‘No military solution’ to Afghan conflict, says US defense chief

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Kabul on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 13 March 2018
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‘No military solution’ to Afghan conflict, says US defense chief

KABUL: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has ruled out a military solution to the US-led war in Afghanistan after arriving in Kabul on Tuesday for a surprise visit.
Mattis said that “elements within the Taliban guerrillas” might be open to talks with the Afghan government to end the 16-year US war in the country.
The defense chief’s visit follows an escalation of bloody attacks by the Taliban on Aghan security forces in recent months. US forces have launched weeks of intensive bombing of the militants as part of Washington’s strategy to end the stalemate in the war.
Mattis’ comments come two weeks after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani expressed a willingness to hold peace talks with the Taliban.
The insurgents spoke twice last month about the desire to hold talks with Washington, but so far have given no formal response to Kabul’s offer.
“It’s all working to achieve a political reconciliation, not a military victory,” Mattis told reporters before landing in Kabul. “The victory will be a political reconciliation.”
“It may not be that the whole Taliban comes over in one fell swoop — that would be a bridge too far — but there are elements of the Taliban that are clearly interested in talking to the Afghan government.”
He gave no further details and failed to specify who within the movement was eager to talk. “Right now we want the Afghans to lead and to provide the substance of the reconciliation effort,” he said.
At the same time, he acknowledged that efforts to reconcile with all of the Taliban had been difficult. The effort now is to reach “those who are tired of fighting” and build from there, he said.
President Donald Trump last year ordered increased bombing of Taliban targets, including drug-making labs and training camps. He also sent more than 3,000 extra US troops to Afghanistan to boost US training and advising of local forces.
Apart from other coalition forces, almost 14,000 US troops are now in Afghanistan, up from a low of about 8,500 when Obama left office.
Ghani’s offer of peace talks comes as his government faces unprecedented division. Civilian casualties have soared in recent months, with the Taliban increasingly conducting complex attacks, targeting towns and cities in response to Trump’s more aggressive military policy.
With the US taking more of an advisory role, Afghan security forces have been able to stop some attacks, Mattis said, though he wanted to see them shift to a more “offensive mindset” in the coming months.
His surprise visit — his third as Pentagon chief — was kept secret because of an incident during his last trip in September when insurgents shelled Kabul’s airport only hours after his arrival.
Mattis is also expected to hold talks with Ghani in addition to meetings with US commanders.
Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst who knows some of the Taliban’s past and current leaders, said the movement “has held indirect contacts with the US both before the announcement of Washington’s new war strategy and afterward.
“I know of contacts between the Taliban and the Americans. It seems that the Americans have reached the conclusion that the war has no military solution,” he told Arab News.
“I do not know which elements within the Taliban are prepared for talks with Kabul. If there are only isolated individuals coming over under the name of the Taliban, then we can not expect much.”
Mattis and Ghani will discuss peace with the Taliban, a comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan and the coming elections in Afghanistan among other issues, a spokesman for Ghani, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, said.


Former Malaysian PM charged with money laundering, abuse of power

Updated 1 min 43 sec ago
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Former Malaysian PM charged with money laundering, abuse of power

  • The charges bring the total number against Najib to 32 as investigators ramp up a probe into how billions went missing from scandal-plagued 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
  • 1MDB is a state fund that Najib founded and chaired.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian prosecutors charged former Prime Minister Najib Razak with 21 counts of money laundering and four counts of abuse of power on Thursday over hundreds of millions of dollars received in his personal bank account.
The charges bring the total number against Najib to 32 as investigators ramp up a probe into how billions went missing from scandal-plagued 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) — a state fund that he founded and chaired.
Najib has denied all charges, which have piled up since he unexpectedly lost a general election in May to Mahathir Mohamad, who reopened the 1MDB investigation.
Prosecutors, describing the abuse of power charges, said Najib used his position as prime minister, finance minister and chairman of 1MDB to obtain funds totalling about 2.3 billion ringgit ($556.23 million) between 2011 and 2014.
The money-laundering charges describe how Najib received 2.1 billion ringgit from Tanore Finance Corp, which US authorities have said was used to siphon money from 1MDB.
“The charges made today will give me a chance to clear my name, that I am not a thief,” Najib told reporters.
He was released after the judge set bail of 3.5 million ringgit ($846,430), to be paid by Sept. 28.
Prosecutors said it was a matter of “national disgrace” for a head of state to be facing such charges.
“This is a case involving a man holding the highest elected office. And him, facing such serious charges, must face some consequences in the eyes of the court,” lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram said, arguing for a bail amount of 5 million ringgit.
Najib has faced corruption allegations since the Wall Street Journal reported in 2015 that $681 million was sent to a personal bank account of the then-prime minister in 2013. A year later, the US Department of Justice confirmed the transaction and said the funds originated from 1MDB.
Despite growing calls to step down, he clung to power by cracking down on dissent and the media. But Malaysians voted him out earlier this year and he has since come under close scrutiny.
In recent months, prosecutors brought a total of seven charges against Najib over 42 million ringgit that allegedly flowed from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit, into his bank account.
The Department of Justice has said a total of $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB through a complex web of transactions and fraudulent shell companies. Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho is described as a central figure in the scandal.