US Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are threatening to issue subpoenas if Pentagon and State Department officials refuse to testify at a hearing next month on the administration’s Afghanistan strategy.
In a Monday letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the lawmakers said they were requesting for the “final time” that witnesses from both departments testify at a September 9 hearing before the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security, the Hill reported Tuesday.
“Should your departments refuse to appear voluntarily, the subcommittee will have no other choice but to receive testimony through compulsory process,” the letter stated.
According to The Hill, the committee has been seeking testimony from Pentagon and State Department officials on the Trump administration’s strategy in Afghanistan since August 2019 to no avail.
After not receiving a response from the officials to its August 2019 request, the committee then requested officials testify at hearings in January and March, according to the letter.
The Hill reported that in January, the committee was told three days beforehand no officials would appear despite the panel having rescheduled to accommodate the Pentagon.
In March, the committee was told officials were cutting back their appearances on Capitol Hill because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, the committee asked David Helvey, the acting assistant secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, and Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, to appear at the September 9 hearing.
But the letter said the Pentagon “refused to attend,” and Khalilzad “could not participate ‘due to travel.’”
This comes after Pompeo said at a hearing late July that all troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by May next year. He said they would “be down to zero” by then.
So far, over 8,600 troops have been withdrawn and five US military bases have been handed over to the Afghan National Army in accordance with the Doha agreement signed in February between the US and the Taliban.
However, the next step, of intra-Afghan negotiations, between the Afghan government and the Taliban has stalled.
Talks, expected to have started early last month, failed to kick off after President Ashraf Ghani halted the prisoner release program.
As per the Doha agreement, the Taliban has freed about 1,000 government personnel while government has released over 5,000.
But 320 prisoners labeled “hardcore” have still not been freed. Australia, France and the US have all objected to the release of some of this group as they are responsible for having killed citizens of these countries.
Others in the group are accused of having masterminded some of Afghanistan’s most serious attacks over the years, while others are drug kingpins.
Biden plans about a dozen Day One executive actions: aide
US President-elect Joe Biden is scheduled to issue a number of executive orders immediately after his inauguration – by using the powers of his new office to push policy changes on housing, student loans, climate change and immigration, a top aide said on Saturday.
Biden, who campaigned on a raft of promises to undo President Donald Trump’s legacy even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US, will unveil “roughly a dozen” previously promised executive actions on Wednesday, incoming Biden chief of staff Ron Klain said in a memo distributed to reporters, Reuters reported.
The actions to be taken on Wednesday include rejoining the Paris climate accords, reversing a travel ban on several majority Muslim countries, extending a pause on federal student loan payments, halting evictions and foreclosures, as well as mandating masks in inter-state travel and on federal property.
All of the measures were previously announced.
Most of the measures are a reversal of policies Trump pursued and do not require congressional action. But Biden will also unveil a long-expected immigration proposal that would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants that does require congressional action, Reuters reported.
That measure, as well as Biden’s recent proposal for $1.9 trillion in spending on COVID vaccinations and economic stimulus, face uphill battles in a Congress narrowly controlled by Biden’s fellow Democrats.
A broader set of Biden’s “Day One” promises will be executed over the following nine days after inauguration, Klain said. Those measures include expanding COVID-19 testing and directing the government to favor American-made goods when it makes purchases.
“President-elect Biden is assuming the presidency in a moment of profound crisis for our nation,” Klain said. “During the campaign, President-elect Biden pledged to take immediate action to start addressing these crises and build back better.”
‘Digital Silk Road’ on track as Afghanistan and Turkmenistan connect
Thursday marked another milestone in Afghanistan’s modern history when President Ashraf Ghani inaugurated the new fiber optic connection between Turkmenistan and the commercial port of Aqina in Afghanistan’s Faryab province.
Within four months of having signed the memorandum of understanding with government the Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC) had successfully completed the task of connecting the two neighboring countries.
In a virtual address at the launch, Dr Ehsan Bayat, the founder and chairman of AWCC, said he was “delighted” to celebrate the company’s success in connecting Afghanistan with its friends in Turkmenistan – especially given the past year that has involved unprecedented challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, which also impacted people’s ability to connect with each other across the globe.
