House Panel Expert: U.S. ‘Losing in Afghanistan’ as Al-Qaeda Grows Stronger

Reuters

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, April 27, 2017:

WASHINGTON D.C. — Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is growing stronger with the resurgence of the Taliban in recent years and “remains a direct threat” to America more than a decade and a half after the United States began targeting both terrorist groups in response to 9/11, an expert tells House lawmakers.

In October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan, and the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda has been raging since.

President Donald Trump inherited chaos and overall deteriorating security conditions in the war-devastated country.

Under former President Barack Obama’s watch, the Taliban seized more territory in Afghanistan than during any time since the U.S. military removed the jihadist group from power in 2001 and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) gained a foothold in the country.

The U.S. military “downplayed this problem of the Taliban” during Obama’s tenure, Bill Roggio, an expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and editor of the Long War Journal, told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism.

“If that’s the attitude of the U.S. military towards the Taliban inside Afghanistan, we will continue to lose this war,” he later added. “We need to reassess Afghanistan… our policy in Afghanistan is a mess frankly, and the Trump administration needs to decide what to do and how to do it quickly.”

“The Taliban—al-Qaeda relationship remains strong to this day. And with the Taliban gaining control of a significant percentage of Afghanistan’s territory, al-Qaeda has more areas to plant its flag,” also said Roggio in his written testimony.

Last Friday, the Taliban carried out its deadliest-ever attack on a major military base in northern Balkh province that left as many as 250 soldiers dead.

Although the U.S. military argues the Afghan conflict is at a “stalemate,” Roggio told the House panel that America is losing the war.

“We are losing in Afghanistan… and The Taliban controls or contests at least half of Afghanistan,” Roggio told lawmakers, adding in his written testimony:

Al-Qaeda’s footprint inside Afghanistan remains a direct threat to U.S. national security and, with the resurgence of the Taliban, it is a threat that is only growing stronger. Al-Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan has not occurred in a vacuum. It has maintained its strength in the country since the U.S. invasion, launched a new branch, AQIS [al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent], and established training camps with the help and support of the Taliban.

Roggio testified alongside Dr. Seth Jones from the RAND Corporation and Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown from the Brookings Institution.

Echoing the U.S. military, the experts told lawmakers that Russia and Afghanistan’s neighbor Iran are providing military assistance to the Taliban, adding that neighboring Pakistan provides sanctuary to the terrorist group as well as its al-Qaeda and Haqqani Network allies.

According to the Pentagon, the Haqqani Network poses the “primary threat” to the American military in Afghanistan.

The experts noted that a U.S. military withdrawal from the war-devastated country would spell trouble for America’s national security.

The United States has already invested nearly $120 billion in nation-building efforts in the country.

Despite the threat posed by the Afghan Taliban, the group is not officially listed as a terrorist group by the United States like its ally al-Qaeda and its rival ISIS.

Roggio pointed out that although ISIS’s presence in Afghanistan is a problem, the Taliban remains a bigger threat.

ISIS is considered an enemy by both the al-Qaeda and the Taliban, considered the strongest group in the country.

“The reason the Taliban matters is the Taliban and al-Qaeda, they remain tied at the hip,” testified Roggio. “The Taliban refuse to surrender al-Qaeda members — Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. They continued to fight side by side. Al-Qaeda serves as a force multiplier.”

“The Islamic State is on the fringe. It’s a small problem in Afghanistan compared to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Pakistani jihadist groups that operate there (in ISIS’ Afghan stronghold Nangarhar province),” he added. They operate primarily in four districts in Nangarhar province and have a minimal presence in the north, and it certainly is a problem.

This week, ISIS in Nangarhar killed two U.S. troops and wounded another, the Pentagon revealed.

“Our efforts seemed to be focused on the Islamic State at this point in time while largely ignoring what the Taliban is doing throughout the country and that is directly challenging the Afghan military. They’re going toe to toe; They’re raiding their bases; They’re taking control of territory,” said Roggio.

