Corker accused the country of “outright blatant duplicity” for supporting the Afghan Taliban.

Kerry and Corker squared off on Pakistan on Feb. 23 during a State Department budget request hearing. Corker challenged Kerry’s omission of Afghanistan in his opening statement, and then said he “witnessed that continued duplicity on Pakistan’s part” during a recent visit to Afghanistan.

“They [Pakistan] continue to support the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and give safe haven to al Qaeda,” Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, noted. He then objected to the US government’s recent approval of the sale of F-16 fighters and other equipment worth nearly $700 million to Pakistan. He claimed that “zero US taxpayer dollars will go to subsidize Pakistan’s purchase until such a time as they do the things that we know they could do to stop helping to destabilize Afghanistan.”

Kerry rose to Pakistan’s defense, and called the situation in the country “a very complicated mix.”

“The government itself, the military has been very cooperative and very engaged in the fight against terrorism,” Kerry stated, noting that Pakistani soldiers have been killed during military operations in the tribal areas.

Kerry then claimed that there are “entities that complicate our efforts very significantly,” without naming them. This is almost certainly a reference to Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, which is more commonly known as the ISI. The ISI is known to support the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, (a Taliban subgroup), and a host of Pakistani jihadist groups allied with al Qaeda, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harakat-ul-Muhajideen.

While Kerry treats the ISI as an entity separate from the military and government, the ISI is actually part of Pakistan’s military. ISI directors have served as the Chief of Army Staff, the highest military rank in Pakistan, and arguably the most powerful person in Pakistan.

Kerry also claimed that the Pakistani military “drove the Haqqani Network into new locations” during its ongoing offensive in North Waziristan, known as Zarb-e Azb. While the Pakistani military has said the offensive in North Waziristan has targeted all jihadist groups based there, this is untrue. Zarb-e Azb has only focused on groups that actively oppose the government, such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. These organizations are often referred to as the “bad Taliban” as they do not take direction from the ISI and the military focus their efforts inside Afghanistan and India.

Organizations like the Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group are called “good Taliban” as they do not attack the Pakistani state. However, these groups do support al Qaeda and the so-called “bad Taliban”.

The Pakistani military gave sufficient notice before the launch of Zarb-e Azb in June 2014 that allowed the Haqqanis and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group to vacate North Waziristan. The Haqqani Network is known to have relocated to the neighboring tribal agency of Kurram. Not a single senior or mid-level Haqqani Network leader has been killed or captured during the 20 months of Pakistan military operations in North Waziristan.

Pakistan’s “long line of duplicity” in Afghanistan, as Corker concluded in his exchange with Kerry, continues to this day. This duplicity can be seen with the Pakistani state’s relationship with Siraj Haqqani, one of the Afghan Taliban’s two deputy emirs who is the operational commander of the Haqqani Network, and the Taliban’s Quetta Shura.

According to The New York Times‘ Carlotta Gal, Siraj “moves freely around Pakistan, and has even visited the Pakistani intelligence headquarters of the Afghan campaign in Rawalpindi.” Other Haqqani Network leaders are known to travel to the gulf to raise money for the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The leadership of the Afghan Taliban, which is based outside of the Pakistani city of Quetta and is known as the Quetta Shura, receives direct support from the ISI and the military. The Taliban openly recruits inside Pakistan and runs training camps and command and control centers throughout the country, but most prominently in the tribal areas and the provinces of Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Afghan Taliban is open about its relationship with al Qaeda, and in August 2015, the group accepted al Qaeda pledge of allegiance.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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Top U.S. General: ‘I Do Not Have Authority’ to Offensively Attack Taliban

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, Feb. 2, 2016:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. military, since President Obama declared that American troops had ceased their combat mission at the end of 2014, has only been able to attack the Taliban from a defensive position, the top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan told lawmakers.

“I have the authority to protect our coalition members against any insurgency — Haqqani [Network], Taliban, al Qaeda — if they’re posing as a threat to our coalition forces,”testified the commander, Gen. John Campbell, before the House Armed Services Committee.

The general’s comments came in response to Rep. Jim Bridenstine asking if he had the authority to attack the Taliban, which has stepped up attacks since the end of 2014 and has been linked to the deteriorating security conditions in the Afghanistan.

“If the Taliban are attacking coalition forces, then I have everything I need to do that,” responded Gen. Campbell, who is expected to retire soon. “To attack the Taliban just because they’re Taliban, I do not have that authority.”

