Ghani Asks US to 'Re Examine' Pull Out Deadline
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
NEW DELHI: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said that the United States two-year deadline for pulling out its remaining troops may need to be “re-examined.” Ghani was speaking to US broadcaster CBS and referring to US President Obama’s commitment that the last of the foreign forces will leave Afghanistan at the end of 2016.
“Deadlines should not be dogmas,” Ghani said. At the end of 2014, the US formally declared its mission in Afghanistan over and withdrew a majority of its troops, leaving behind 13,000 soldiers mostly in a training and support role, with a few thousand focused on counter-terrorism operations. At the peak of the 13 year war on Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, the coalition involved more than 130,000 personnel from 50 countries.
The US’ relations with Afghanistan became strained over the timetable of the withdrawal of foreign troops during the presidency of Hamid Karzai, who refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that would allow the residual force of foreign troops to remain in the country.
President Ghani had promised to sign the BSA during his electoral campaign, and the signing of the agreement was one of the first moves of the current administration. However, as indicated by the CBS interview, Ghani may not continue bowing to US pressure on the matter.
"If both parties, or, in this case, multiple partners, have done their best to achieve the objectives and progress is very real, then there should be willingness to re-examine a deadline," Mr Ghani told the 60 Minutes programme on CBS.
When asked if Obama had been told of this, Ghani said, “President Obama knows me. We don't need to tell each other."
The White House National Security Council, the State Department and the Pentagon had no immediate comment.
President Ghani’s statement comes as Afghanistan assumes full responsibility for the security of the country, with 350,000 Afghan forces readied for the task. It also comes as the security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate.
Last week, the Taliban declared the defeat of the US and its allies in the 13 year Afghan war. "ISAF [The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force] rolled up its flag in an atmosphere of failure and disappointment without having achieved anything substantial or tangible," Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement emailed on Monday.
“We consider this step a clear indication of their defeat and disappointment,” the Taliban statement said. “America, its invading allies ... along with all international arrogant organisations have been handed a clear-cut defeat in this lopsided war.”
The Taliban went on to slam the US and its allies for unleashing a “fire of barbarism and cruelty” that had drowned the country “in a pool of blood.”
The Taliban have also stepped up attacks, with 2014 proving to be the worst year yet in terms of civilian casualties. A recent report by the United Nations has said that at least 3,188 Afghan civilians have been killed in the conflict in Afghanistan in 2014, making the year the deadliest yet in terms of non-combatant casualties.
Compared to the same period last year, civilian deaths were up 19 percent and had already surpassed the previous high set in 2011, when 3,133 civilians were killed. Further, for the first time ground battles between the Taliban and Afghan forces became the main cause of civilian deaths, opposed to planted bombs -- the leading cause of civilian casualties in previous years.
About three-quarters of civilian casualties were caused by Taliban insurgents, who have stepped up efforts to re-establish control by targeting security forces in Afghanistan.
Recent attacks have included an attack in Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan, that killed at least eleven people, a suicide attack in Kabul that killed one person, an attack on a bank in southern Afghanistan that killed 10, and within a span of a day -- attacks that killed two US soldiers, assassinated a Supreme Court Official, picked off 12 men working to clear landmines, and killed seven Afghan soldiers on a bus, last Saturday.
A few days before that, gunmen hit a French cultural centre inside a high school and a bus carrying Afghan army personnel killing six soldiers on the outskirts of Kabul. A little over a week before that, a suicide bomber detonated his payload at a crowded funeral, killing two police and seven civilians. A few days before that, Taliban gunmen killed three members of a South African family in an attack on a foreign guesthouse in Kabul-- the third such attack on a foreign guesthouse within a span of 10 days.
Before that, just hours after gunmen attacked a British convoy that killed six people and injured 35 others in the capital city, a suicide bomber breached the defenses of a guest house belonging to the International Relief & Development (IRD) organization.
In the same week, a dozen plus Taliban insurgents stormed Camp Bastion. At least five soldiers were killed. Adding to the bloodshed, in another part of Helmand -- in Sangin district -- at least 12 soldiers were killed after their smaller outpost was attacked by gunmen.
A few days before that, a roadside bomb exploded in Kabul injuring seven Afghan National Army personnel. On the same day, a bombing on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, which officials blamed on the Haqqani network, killed sixty-one and injured fifty others.
In a brutal attack on Nov 24, a suicide bomber detonated his vest packed with explosives at amid a crowd of people who had gathered to watch a volleyball match, killing 45 in the attack in Afghanistan’s Paktika province.
The attack coincided with an agreement reached in Afghanistan’s parliament, on the same day, that allowed for US and NATO troops to remain in the country post 2014.
The week before, two days after Taliban fighters killed two security guards on the eastern outskirts of Kabul, officials say that they killed four Taliban suicide bombers during an attack on a compound housing foreign workers in the capital city.
A few weeks before, a convoy of vehicles belonging to American-led coalition forces was attacked twice by Taliban gunmen. Although the convoy suffered no casualties, an Afghan civilian died in the attack. A few days before that in the same week, two separate bombings killed at least ten police officers, including a top commander. The bombings, in turn, followed an attack on the police headquarters in Kabul a day earlier that killed a senior police officer and injured six others. The explosion reportedly happened two hours after another explosion in Kabul, with news reports from the region quoting Defence Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Zahair Azimi saying that the earlier attack was on an Afghan army vehicle that resulted in no casualties.
Earlier, in October, six police officers and two civilians were killed in two separate attacks on the same day, a day after members of the Taliban ambushed a police convoy, leading to an hours-long gun battle in northern Afghanistan. Before that, in the same month, Taliban insurgents killed 22 security force members in Sar-e-Pol province north of Kabul, which in turn, followed a bomb in Kabul on the same day that killed one civilian.
A few weeks ago, although not claimed by the Taliban, a prominent female politician -- Shukria Barakzai -- narrowly escaped a suicide attack that killed three others.
Other recent attacks -- leading up to and during the Presidential elections -- include an attack that killed three soldiers belonging to the United States-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in September, a suicide bombing that killed Karzai’s cousin Hashmat Khalil Karzai, the shooting of 15 civilians, two Finnish relief workers, an attack on the Kabul airport, and one of the deadliest attacks since 2001 wherein a sports utility vehicle detonated in a busy market in Paktika province, eastern Afghanistan, that killed 90 people.