“When Afghan Wireless embarked on the journey to build Afghanistan’s largest nationwide fiber network, we did so with the goal of realizing President Ghani’s vision to transform the country into a hub of digital data connectivity for Central Asia.
“Today marks an important milestone in the building of a digital silk road across the region with Afghanistan at its center; a road that will connect millions of Afghans to the digital economy.
He said the latest optical fiber connection, between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, is the country’s fifth and sixth international border connections. Others include Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan.
“From Mazar to Jalalabad, and from Kabul to Kandahar to Kunduz, communities across the country are benefiting from high-speed connectivity. And now our connection to Turkmenistan through Torghundi and Aqina will enable Herat and western cities to become Afghanistan’s next major bridge for digital transformation,” he said.
However, Bayat stated that the impact of AWCC’s project should not be measured in kilometers of fiber laid, or megabytes of data transmitted, or even money invested but instead, it should be measured by the industries revitalized, the local businesses boosted, the jobs created, the pace of economic development and the enhancement to critical services in health, education, commerce and finance.
“This project could not be delivered without Afghanistan and Turkmenistan working together.
“Afghan Wireless’ optical fiber connection between the two countries that we are celebrating today is a powerful testament that when we work hand in hand with our neighbors, not only do we strengthen our countries individually, but we also strengthen our region together,” he said.
The Turkmenistan to Aqina cable has the capacity to transfer 2,500 megabits of the Internet and can therefore provide high quality and cheap Internet to Faryab province.
According to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, a fiber-optic network is the result of the rapid development of telecommunications and information technology, which has become an integral part of modern life.
The ministry states that along with the progression of technology and innovation, the shape and quality of tools have also changed to a great extent.
At the beginning of the invention of the telephone, copper cables were used to transmit information and sound, but today, with the advancement of technology and increasing human needs, these cables have been replaced by a new generation of signal conductors or fiber optics.
Because of the need for fast and cheap digital connectivity in the country, Government has already connected a total of 25 provinces in the country with the national fiber-optic network.
Taliban drones bomb 217 Pamir Military Corps in Kunduz
Two Taliban drones hovered over 217 Pamir Corps in Kunduz for about half an hour on Friday and fired off a number of mortar rounds, officials said.
The corps commander General Murad Ali Yazdani said the Taliban drones had flown over the base for about half an hour and had fired off mortar rounds that landed on the football field. No casualties were reported, he said.
Military personnel are investigating the incident and trying to track where the drone was launched.
In addition to this attack, at least 12 soldiers were killed, five others were wounded and 10 soldiers captured in two separate attacks in Kunduz – one on an army base and another on a police base.
“For some time now, security in the whole city of Kunduz has deteriorated. People have become displaced and the local government must pay attention,” said Mohammad Yousof Ayoubi, provincial head council.
Meanwhile, at around 3 am on Friday, a Humvee tank loaded with explosives was detonated prematurely in Ghazni.
One civilian was killed and seven soldiers were wounded, officials said.
“At least one truck driver passing the area was killed. The wounded soldiers are in good condition now,” said Wahidullah Jumazadah, Ghazni governor spokesman.
Security forces in Ghazni said after the Humvee exploded, clashes between security forces and the Taliban broke out.
They said at least eight Taliban fighters were killed but with the help of air support the Taliban attack was repelled.
“The Taliban carried out large-scale attacks on security and defense forces in the center and districts of the province last night in five strongholds, but were repulsed by security forces,” said Fawad Aman, defense ministry spokesman.
In the past week, the Taliban has attacked several security and defense checkpoints in different parts of the country.
Experts believe that with the start of peace talks, the Taliban is changing its approach to war in order to gain more credit.
“The Taliban has changed the tactics of war; if the security teams are a little careful, they should bring this change themselves to prevent casualties,” said former chief of army staff Sher Mohammad Karimi.
The Taliban are also said to have attacked several security checkpoints in the Darqad district of Takhar last week; in the Akbar Bai district of Takhar; and in the Jurm district of Badakhshan – inflicting heavy casualties on the military.
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