“It is astonishing that we have an authority to go after the Taliban and the president is preventing us from doing that,” proclaimed Bridenstine.

The Oklahoma Republican argued that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) 2001, passed by Congress and signed into law by the U.S. president at the time, grants the top commander the authority to use the necessary force against the Taliban.

Rep. Bridenstine questioned, “Yet, the president, it seems, is saying you can’t attack the Taliban even though they were responsible for September 11?”

“What I think is we adjusted our mission in 2015,” explained Campbell. “We went away from combat operations and we worked with the Afghans to build their capabilities to go after the Taliban.”

President Obama declared an end to the U.S. combat mission in December 2014, marking the beginning of the train, assist, and advise (TAA) role for the American troops on January 1, 2015.

While testifying, Gen. Campbell noted that with only 9,800 U.S. service members in Afghanistan, carrying out the TAA mission is difficult.

“Again if the Taliban are attacking or pose a threat to coalition forces, I have everything I need to provide that force protection,” reiterated Campbell. “To go after the Taliban because they’re Taliban, I don’t do that sir.”

At least 21 American service members have been killed and another 79 wounded since President Obama adjusted the mission so that U.S. troops are unable to attack the Taliban from an offensive position. The majority of the total 2,227 American military deaths and 20,109 injuries since the war began in October 2001 have taken place under President Obama’s watch.

Rep. Bridenstine quoted the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) 2001.

“That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons,” states the AUMF.

The Taliban has been accused of providing safe haven to al Qaeda members involved in orchestrating the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. homeland, including the late jihadist leader Osama bin Laden.

President Obama is currently expected to reduce the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to 5,500 troops by the time he left office in 2017.

“We’ll have a very limited ability to do TAA with 5,500,” said Gen. Campbell, who signaled that the U.S. military will stay in Afghanistan for years beyond 2017.

Obama has nominated Army Lt. Gen. John Nicholson, Jr., to replace the outgoing commander.

President Obama has been hesitant to call the Taliban a terrorist group.

US airstrikes destroy ISIS’ ‘Voice of the Caliphate’ radio station in Afghanistan

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Fox News, February 02, 2016:

U.S. airstrikes have destroyed an Islamic State-operated radio station in a remote part of eastern Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday.

“Voice of the Caliphate” radio was destroyed by two U.S. airstrikes, according to a U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media on the subject.

Army Col. Mike Lawhorn, spokesman for the U.S.-NATO mission in Afghanistan, said U.S. forces conducted two “counter-terrorism airstrikes” late Monday in Achin district, in the eastern Nangarhar province, without elaborating.

An ISIS affiliate has emerged in Afghanistan over the past year, with a military presence in districts near the border with Pakistan. The radio station was broadcasting illegally across Nangarhar, calling on fighters to join the group and threatening journalists in the provincial capital, Jalalabad.

Afghan officials had said they believed the broadcasts were coming from mobile facilities that could be moved easily back and forth across the mountainous border.

The spokesman for the Nangarhar governor, Attaullah Khogyani, said the strikes had also killed 21 ISIS supporters, including five who were working for the radio station.

The station was set up in late 2015, following months of fierce fighting between ISIS group militants and the Taliban, who also maintain a significant presence in the region. Although ISIS and the Taliban both want to impose a harsh version of Islamic rule, they are bitterly divided over leadership and strategy, with the Taliban narrowly focused on Afghanistan and ISIS bent on establishing a worldwide caliphate.

Radio is a powerful medium in Afghanistan, where most people do not have televisions and only 10 percent of the population has access to the Internet. Nearly everyone has access to radio, with around 175 stations operating across the country.

The U.S. State Department recently added the ISIS Afghan affiliate to its list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Elsewhere in the country, three Afghan army officers died when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb late Monday in the Gereshk district of southern Helmand province, according to the district’s administration chief, Mohammad Sharif. He said the dead included Gen. Atta Mir, a brigade commander in Gereshk.

In the northern city of Kunduz, a secretary for the provincial governor’s office was shot dead near his home on Monday evening, the governor’s spokesman, Abdul Wasi Basel, said.

He said that no one had claimed responsibility for the killing of Mohammad Zarif.

The Taliban seized Kunduz for three days last year, and only fully withdrew after a two-week counteroffensive that devastated much of the city.

