The ‘War on Terror’ after Mullah Omar and Bin Laden

(Deutsche Welle) Taliban leader Mullah Omar provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden. Both men are now dead. But with the rise of Islamic State, there’s no end in sight to America’s 14-year-running “War on Terror.”

He had a $10 million bounty on his head for more than a decade. But the justice of the Old American West didn’t translate to South Asia. Mullah Mohammed Omar died in a Pakistani hospital more than two years ago, apparently from tuberculosis. Washington will keep its $10 million.

The US pulled no punches after 9/11. Its constitution was no obstacle. Yet through more than a decade of war, surveillance, detention and torture, the Afghan Taliban leader was ever elusive to the long and often merciless arm of American vengeance.

“Mullah Omar has protected himself not only from the public, but even from his own comrades in the Taliban,” Anand Gopal, author of “No Good Men Among the Living,” told DW. “There are very few members who’ve had access to Mullah Omar since 2001. In last four or five years, he has essentially vanished.”

Like Osama bin Laden, the Taliban leader probably crossed the porous Afghan-Pakistan border and found sanctuary on the territory of an ostensible American ally.

“Given the inadequate efforts by the Pakistani state to go after these kinds of individuals, and in the case of Mullah Omar, the enormous number of Afghan refugees made it relatively easy for him to find haven inside of Pakistan,” Daniel Markey, author of “No Exit from Pakistan,” told DW.

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With US POW Bergdahl free, prisoner swap sparks controversy in Washington

(By Deutsche Welle) Five years ago, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl went missing from his post and fell into Taliban hands, making him the only known US prisoner of war. The prisoner swap that led to his release has sparked controversy in Washington.

US lawmakers are claiming that the White House has created a possible security risk by freeing five Taliban detainees in exchange for US army soldier Bowe Bergdahl’s freedom. They have also accused the administration of breaking the law by failing to notify Congress 30 days in advance.

Representative Buck McKeon and Senator James Inhofe, chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate Armed Service Committees respectively, celebrated Bergdahl’s release in a joint statement. But they expressed concern that the prisoner swap could provide an incentive for the Taliban to take further captives.

“America has maintained a prohibition on negotiating with terrorists for good reason,” the two Republicans wrote. “Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces in Afghanistan.”

But Stephen Biddle, a national security expert at The George Washington University, believes that the criticisms leveled by members of Congress against the Obama administration are weak.

“This idea that it will encourage further hostage taking – there’s no encouragement needed,” Biddle told DW. “For years before now, the limiter on how many American captives the Taliban take is how many they are able to get.”

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China seeks strategic advantage in Afghanistan

(By Deutsche Welle) China has staked its economic future on deeper integration with Central Asia. But as the US withdraws from Afghanistan, Beijing is concerned that a renewed civil war there could thwart regional development.

As the US prepares to scale back its military presence in Afghanistan this year, China has begun to contemplate a geopolitical “march westwards”. Beijing hopes to trigger an economic boom in its restive western Xinjiang province by re-vitalizing the ancient Silk Road, which runs through its Central and South Asian neighbors.

Beijing has largely taken a low-profile and cautious approach toward the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. But there is growing concern among the Chinese leadership that NATO could leave behind a security vacuum in Afghanistan, which would potentially jeopardize China’s economic investments in the broader region.

“If they remain in a civil war, we can’t make any money there,” Jin Canrong, an expert on China’s foreign policy at Rinmin University in Beijing, told DW. “China’s stance is very simple: China would like to see a capable central government and wants to see a stable Afghanistan, open to the world market.”

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Karzai passes the buck on US troop immunity

(By Deutsche Welle) Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for the Loya Jirga to decide whether US forces should receive immunity from local prosecution. Washington has threatened to pull out all of its troops if immunity is not granted.

For almost a year now, Washington and Kabul have butted heads over the details of a bilateral security agreement, which will govern a potential US troop presence in Afghanistan after NATO withdraws its combat forces in December, 2014.

The Obama administration reportedly wants to maintain between 5,000 – 10,000 troops and nine bases in Afghanistan to advise and train security forces and conduct counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda.

In early October, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with President Karzai in Kabul, where the two men said they’d hammered out a basic draft agreement. But the issue of US troop immunity remained unresolved.

Despite Washington’s call for an agreement to be concluded as quickly as possible, Karzai has opted to convene a Loya Jirga, or grand council, to vote on the draft in November and decide whether or not US troops should enjoy legal immunity from the Afghan judicial system.

“The Afghan constitution says that in questions of immense national important a Loya Jirga can be called and that’s what Karzai is doing,” Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, told DW. “The Loya Jirga usually is doing what the current rulers want from them – that’s the experience from history.”

“The thing is there’s always a margin of error, of uncertainty in it,” Ruttig said. “So it can of course happen that – particularly if there’s an incident briefly before – the mood swings and the agreement falls through.”

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Washington fuelling graft in Afghanistan

(By Deutsche Welle) Washington has long maligned Kabul for being weak on corruption. But the Central Intelligence Agency has reportedly been buying access to President Hamid Karzai’s inner circle for a decade.

The United States and its NATO allies have complained for years about rampant corruption in Afghanistan, voicing frustration with President Karzai’s inability – or perhaps unwillingness – to fight graft and improve the rule of law.

But according to a report published by the New York Times on Monday, Washington may be one of the biggest contributors to that very corruption. The Central Intelligence Agency has reportedly been dropping off suitcases stuffed full of American dollars at the office of the Afghan president for years, in an effort to buy influence in Kabul.

The British Guardian reported on Tuesday that the United Kingdom’s MI6 also may have made cash payments to Karzai’s office, in an effort to promote meetings between the Taliban and the Karzai government.

The alleged CIA bribes have supposedly amounted to tens of millions of dollars over the past decade. Much of the money was reportedly distributed to warlords and politicians, in an effort to buy their loyalty.

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Insider attacks threaten NATO mission in Afghanistan

(By Deutsche Welle) A spike in insider attacks on NATO troops by Afghan soldiers and police has threatened to undermine trust between the comrades-in-arms. NATO has begun to resume work with Afghan units after suspending joint patrols.

After a decade of war and just two years before NATO’s 2014 withdrawal deadline, the US-led military coalition and Afghan forces are struggling to maintain confidence in each other amid a rise in insider attacks. NATO has begun to slowly lift a week-long suspension of joint patrols with Afghan security forces, which had been imposed as a consequence of the “green-on-blue” attacks.

The Long War Journal, a website devoted to tracking the so-called “global war on terrorism,” has reported that 51 coalition troops have been killed at the hands of rogue members of the Afghan military and police in 2012. That represents 15 percent of the total casualties suffered by the international coalition this year and a 35 percent increase over the number of green-on-blue attacks in 2011. Green refers to Afghan forces and blue to coalition troops.

“We’re all seized with (the) problem,” General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the American Forces Press Service. “You can’t whitewash it. We can’t convince ourselves that we just have to work harder to get through it. Something has to change.”

“But we’ve got to make sure our Afghan counterparts are as seized about it as we are,” said America’s top military officer. “We have to get on top of this. It is a very serious threat to the campaign.”

Although NATO claims that most of the attacks are the consequence of cultural differences and personal disputes, the Afghan government has said that the insider attacks are largely due to infiltration by Taliban insurgents, supported by the Iranian and Pakistani intelligence services.

“The National Security Council has enough evidence to prove that Afghans are being used and brainwashed by these foreign agencies,” Aymal Faizi, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told the Washington Post. “They see this as a way of attacking the buildup of the Afghan National Security Forces‚Ķproving that they are weak and unable to protect the country.”

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