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.


Britain’s opposition Labour backs new election over Brexit impasse

Updated 52 min 14 sec ago
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Britain’s opposition Labour backs new election over Brexit impasse

  • Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has so far resisted calls to back a ‘People’s Vote,’ or new referendum on the decision to quit the EU
  • Brexit minister Dominic Raab again ruled out a new election, describing the suggestion as ‘for the birds’
LIVERPOOL: Britain’s opposition Labour Party prefers a new election to a second referendum on Brexit, its leader said on Sunday, heaping pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May whose plans for a deal with the EU have hit an impasse.
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has so far resisted calls to back a “People’s Vote,” or new referendum on the decision to quit the EU.
But the political landscape has changed since May was ambushed by the European Union on Thursday over her plans for Brexit — the biggest shift in British policy for more than four decades.
With talk of a new election swirling after May’s “Chequers” plan was all but shredded at an EU summit in Austria last week and chances of Britain exiting the bloc without a deal rising, Labour is under pressure to start setting the Brexit agenda.
Corbyn, a veteran euroskeptic who in 1975 voted “No” to Britain’s membership of the then-European Community, said that while he would listen to a debate about any possible second vote on Britain’s membership, he preferred a snap election if May failed to get a deal that Labour could support in parliament.
“Our preference would be for a general election and we can then negotiate our future relationship with Europe but let’s see what comes out of conference,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, saying Labour was ready to vote against any deal.
“We would vote it down if it didn’t meet our tests in order to send the government, if it is still in office, straight back to the negotiating table and if there is a general election and we are in office we would go straight to the negotiating table.”
Corbyn’s close ally, Len McCluskey, leader of Britain’s biggest trade union Unite, told the BBC any such second referendum “shouldn’t be on: ‘do we want to go back into the European Union?’” as that had been answered in the 2016 referendum.
Britain is to exit the EU in March. After weeks of both sides making positive noises about prospects of clinching a divorce deal and their future trading relationship, the mood turned sour on Thursday in Salzburg, Austria, when the bloc’s leaders, one by one, came out to criticize May’s Chequers plans.
A tacit agreement to try to offer her some support before she heads to what is going to be a difficult annual conference of her governing Conservative Party later this month was broken by some British diplomatic missteps.
May says she will hold her nerve in the talks, pressing the EU to come up with an alternative proposal to her Chequers plan, named after the prime minister’s country residence where a deal was hashed out with her top ministers in July.
But the impasse with the EU has prompted some to predict an early election, with local media reporting that May’s team has begun contingency planning for a snap vote in November to save both Brexit and her job.
Brexit minister Dominic Raab again ruled out a new election, describing the suggestion as “for the birds.” He said Britain would not “flit from plan to plan like some sort of diplomatic butterfly.”
“We are going to be resolute about this,” Raab added.
While saying she will stick to her guns, May might have little chance but to change tack after a party conference where the deep divisions over Europe that have riven her Conservatives for decades will be in plain sight.
A senior pro-EU Conservative lawmaker, Nicky Morgan, said May would have to give ground on trade and customs arrangements to overcome the biggest obstacle to a withdrawal accord — the prevention of a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and Ireland, a member of the EU.
“I am not sure there is life left in Chequers,” Morgan, chair of parliament’s Treasury Select Committee and a former cabinet minister under May’s predecessor, told Sky News.
“We want to see a deal. The question I think that has to be answered now by the government, by the EU leaders, is what room for movement is there, how do we move on from where we ended up last week?”