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Also see:

Russia’s new favorite jihadis: The Taliban

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Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, January 4, 2017:

Note: This article was first published by The Daily Beast.

More than 15 years into America’s war in Afghanistan, the Russian government is openly advocating on behalf of the Taliban.

Last week, Moscow hosted Chinese and Pakistani emissaries to discuss the war. Tellingly, no Afghan officials were invited. However, the trio of nations urged the world to be “flexible” in dealing with the Taliban, which remains the Afghan government’s most dangerous foe. Russia even argued that the Taliban is a necessary bulwark in the war against the so-called Islamic State.

For its part, the American military sees Moscow’s embrace of the Taliban as yet another move intended to undermine NATO, which fights the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State every day.

After Moscow’s conference, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova spoke with reporters and noted that “the three countries expressed particular concern about the rising activity in the country of extremist groups, including the Afghan branch of IS [the Islamic State, or ISIS].”

According to Reuters, Zakharova added that China, Pakistan, and Russia agreed upon a “flexible approach to remove certain [Taliban] figures from [United Nations] sanctions lists as part of efforts to foster a peaceful dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban movement.”

The Taliban, which refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, quickly praised the “Moscow tripartite” in a statement posted online on Dec. 29.

“It is joyous to see that the regional countries have also understood that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is a political and military force,” Muhammad Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the group’s political office, said in the statement. “The proposal forwarded in the Moscow tripartite of delisting members of the Islamic Emirate is a positive step forward in bringing peace and security to Afghanistan.”

Of course, the Taliban isn’t interested in “peace and security.” The jihadist group wants to win the Afghan war and it is using negotiations with regional and international powers to improve its standing. The Taliban has long manipulated “peace” negotiations with the U.S. and Western powers as a pretext for undoing international sanctions that limit the ability of its senior figures to travel abroad for lucrative fundraising and other purposes, even while offering no serious gestures toward peace.

The Obama administration has repeatedly tried, and failed, to open the door to peace. In May 2014, the U.S. transferred five senior Taliban figures from Guantanamo to Qatar. Ostensibly, the “Taliban Five” were traded for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American who reportedly deserted his fellow soldiers and was then held by the Taliban and its jihadist allies. But the Obama administration also hoped that the exchange would be a so-called confidence-building measure and lead to more substantive negotiations. The Taliban’s leaders never agreed to any such discussions. They simply wanted their comrades, at least two of whom are suspected of committing war crimes, freed from Guantanamo.

Regardless, Russia is now enabling the Taliban’s disingenuous diplomacy by pretending that ISIS is the more worrisome threat. It’s a game the Russians have been playing for more than a year.

In December 2015, Zamir Kabulov, who serves as Vladimir Putin’s special representative for Afghanistan, went so far as to claim that “the Taliban interest objectively coincides with ours” when it comes to fighting ISIS head Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists. Kabulov even conceded that Russia and the Taliban have “channels for exchanging information,” according to The Washington Post.

The American commanders leading the fight in Afghanistan don’t buy Russia’s argument—at all.

During a press briefing on Dec. 2, General John W. Nicholson Jr., the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, discussed “the malign influence of external actors and particularly Pakistan, Russia, and Iran.” Gen. Nicholson said the U.S. and its allies are “concerned about the external enablement of the insurgent or terrorist groups inside Afghanistan, in particular where they enjoy sanctuary or support from outside governments.” Russia, in particular, “has overtly lent legitimacy to the Taliban.”

According to Nicholson, the Russian “narrative” is “that the Taliban are the ones fighting the Islamic State, not the Afghan government.” While the Taliban does fight its jihadist rivals in the Islamic State, this is plainly false.

The “Afghan government and the U.S. counterterrorism effort are the ones achieving the greatest effect against Islamic State,” Nicholson said. He went on to list the U.S.-led coalition’s accomplishments over the past year: 500 ISIS fighters (comprising an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the group’s overall force structure) were killed or wounded, the organization’s “top 12 leaders” (including its emir, Hafiz Saeed Khan) were killed, and the group’s “sanctuary” has been reduced from nine Afghan districts to just three.

