Afghans say Trump wrong to tar­get gen­eral

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Pamela Con­sta­ble of The Wash­ing­ton Post and by staff mem­bers of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghans are alarmed by wide­spread re­ports that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has threat­ened to fire Gen. John Ni­chol­son, the highly re­garded U.S. mil­i­tary com­man­der in the wartorn coun­try, and that Trump has also de­layed de­cid­ing on a mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal strat­egy Afghans have awaited anx­iously for the past six months.

Ni­chol­son, 61, the top U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cial in Afghanistan for the past 16 months, has be­come the best-known face of Wash­ing­ton there, work­ing closely with Afghan mil­i­tary and civil­ian of­fi­cials, and vo­cally ad­vo­cat­ing ex­panded U.S. mil­i­tary en­gage­ment, while the Tal­iban and other in­sur­gents con­tinue ag­gres­sive at­tacks across the coun­try.

Now, with two U.S. ser­vice­men killed in the past week, Trump’s at­tack on Ni­chol­son for fail­ing to “win” the 16-year war has stunned Afghan of­fi­cials and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. They said a clear sig­nal of con­tin­ued sup­port from Wash­ing­ton is ur­gently needed to keep the frag­ile Kabul gov­ern­ment on its feet amid an ex­plo­sion of pub­lic un­rest and or­ga­nized op­po­si­tion from a va­ri­ety of groups.

“Our big­gest im­me­di­ate worry is the lack of an Amer­i­can strat­egy,” said Omar Daudzai, a former se­nior Afghan of­fi­cial. “We are fac­ing po­lit­i­cal tur­moil and a se­cu­rity cri­sis. Neigh­bor­ing gov­ern­ments are med­dling. We need an Amer­i­can com­mit­ment to sup­port the de­fense forces, elec­tions and demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions. Amer­ica’s rep­u­ta­tion is at stake in Afghanistan, and if this all goes bad, Amer­ica will lose its cred­i­bil­ity.”

Over the past sev­eral days, Afghan of­fi­cials and others in the coun­try praised Ni­chol­son, say­ing he in­her­ited a pro­tracted and wors­en­ing con­flict but has worked closely with Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani on de­vel­op­ing a de­tailed fouryear plan to sup­port Afghan se­cu­rity forces so they can de­fend the coun­try alone. With no per­ma­nent U.S. am­bas­sador there since De­cem­ber, the four-star gen­eral’s role has also taken on added diplo­matic im­por­tance.

Ob­servers in Kabul said Ni­chol­son, now on his fourth mil­i­tary tour in the coun­try, had earned wide re­spect for his hard work and out­reach to Afghans. Last year, Ni­chol­son told a con­gres­sional com­mit­tee that since the at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “the U.S. cam­paign in Afghanistan has largely de­fined my ser­vice.”

A U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cial, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity, said Ni­chol­son “is not one to twist in the wind. He is fo­cus­ing on the mis­sion he was asked to carry out: a strat­egy to help the Afghans stand on their own feet. This is an Afghan con­flict, and every­one knows there is no quick and easy so­lu­tion. The main thing Pres­i­dent Ghani has asked us for is time.”

But a va­ri­ety of Afghans said the con­tro­versy over Ni­chol­son and fur­ther post­pone­ment of an an­nounced U.S. pol­icy af­ter months of drift, have aroused con­cern that Wash­ing­ton may aban­don its long­time role as a sup­porter of Afghan democ­racy, and pos­si­bly even the war ef­fort, at a time of grow­ing do­mes­tic un­rest and in­ter­fer­ence by for­eign re­gional pow­ers.

“These de­lays are not just a mat­ter of bu­reau­cracy, they are a mat­ter of life and death to the Afghan peo­ple,” said Davood Mo­ra­dian, direc­tor of the Afghan In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies. The Tal­iban in­sur­gents, he said, are try­ing to “in­flu­ence the de­bate in Wash­ing­ton with these new at­tacks. The longer these de­lays con­tinue, the more in­no­cent lives will be lost.”

Mo­ra­dian said Trump “has a right to be an­gry” about the mil­i­tary stale­mate, “but he is at­tack­ing the wrong tar­get.” He said Ni­chol­son had done “an ad­mirable job of fill­ing the po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic vac­uum” since Trump took of­fice, and that he should not be blamed for the fail­ure of poli­cies set by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Un­der Obama’s pol­icy, U.S. and NATO forces peaked in 2009 at 140,000 troops, but most of them with­drew in 2014 with the war still hotly con­tested. Ni­chol­son heads a lim­ited as­sis­tance mis­sion of about 8,400 troops that ad­vise and train Afghan forces and pro­vide air com­bat sup­port.

Mean­while, Tal­iban in­sur­gents launched co­or­di­nated at­tacks from three dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions on Sayad district in north­ern Sari Pul prov­ince killing at least seven se­cu­rity forces, said a pro­vin­cial of­fi­cial.

Zabi Amani, a spokesman for the pro­vin­cial gov­er­nor, said Sat­ur­day that in­sur­gents seized con­trol of the strate­gic Mirza­walang area in Sayad district ear­lier in the day af­ter two days of in­tense gun bat­tle with the Afghan se­cu­rity forces.

“We re­quested re­in­force­ment for the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, un­for­tu­nately couldn’t get any sup­port, that is why the forces lost con­trol of Mirza­walang,” said Amani.

Qari Yu­souf Ahamdi, a Tal­iban spokesman, claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack in an email ad­dressed to me­dia.

Amani said 10 Tal­iban fight­ers, in­clud­ing two group lead­ers, were also killed in the bat­tles and four Afghan se­cu­rity of­fi­cers were wounded.

Else­where, the pro­vin­cial direc­tor of the counter-nar­cotics unit in western Ghor prov­ince was killed by two gun­men, the spokesman for the pro­vin­cial po­lice chief in Ghor prov­ince, Iqbal Nezami, said Sat­ur­day.

Two men on a mo­tor­bike shot and killed counter-nar­cotics chief Noorudin Shairfi in the prov­ince’s cap­i­tal Faroz Koh, Nezami said. “No one has been ar­rested, but the po­lice have launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he added.

No one has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack in Ghor.

And in south­ern Kan­da­har prov­ince a mem­ber of the Afghan po­lice force was shot and killed by NATO ad­vis­ers be­fore he was able to at­tack their forces, ac­cord­ing to a NATO-led Res­o­lute Sup­port mis­sion state­ment.


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