Also see:

U.S. Grip on Afghanistan Unravels, Terrorists Make Most Gains Since 2001

An Afghan policeman stands guard at his checkpoint in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Jan. 26 / AP

An Afghan policeman stands guard at his checkpoint in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Jan. 26 / AP

About a third of Afghanistan under insurgent control

Washington Free Beacon, by Adam Kredo, Jan. 29, 2016:

Terrorists in Afghanistan control more territory than at any time since 2001 as America’s grip on the country continues to unravel amid a spike in violence that has made Afghanistan more dangerous than ever, according to a new government oversight report.

The Afghan government has lost control of about 30 percent of the country, with terrorists linked to the Taliban, ISIS, and other groups moving freely in the region, according to new findings by the Special Inspector General For Afghanistan Reconstructions, otherwise known as SIGAR.

“The lack of security has made it almost impossible for many U.S. and even some Afghan officials” to manage and oversee ongoing reconstruction projects that could total billions of dollars, according to the report, which found that the Afghan government has control of more than 70 percent of the country.

The deteriorating security situation has endangered oversight operations meant to ensure that billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are being appropriately spent. American military casualties also have risen as terrorists gain a renewed foothold in the country, according to the report.

“The security situation leaves billions and billions of dollars’ worth of U.S.-funded projects and programs out of the reach of any American officials,” said an oversight official not authorized to speak on the record.

“Afghanistan proved even more dangerous than it was a year ago,” according to the report. “The Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since 2001. Vicious and repeated attacks in Kabul this quarter shook confidence in the national-unity government.”

About a year after U.S. coalition forces turned security operations over to Afghan forces, the situation continues to worsen, particularly due to the Afghan forces inability to properly conduct operations.

There were nearly 72 “security incidents” per day in Afghanistan between August and December 2015, according to statistics compiled by SIGAR.

While the United States has provided more than $64.5 billion in taxpayer funds to rebuild the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, they continue to falter. Since May 2015, the total force strength, which currently stands at 322,638, has decreased by nearly 10,000.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense is expected to function at about 62 percent of its total ability, “a drop from the 69 percent, 74 percent, and 90 percent forecasts in the last three-quarters,” the report found.

Additionally, the United Nations determined that “the overall level of security incidents increased and intensified from August 2015 through the end of October, with 6,601 incidents as compared to 5,516 incidents (a 19 percent increase) during the same period in 2014,” according to the report.

“The 6,601 security incidents reported were the most since SIGAR began reporting in November 2012, and the average daily number of incidents that occurred equaled the number in the summer of 2014,” according to the statistics.

Armed clashes and incidents involving improvised explosive devices increased by more than 20 percent since the same time period in 2014 and account for around 68 percent of all “security incidents,” according to the U.N.

Scores of suicide attacks, assassination attempts, abductions, and other attacks also were recorded.

Between August and Oct. 31, 2015, officials documented “3,693 civilian casualties (1,138 persons killed and 2,555 injured),” which amount to “a 26 percent increase over the same period in 2014,” according to the report.

Since January 2015, 11 U.S. military personnel have been killed in action, bringing the total to 21 deaths in this period.

Oversight projects also have suffered as a result of the increased violence, according to SIGAR, which has had difficulty keeping tabs on Afghanistan’s government.

“The dangers of absent oversight were exposed when a task force appointed by [Afghan] President Ashraf Ghani reportedly found that millions of dollars were being embezzled while Afghanistan pays for numerous nonexistent ‘ghost’ schools, ‘ghost’ teachers, and ‘ghost’ students,” the report found.

Meanwhile, SIGAR continues to expose massive corruption and waste in U.S.-funded projects.

One U.S. Army sergeant, for instance, pled guilty last year in a conspiracy to receive “illegal bribes by a public official,” according to the audit. This resulted in a 24-month sentence.

Another U.S. Army sergeant pled guilty to similar charges and was sentenced to a year in prison.

HOW “RULES OF ENGAGEMENT” GET U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED

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By Jamie Glazov, Nov. 16, 2015:

This special edition of The Glazov Gang was joined by Stephen Coughlin, the co-founder of UnconstrainedAnalytics.org and the author of the new book, Catastrophic Failure.

He came on the show to discuss How “Rules of Engagement” Get U.S. Soldiers Killed, unveiling the disgraceful and deadly cost America pays for obeying Islamic laws in Afghanistan.

[See also Stephen on the two previous Glazov Gang specials: [1]Muslim Brotherhood: Above the Law in America and [2] How American Leadership is Blindfolding America in the Face of Jihad.]

Are we losing Afghanistan again?

