Dunford: Afghan combat operations key to safe elections

US Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford. (AP)
Updated 21 March 2018
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Dunford: Afghan combat operations key to safe elections

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan: Afghan security forces have identified key areas of the country that must be secure for elections later this year and have planned a series of military operations to free them from Taliban control, the top US military officer said Wednesday.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said holding secure and successful elections for parliament this year and the president next year will be key factors in determining the success of the new US war strategy approved by President Donald Trump last August.
Dunford is in Afghanistan this week meeting with senior Afghan leaders and traveling to see coalition military commanders around the country, including in Mazar-e Sharif in the north and at Tactical Base Gamberi in the east.
He and other US military officials sounded less concerned about the exact timing of the parliamentary election, which was initially scheduled for July but could slip until the fall.
US Brig. Gen. Michael Fenzel, the coalition’s director of strategic plans, told reporters traveling with Dunford that the timing of the polling this year is less important that having a successful, secure, credible election.
He said that delaying the election may give officials a greater chance to beef up security and ensure that election observers are all in place. There is still a lot of organizing yet to be done, he said.
After meetings Wednesday with commanders at Gamberi, Dunford said the Afghan forces in that region have identified the heavily populated areas that are of “most consequence to the elections and to security and so we should see over time those populated areas be secure.”
Asked about the election timing, Dunford said the commitment is to have voting for the parliament this year and the president next year. He said the particular month for the vote didn’t come up in his conversations Tuesday with Afghan leaders, which included a meeting with President Ashraf Ghani.
“The exact month would be based on the preparedness of the independent election commission,” Dunford said, adding that “securing the areas so people can vote is the most important thing.” The coalition has said the military will be ready to ensure the security of the election whenever it takes place.
One serious concern is the recent spate of high-profile, mass casualty attacks in Kabul. On Wednesday, authorities said a suicide bombing on the road to a Shiite shrine in Kabul killed at least 33 people as Afghans celebrated the Persian new year.
Wahid Majrooh, spokesman for The Public Health Ministry, said 65 others were wounded in the attack. The Daesh group claimed responsibility.
Another IS suicide bomber killed nine people and wounded 18 others earlier this month, and in January a Taliban attacker drove an ambulance filled with explosives into the city, killing 103 people and wounding as many as 235.
The violence prompted the US to declare that Kabul is now the main focus of the anti-Taliban fight and the US-led coalition sent additional American military advisers into the city to work with the local police. US special forces have also been conducting raids in the city.


Macron fires bodyguard filmed beating protester; critics say too late

Updated 17 min 13 sec ago
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Macron fires bodyguard filmed beating protester; critics say too late

  • Alexandre Benalla, who as Macron’s top bodyguard has long been a fixture by his side, was taken into custody for police questioning over the incident, which took place when Benalla appeared at May Day protests in a riot helmet and police tags.
  • Lawmakers have launched a parliamentary inquiry into the incident itself, the lenient initial punishment and the failure of the authorities to report Benalla promptly to the judiciary.

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron fired the head of his personal security detail on Friday but faced criticism for failing to act sooner, after a video was released showing the man posing as a police officer and beating a protester while off duty in May.
Alexandre Benalla, who as Macron’s top bodyguard has long been a fixture by his side, was taken into custody for police questioning over the incident, which took place when Benalla appeared at May Day protests in a riot helmet and police tags.
He had initially been suspended for just 15 days and allowed to return to work. Just days ago he was seen in public helping to organize security for celebrations for the return of France’s World Cup champion soccer team.
Lawmakers have launched a parliamentary inquiry into the incident itself, the lenient initial punishment and the failure of the authorities to report Benalla promptly to the judiciary.
In the footage, which was released on Wednesday by Le Monde newspaper, Benalla can be seen dragging a woman away from a protest and later beating a male demonstrator. On Friday, French media released a second video which showed Benalla also manhandling the woman.
He had been given permission by the president’s office to attend the protests as an observer of the security operation, but had no authorization to take part in police work.
The president’s office brushed off accusations that it had responded only because the nearly three-month-old videos had become public. It said the decision had now been taken to fire Benalla because the bodyguard had improperly obtained a document while trying to make his case over the accusations.
“New facts that could constitute a misdemeanour by Alexandre Benalla were brought to the president’s attention,” an official at the presidential palace told Reuters. “As a result ... the presidency has decided to start Alexandre Benalla’s dismissal procedure.”
Critics of Macron called the president’s delayed response a characteristic sign that he is out of touch. It follows controversies over government spending on official crockery, a swimming pool at a presidential retreat and cutting remarks by the president about the costs of welfare.
After hours of debate in the lower house on Thursday, lawmakers agreed to launch a parliamentary inquiry.
“Why did he protect this person? Does he head up a parallel police force? Refusing to answer makes (Macron) complicit in these acts of violence,” Eric Ciotti, a senior member of the conservative Republicans party, said on Twitter.