“So, this public legitimacy that Russia lends to the Taliban is not based on fact, but it is used as a way to essentially undermine the Afghan government and the NATO effort and bolster the belligerents,” Nicholson concluded. While Nicholson was careful not read too much into Russia’s motivation for backing the Taliban, he noted “certainly there’s a competition with NATO.”

There’s no doubt that ISIS’s operations in Afghanistan grew significantly in the wake of Baghdadi’s caliphate declaration in 2014. However, as Nicholson correctly pointed out, Baghdadi’s men are not adding to the territory they control at the moment. Their turf is shrinking. The same cannot be said for the Taliban, which remains the most significant threat to Afghanistan’s future. At any given time, the Taliban threatens several provincial capitals. The Taliban also controls dozens of Afghan districts and contests many more. Simply put, the Taliban is a far greater menace inside Afghanistan than Baghdadi’s men.

Regardless, the Russians continue to press their case. Their argument hinges on the idea that ISIS is a “global” force to be reckoned with, while the Taliban is just a “local” nuisance.

Kabulov, Putin’s special envoy to Afghanistan, made this very same claim in a newly-published interview with Anadolu Agency. Kabulov contends that “the bulk, main leadership, current leadership, and the majority of Taliban” are now a “local force” as a “result of all these historical lessons they got in Afghanistan.”

“They gave up the global jihadism idea,” Kabulov adds. “They are upset and regret that they followed Osama bin Laden.”

Someone should tell the Taliban’s media department this.

In early December, the Taliban released a major documentary video, “Bond of Nation with the Mujahideen.” The video included clips of the Taliban’s most senior leaders rejecting peace talks and vowing to wage jihad until the end. It also openly advertised the Taliban’s undying alliance with al Qaeda. At one point, an image of Osama bin Laden next to Taliban founder Mullah Omar is displayed on screen. (A screen shot of this clip can be seen above.) Photos of other al Qaeda and Taliban figures are mixed together in the same shot.

An audio message from Sheikh Khalid Batarfi, an al Qaeda veteran stationed in Yemen, is also played during the video. Batarfi praised the Taliban for protecting bin Laden even after the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackings. “Groups of Afghan Mujahideen have emerged from the land of Afghans that will destroy the biggest idol and head of kufr of our time, America,” Batarfi threatened.

A narrator added that the mujahideen in Afghanistan “are the hope of Muslims for reviving back the honor of the Muslim Ummah [worldwide community of Muslims]!” The Afghan jihadists are a “hope for taking back the Islamic lands!” and a “hope for not repeating defeats and tragedies of the last century!”

The Taliban’s message is, therefore, unmistakable: The war in Afghanistan is part of the global jihadist conflict.

All of this, and more, is in one of the Taliban’s most important media productions of 2016. There is no hint that the Taliban “regrets” allying with al Qaeda, or has given “up the global jihadism idea,” as Kabulov claims. The exact opposite is true.

There is much more to the Taliban-al Qaeda nexus. In August 2015, al Qaeda honcho Ayman al Zawahiri swore allegiance to Mullah Mansour, who was named as Mullah Omar’s successor as the Taliban’s emir. Mansour publicly accepted Zawahiri’s fealty and Zawahiri’s oath was prominently featured on the Taliban’s website. After Mansour was killed earlier this year, Zawahiri pledged his allegiance to Mansour’s replacement, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. Zawahiri and other al Qaeda leaders regularly call upon Muslims to support the Taliban and reject the Islamic State’s Afghan branch.

In his interview with Anadolu Agency, Kabulov concedes that not all of the Taliban has “given up” the global jihadist “ideas.” He admits that within the Taliban “you can find very influential groups like the Haqqani network whose ideology is more radical, closer to Daesh [or ISIS].”

