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SIGAR reports spike in insider attacks against ANDSF members

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(Last Updated On: May 1, 2021)

A new quarterly report by Washington’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has documented a staggering 82 percent increase in insider attacks on Afghan government security forces in the first quarter of this year, resulting in 115 personnel killed and 39 wounded.

SIGAR reported this week that the overall Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) casualties were also substantially higher than during the same period last year.

SIGAR is not allowed to include full ANDSF casualty data because U.S. forces in Afghanistan keep it classified at the request of the Afghan government.

The report stated that the ANDSF suffered a total of 31 insider attacks between January 1 and April 1, and the number of casualties they caused were more than double compared to the same period in 2020.

SIGAR’s report comes as the US and NATO forces started to withdraw from Afghanistan as decided by US President Joe Biden last month.

In addition to the estimated 2,500 U.S. troops and the 7,000 NATO and allied forces, over 12,500 US Defense Department contractors will also withdraw. The are U.S citizens and third-country nationals.

SIGAR stated it is unclear who, if anyone, will replace contractor personnel or perform their work after their withdrawal.

“Without continued contractor support, none of the Afghan Air Force’s (AFF) airframes can be sustained as combat effective for more than a few months, depending on the stock of equipment parts in-country, the maintenance capability on each airframe, and when contractor support is withdrawn,” SIGAR said, citing U.S. military assessments.

According to SIGAR, DOD contractors provide for and maintain ANDSF ground vehicles and train local technicians. Although the ANDSF has “dramatically improved its share of the work, it is still falling well below benchmarks for its share of the maintenance work orders they — rather than contractors — are supposed to perform,” SIGAR reported.

Special Inspector General John F Sopko meanwhile stated that under the new posture that will follow the troops’ withdrawal, SIGAR and its oversight mission will “assume even more important for the United States”.

He said as the largest oversight presence in Afghanistan and the only one with statutory whole-of-government authority, SIGAR will be the only government agency capable of overseeing the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars already appropriated that will continue to flow into the country despite the absence of U.S. military – including U.S. defense contractor – boots on the ground.

Sopko said SIGAR is well-prepared for this enhanced role and stands ready to assume any new responsibilities assigned to it by Congress and the Administration.

He pointed out that while the Biden Administration conducted its review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, the Office of Management and Budget requested the data that underpins the reporting in SIGAR’s quarterly reports concerning U.S. funds appropriated for Afghanistan since 2002.

“This recognition of the quarterly report’s function as the most authoritative source for information about U.S. spending in Afghanistan came as the report continues to expand its coverage of U.S. appropriations,” he said.

He also stated that U.S. officials have indicated that they intend to condition U.S. assistance to Afghanistan on the actions of the Afghan government and possibly the Taliban.

“As U.S. policy on Afghanistan continues to evolve, my colleagues and I will work with Congress, the Administration, and other stakeholders to guard against the waste, fraud,
and abuse of U.S. funds devoted to that country’s reconstruction,” he said.

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Afghan envoy to UN cancels speech amid uncertainty over seat

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(Last Updated On: September 28, 2021)

Afghanistan did not have a representative addressing the annual high-level United Nations General Assembly in New York, after Ghulam Isaczai, the UN envoy under the former government, withdrew on Sunday.

According to UN officials, Isaczai was due to speak on Monday.

Isaczai had been scheduled to address the final day of the general assembly.

Afghanistan’s UN mission in New York posted on Twitter that Isaczai decided not to speak “to preserve the national interests, preserve the seat of Afghanistan in the United Nations and to continue long-term cooperation with United Nations and Security Council on main issues.”

It added that Isaczai would continue “activities as usual” at the global body.

IEA Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi last week asked to address the gathering of world leaders and nominated their Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan’s new ambassador to the UN.

But Muttaqi was not permitted to do so as the credentials committee has not yet met to discuss the issue.

When the IEA last ruled between 1996 and 2001, the ambassador of the Afghan government they toppled remained the UN representative after the credentials committee deferred its decision on rival claims to the seat.

Eventual UN acceptance of the ambassador of the IEA would be an important step in their bid for international recognition, which could help unlock badly needed funds for the cash-strapped Afghan economy.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that the IEA’s desire for international recognition is the only leverage other countries have to press for inclusive government and respect for rights, particularly for women, in Afghanistan.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that international recognition of the IEA was not currently under consideration.

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Pilgrims from around the world gather in Kerbala for Arbaeen

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(Last Updated On: September 28, 2021)

Masses gathered in Kerbala on Tuesday for the religious pilgrimage of Arbaeen and visited the shrines of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas.

In a normal year, up to 20 million mostly Shi’ite Muslims take part in the Arbaeen pilgrimage in the holy city of Kerbala to commemorate Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who was slain in battle in 680 by the Muslim Caliph of the day.

In 2020 and due to the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, Iraqi authorities had barred entry to most foreign pilgrims, including some three million Iranians.

“Last year we were prevented from performing the pilgrimage. But now thank God, it was granted to us”, an Iranian pilgrim, Hamid Muqaddam said in Kerbala.

This year, Iraqi authorities allowed a limited number of pilgrims from abroad to enter Iraq and attend Arbaeen.

On Monday, Iraqi authorities recorded 2,447 new cases of coronavirus infections and 32 deaths.

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Pentagon leaders to face Afghanistan reckoning in Congress

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(Last Updated On: September 28, 2021)

President Joe Biden’s top military leaders are expected to face some of the most contentious hearings in memory this week over the chaotic end to the war in Afghanistan, which cost the lives of U.S. troops and civilians and left the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) back in power.

The Senate and House committees overseeing the U.S. military will hold hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, where Republicans are hoping to zero in on mistakes that Biden’s administration made toward the end of the two-decade-old war.

That will follow similar questioning two weeks ago that saw U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken staunchly defending the administration, even as he faced calls for his resignation.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to praise American personnel who helped airlift 124,000 Afghans out of the country, an operation that also cost the lives of 13 U.S. troops and scores of Afghans in a suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport.

Austin is expected to “be frank about the things we could have done better,” a U.S. official told Reuters.

That will also certainly include the U.S. military’s last drone strike before withdrawing, which the Pentagon acknowledges killed 10 civilians, most of them children – and not the Daesh (ISIS-K) militants it thought it was attacking.

Ahead of the hearing, Senator James Inhofe, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, wrote to Austin with a long list of requests for information, including on the August 26 airport bombing, equipment left behind and the administration’s future counter-terrorism plans.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, said lawmakers would also press about “a lack of coordination and a real plan for how we were going to get all the Afghans who helped us out of the country.”

“I don’t know if we’ll get answers. But questions will be raised again about why we got to the point that we did in Afghanistan,” she told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Many of the hardest questions may fall to the two senior U.S. military commanders testifying: Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command.

McKenzie called the drone strike a “tragic mistake,” one that critics say raises hard questions about America’s ability to properly identify counter-terrorism targets in Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal.

But McKenzie and other U.S. officials will be under pressure to defend the Biden administration’s plans to address future counter-terrorism threats from groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State by flying in drones or commandos from overseas.

Republicans have accused the Biden administration of downplaying the risks associated with that so-called “over the horizon” capability.

Separately, Milley could face intense questioning over an account in a new book alleging he bypassed civilian leaders to place secret calls to his Chinese counterpart over concerns about former President Donald Trump.

Milley’s office pushed back against the report in the book, saying the calls he made were coordinated within the Pentagon and across the U.S. government.

Senator Marco Rubio has called for his resignation. Senator Rand Paul said he should be prosecuted if the account in the book was true. But some of the greatest concern has come from lawmakers in the House, where Milley will testify on Wednesday.

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