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.


US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

Updated 25 April 2019
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US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

  • International and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year, UN says

WASHINGTON: The US envoy negotiating with the Taliban voiced regret Thursday over findings that US-backed forces were killing more civilians than the militants, and said the solution was a peace deal.

A UN report released found that international and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year.

“We deeply regret any loss of innocent life during military operations. We never target innocents,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator who is set shortly to resume talks with the Taliban in Qatar on ending the war.

“War is treacherous, and unintended consequences are devastating. While we strive to prevent casualties, real solution is a cease-fire or reduced violence as we pursue lasting peace,” he tweeted.

Khalilzad appealed to the Taliban and other Afghans to “work to make this the year of peace.”

He struck a different tone than the spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, Col. Dave Butler, who said the US pursued “the highest standards of accuracy and accountability” and that troops “reserve the right of self-defense.”

President Donald Trump is eager to find a negotiated way to pull out troops and end the longest-ever US war.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with whom the Taliban refuse to negotiate, has called for next week a “loya jirga,” a traditional gathering of all the country’s communities, although it is unclear how broad the attendance will be.

Officials in Kabul said the Taliban ambushed a security convoy in western Afghanistan, killing nine policemen, and in Kabul, a would-be attacker died when a bomb he was trying to plant at a private university detonated prematurely.

According to a councilman in western Farah province, Abdul Samad Salehi, the ambush took place in Anardara district as the convoy was heading to defuse a roadside bomb on Wednesday afternoon.

Shortly after the attack, other Taliban insurgents targeted and briefly overran the district police headquarters, setting off hours-long clashes, Salehi said. Reinforcements arrived later and managed to wrest back control of the headquarters.

In Kabul, a bomb meant to target the private Jahan University blew up apparently prematurely inside a campus bathroom, killing the suspected militant and wounding three students.

Basir Mujahid, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, said the blast took place around 10:30 a.m.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion but the Taliban and Daesh have targeted schools and placed of education in the past.

Also on Thursday, unidentified gunmen wounded a local reporter in eastern Nangarhar province, said Farid Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

Khan said Emran lemar, a reporter for the Mazal radio station, was shot inside a park in the provincial capital of Jalalabad. He was hospitalized and a police investigation into the attack has begun, Khan said.

In March, Sultan Mahmoud Khirkhowa, a local TV journalist in eastern Khost province, was shot and killed when two men on a motorcycle opened fire on his vehicle. The Daesh affiliate claimed the attack in Khost.