Taliba-Paktia-e1445435515840Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn, Oct. 21, 2015:

Editor’s note: The following article was originally published at The New York Times Opinion Page on Oct. 21, 2015.

“ALLAH has promised us victory and America has promised us defeat,” Mullah Muhammad Omar, the first head of the Taliban, once said, “so we shall see which of the two promises will be fulfilled.” When his colleagues admitted this summer that Mullah Omar had died, Al Qaeda and affiliated groups around the globe remembered those words — victory is a divine certainty — in their eulogies. And in Afghanistan today, though the majority of Afghans still do not identify with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, Mullah Omar’s bold defiance in the face of a superpower is beginning to look prescient

Since early September, the Taliban have swept through Afghanistan’s north, seizing numerous districts and even, briefly, the provincial capital Kunduz. The United Nations has determined that the Taliban threat to approximately half of the country’s 398 districts is either “high” or “extreme.” Indeed, by our count, more than 30 districts are already under Taliban control. And the insurgents are currently threatening provincial capitals in both northern and southern Afghanistan.

Confronted with this grim reality, President Obama has decided to keep 9,800 American troops in the country through much of 2016 and 5,500 thereafter. The president was right to change course, but it is difficult to see how much of a difference this small force can make. The United States troops currently in Afghanistan have not been able to thwart the Taliban’s advance. They were able to help push them out of Kunduz, but only after the Taliban’s two-week reign of terror. This suggests that additional troops are needed, not fewer.

When justifying his decision last week, the president explained that American troops would “remain engaged in two narrow but critical missions — training Afghan forces, and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of Al Qaeda.” He added, “We’ve always known that we had to maintain a counterterrorism operation in that region in order to tamp down any re-emergence of active Al Qaeda networks.”

But the president has not explained the full scope of what is at stake. Al Qaeda has already re-emerged. Just two days before the president’s statement, the military announced that it led raids against two Qaeda training camps in the south, one of which was an astonishing 30 square miles in size. The operation lasted several days, and involved 63 airstrikes and more than 200 ground troops, including both Americans and Afghan commandos.

“We struck a major Al Qaeda sanctuary in the center of the Taliban’s historic heartland,” Brig. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, a military spokesman, said. General Shoffner described it as “one of the largest joint ground-assault operations we have ever conducted in Afghanistan.” Other significant Qaeda facilities are already being identified in local press reporting.

Recently, Hossam Abdul Raouf, a chief lieutenant of the Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, confirmed in an audio message that Qaeda’s senior leadership has relocated out of northern Pakistan — no secret to the military and the C.I.A., which have been hunting senior Qaeda figures in Afghanistan and elsewhere throughout the year.

The Taliban are not hiding their continuing alliance with Al Qaeda. In August, Mr. Zawahri pledged his allegiance to Mullah Omar’s successor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. Within hours, Mullah Mansour publicly accepted the “esteemed” Mr. Zawahri’s oath of fealty. And Qaeda members are integrated into the Taliban’s chain of command. In fact, foreign fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda played a significant role in the Taliban-led assault on Kunduz.

The United States made many mistakes in the 9/11 wars. After routing the Taliban and Al Qaeda in late 2001, President George W. Bush did not dedicate the resources necessary to finish the fight. President Obama was right in December 2009 to announce a surge of forces in Afghanistan, but it was short-lived. Al Qaeda is not nearly as “decimated” in South Asia as Mr. Obama has claimed.

We don’t think 5,500 troops is enough. No one is calling for a full-scale occupation of the country. But a force of as many as 20,000 to 25,000 would far better support our local Afghan allies, helping them defend multiple provincial capitals at the same time and fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban in their strongholds.

While many believe that Al Qaeda is solely focused on attacking the West, it has devoted most of its efforts to waging insurgencies. This is the key to understanding how it has been able to regenerate repeatedly over the past 14 years. Al Qaeda draws would-be terrorists from the larger pool of paramilitary forces fighting to restore the Taliban to power in Afghanistan or to build radical nation-states elsewhere. Therefore, the mission of the United States is bigger than the one Mr. Obama envisions. Drones and select counterterrorism raids are not enough to end the threat.

Al Qaeda and like-minded groups were founded on the myth that the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan because of the mujahedeen’s faith in Allah alone. This helped spawn a generation of new wars and terrorist attacks, most of which have targeted Muslims. Should the Afghans suffer additional territorial losses, Mullah Omar’s words will appear prophetic. And a new myth, one that will feed the Taliban’s and Al Qaeda’s violence for years to come, will be born.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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