Kabulov is right that the Haqqanis are committed jihadi ideologues, but he misses the obvious contradiction in his arguments. Siraj Haqqani, who leads the Haqqani network, is also one of the Taliban’s top two deputy leaders. He is the Taliban’s military warlord. Not only is Siraj Haqqani a “radical” ideologue, as Kabulov mentions in passing, he is also one of al Qaeda’s most committed allies. Documents recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound show that al Qaeda’s men closely cooperate with Siraj Haqqani on the Afghan battlefields.

Kabulov claims that the Islamic State “operates much more smartly” than al Qaeda and has “learned from all the mistakes of al Qaeda.” He says Baghdadi’s enterprise has “brought more advanced and sophisticated people to design, plan, and [execute] policy.” Once again, the exact opposite is true.

Al Qaeda has long known the pitfalls of the Islamic State’s in-your-face strategy, and has smartly decided to hide the extent of its influence and operations. Zawahiri and his lieutenants have also used the Islamic State’s over-the-top brutality to market themselves as a more reasonable jihadi alternative. And both the Taliban and al Qaeda are attempting to build more popular support for their cause as much of the world remains focused on the so-called caliphate’s horror show.

Al Qaeda’s plan has worked so well that the Russians would have us believe that the Taliban, al Qaeda’s longtime ally, should be viewed as a prospective partner.

Kabulov says that Russia is waiting to see how the “new president, [Donald] Trump, describe[s] his Afghan policy” before determining what course should be pursued next.

Here’s one thing the Trump administration should do right away: Make it clear that the Taliban and al Qaeda remain our enemies in Afghanistan.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

Ex-US Employee Mounts Worst Suicide Attack On Americans In Years

From left, President Barack Obama, Assistant Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Daniel V. Wright and Brig. Gen. Michael S. Repass, commanding general of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, render honors as a team of Soldiers carry the remains of Sgt. Dale R. Griffin during a dignified transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Oct. 29, 2009. Griffin, who was assigned to 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, was killed in action Oct. 27, 2009, by a roadside bomb in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. (DoD photo by Jason Minto, U.S. Air Force/Released)

From left, President Barack Obama, Assistant Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Daniel V. Wright and Brig. Gen. Michael S. Repass, commanding general of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, render honors as a team of Soldiers carry the remains of Sgt. Dale R. Griffin during a dignified transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Oct. 29, 2009. Griffin, who was assigned to 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, was killed in action Oct. 27, 2009, by a roadside bomb in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. (DoD photo by Jason Minto, U.S. Air Force/Released)

Daily Caller, by Saagar Enjeti, November 14, 2016:

Afghan officials believe the man responsible for killing four U.S. service members and wounding several others Friday was either an employee or ex-employee at Bagram Airbase.

The suicide attacker, Qari Enayatullah, reportedly lived in the surrounding area and was a known ex-Taliban member. Enayatullah re-entered Afghan society in 2008 under a reconciliation program, designed to make peace with former Taliban terrorists.

Bagram Airbase is one of the most secure U.S. facilities in the world. Enayatullah’s job at the base allowed him to mount such a devastating attack, but it’s unclear how he secured employment. The majority of the nearly 10,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan are assigned to Bagram Airbase. In the wake of the attack, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul closed its doors as a “temporary precautionary measure.”

The attack comes amid a grim period of losses for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Two U.S. special operators were killed November 3, and four others wounded in Afghanistan amidst a fierce Taliban attack in the northern part of the country. Four other U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan were killed prior to the November 3 attack bringing total 2016 U.S. casualties to 10 U.S. service-members.

The successful suicide attack also comes as the Taliban makes historic gains across Afghanistan, controlling more territory today than at any time since the U.S. invasion in 2001. The U.S.-backed Afghan Security Forces in turn have suffered 15,000 injuries in the first eight months of 2016, with 5,523 ending in death.

“I would call what is going on right now between the Afghan national defense security forces and the Taliban [as] roughly a stalemate,” Marine Gen. Joseph  Dunford told Congress in September. A senior U.S. administration official went further and termed the overall Afghan situation as an “eroding stalemate.”

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.”

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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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.

Also see: