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US closes 10 bases as part of ‘murky’ withdrawal process

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(Last Updated On: November 28, 2020)

The United States has closed at least 10 military bases across Afghanistan as part of a withdrawal process “so murky” that many officials say they are uncertain of what’s to come despite a fast-approaching deadline, the Washington Post reported Saturday. 

Washington’s drawdown started after the US signed a deal with the Taliban in February which did stipulate that the US had 135 days in which to close five bases as well as a full foreign military withdrawal by May next year. 

Speaking to the Washington Post on condition of anonymity, Afghan and US officials confirmed that 10 bases had however been shut down. 

Little is known about what remains of the bases – many of which are in the more volatile provinces in Afghanistan. 

It is also unclear how much equipment — more difficult to move than people — is left at each of the closed installations, the Post reported.

In addition to the closure of bases, Afghan and US officials also stated that there was still uncertainty around the drawdown plans. Trump’s administration has said that troop levels will be reduced to about 2,500 by January 15, from around 4,000 currently. 

One official told the Washington Post that there are ongoing discussions around the drawdown and that details are still being worked through on what equipment — ranging from spare vehicle parts to ammunition — needs to be sent back to the United States and what can be turned over to the Afghan government.

However, another official told the Post that despite the drawdown in people and closure of bases, the US will retain the ability to carry out airstrikes against the Taliban in defense of Afghan forces. 

US troops will also remain able to carry out some counterterrorism strikes against the IS-K (Daesh) in Afghanistan.

Another US official said a number of significant decisions will be made over the next two weeks, including which other bases will close and what equipment will be turned over to the Afghan military. 

He told the Washington Post these decisions will be made in consultation with NATO allies and with the Afghan government. 

Speaking to the Post, Ashley Jackson, an expert on the Taliban, with the Overseas Development Institute said the closing of US bases is handing Taliban fighters symbolic and tangible victories.

“It’s the best propaganda [the Taliban] could ever have,” Jackson said, citing contacts she has close to the Taliban. “It’s the psychological effect that they are watching.”

And, as the United States closes smaller outposts that helped government forces hold territory, Jackson said the Taliban would probably move in and expand its reach.

The Washington Post meanwhile cited analysts and Afghan officials as having said further closures show that the United States is collapsing its forces in Afghanistan back into its bigger military installations to save on the large number of troops needed to secure the perimeter of multiple small outposts.

The move also brings US troops closer to medical facilities as the American footprint in Afghanistan shrinks, and would make it easier to evacuate the country rapidly if security disintegrates, the article stated.

The initial bases closed this year were Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province, Bost in Helmand, Gamberi in Laghman and Lightning in Paktia. Others closed this year include Jones in Kunduz, DeAlencar in Nangarhar, Shaheen in Balkh, Bishop in Kabul, Maymana in Faryab, and Qalat in Zabul.

It is unclear how many bases remain open in Afghanistan, in part because the total number of military sites has not been made public. 

But a senior adjunct fellow with the Center for a New American Security, who served in Afghanistan, Jason Dempsey, told the Washington Post that Trump’s decision to continue withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is “clearly such an ego and timeline-driven mood.”

Dempsey, who has frequently criticized the US military’s efforts in Afghanistan, said he believes the Afghan government is being “hung out to dry” by the US administration with the manner in which it is withdrawing.

“I don’t think we have a path to solid victory,” he said. “But I’d like to think that we had an obligation as we withdrew to our Afghan partners to at least leave them in the best position possible.”

 

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Donor countries pledge $1 billion to support emergency aid for Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 13, 2021)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has announced that donors have pledged over $1 billion towards aid for Afghanistan – exceeding the hoped for amount of $606 million. 

Guterres’ announcement comes after Monday’s High-Level Ministerial Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan. 

“This conference has fully met my expectations in relation to the solidarity with the people in Afghanistan,” Guterres said late Monday. 

Afghanistan stands on the brink of a growing humanitarian and economic crisis.

Earlier Monday Guterres, who hosted the meeting, said “the people of Afghanistan need a lifeline” during “their most perilous hour.”

Guterres also maintained that the country’s new rulers had pledged their cooperation “to ensure assistance is delivered to the people of Afghanistan.”

One in two Afghans do not know where their next meal is coming from, the UN chief explained, adding that “many people could run out of food by the end of the month, just as winter approaches”.

Guterres did not specify how much of the $1 billion in pledged funding would be distributed towards the UN emergency budget for the coming months, or what would be potentially provided later. 

However, a survey by the World Food Programme (WFP) found 93% of Afghans surveyed lacked sufficient food, many because they could not get access to cash to pay for items.

Even before the takeover by the Islamic Emirate, food circumstances in Afghanistan were dire. 

Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the WFP Country Director for Afghanistan said: “It’s critical for the humanitarian effort that in the greatest time of need, that the international community stands alongside the women and children and men of Afghanistan, whose lives have been upended through no fault of their own,” she said.

 

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US pledges additional $64 million in aid for Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 13, 2021)

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said on Monday night the United States has committed a further $64 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

In a tweet late Monday, Khalilzad said: “The United States remains firmly committed to continue our robust humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan.

“We are proud to announce an additional $64 million in humanitarian assistance,” he said.

According to a statement issued by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the funding is from both USAID and the U.S. State Department and the money will flow through independent organizations, such as UN agencies and NGOs.

This money will “provide life-saving support directly to Afghans facing the compounding effects of insecurity, conflict, recurring natural disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic,” read the statement.

The organization said the additional funding will provide vulnerable Afghans with critically needed food, health care, nutrition, medical supplies, protection, hygiene supplies, and other urgently needed relief.

In addition, USAID stated it has activated a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) – based outside of Afghanistan – to lead the U.S. Government’s humanitarian response.

“This team, which is based outside of Afghanistan, is working with partners to provide aid and adapt programs in response to the new environment,” the statement read.

The United States is the single largest humanitarian donor in Afghanistan, providing nearly $330 million this year alone.

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UN chief calls for urgent emergency aid for Afghanistan 

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(Last Updated On: September 13, 2021)

The international community should urgently offer a “lifeline” to millions of vulnerable Afghans “who face perhaps their most perilous hour”, the UN Secretary-General said on Monday at a special meeting in Geneva on the need for emergency aid for Afghanistan.

Leading the appeal in Geneva for $606 million to support emergency aid for 11 million people across the country, António Guterres said that even before the fall of the previous government, people were in the grip of one of the worst crises in the world.

“The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline,” he said. “After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour. Now is the time for the international community to stand with them.”

Highlighting concerns over humanitarian access as needs rise dramatically, Guterres maintained that the country’s new rulers had pledged their cooperation “to ensure assistance is delivered to the people of Afghanistan. Our staff and all aid workers must be allowed to do their vital work in safety — without harassment, intimidation or fear.”

One in two Afghans do not know where their next meal is coming from, the UN chief explained, adding that “many people could run out of food by the end of the month, just as winter approaches”.

Speaking at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stressed the extent of the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan.

At Monday’s meeting, the UN Secretary-General highlighted the need for food, life-saving interventions and essential health care for the people of Afghanistan.

And he insisted that “robust mechanisms” had been established to coordinate humanitarian efforts that were anchored in human rights.

UN emergency relief chief Martin Griffiths noted that he had received written assurances from leaders of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to allow relief efforts to continue.

These guarantees followed his meeting with the Afghan government’s interim leaders in Kabul last week, where he urged the country’s new rulers to respect human rights and facilitate aid access.

Speaking from Kabul, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, underscored the high level of needs among Afghanistan’s 3.5 million displaced people, and the potential for even greater suffering.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has underlined the urgent need to safeguard rural livelihoods and avoid massive displacement.

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu called for funding to save Afghanistan’s next wheat harvest, keep farm animals alive, and avoid a deterioration of the country’s already severe humanitarian crises.

His agency is seeking $36 million to speed up support to farmers and ensure they will not miss the upcoming winter wheat planting season.   

FAO will also assist around 3.5 million Afghans, who depend on agriculture for their incomes, until the end of the year.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister calls for sustained engagement

 Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi also addressed the ministerial meeting, via a video link, and called on the international community for sustained engagement with Afghanistan.

 According to a statement issued by Qureshi’s office, the Foreign Minister gave a report on the humanitarian support provided by Pakistan in recent days, including the facilitation of evacuations for foreigners, the establishment of a humanitarian corridor for the delivery of relief goods, among others. 

“He committed to continue Pakistan’s humanitarian assistance comprising food and medicines to Afghanistan as well as hosting more than three million Afghan refugees. 

“He called for international solidarity with the Afghan people, both in terms of financial and political support. He emphasized the need to renew developmental partnerships, support nation-building, and meet the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people,” the statement read. 

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