US troop withdrawal to have little impact: Afghan official

That decision has been made. There will be a significant withdrawal. (AP)
Updated 21 December 2018
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US troop withdrawal to have little impact: Afghan official

  • The US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan working either with a NATO mission to support Afghan forces or in separate counter-terrorism operations
  • Trump made his decision Tuesday, the same time he told the Pentagon he wanted to pull all US forces out of Syria

KABUL: The spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani says the withdrawal of half of the 14,000 US troops serving in Afghanistan will have little impact on the fighting capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces.
Haroon Chakansuri responded Friday to reports the Pentagon is developing plans to withdraw 7,000 American soldiers by the summer. He said Afghanistan’s military has been in charge of the country’s security since 2014 when more than 100,000 NATO troops withdrew. Since then, US forces have provided training and advice, assisting in military operations only when requested by Afghan troops.
However, the Taliban are stronger today than they have been since their ouster in 2001. They control or hold sway over nearly half the country, carrying out near daily attacks that mostly target Afghan security forces.

President Donald Trump had decided to pull a significant number of troops from Afghanistan, a US official told AFP on Thursday, with some reports suggesting as many as 50 percent could leave the war-torn country.
The surprise move stunned and dismayed foreign diplomats and officials in Kabul who are involved in an intensifying push to end the 17-year conflict.
“If you’re the Taliban, Christmas has come early,” a senior foreign official in the Afghan capital told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
“Would you be thinking of a cease-fire if your main opponent has just withdrawn half their troops?“
It is not clear if US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad or the Afghan government had been aware of Trump’s plans. A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said “if there is any reaction by the Afghan government, we will share it later.”
The decision apparently came after Khalilzad met with the Taliban in Abu Dhabi this week, part of a flurry of diplomatic efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with the Afghan government.
They are believed to have discussed issues including the group’s longstanding demand for a pullout of foreign troops and a cease-fire.
“That decision has been made. There will be a significant withdrawal,” the American official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Trump made his decision Tuesday, the same time he told the Pentagon he wanted to pull all US forces out of Syria and as talks were ongoing in Abu Dhabi.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis quit earlier Thursday, saying his views were no longer reconcilable with Trump’s.
Critics suggest the president’s twin foreign policy decisions on Syria and Afghanistan could unspool a series of cascading and unpredictable events across the Middle East and in Afghanistan.
The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan working either with a NATO mission to support Afghan forces or in separate counter-terrorism operations.
The Wall Street Journal reported that more than 7,000 troops would be returning from Afghanistan.
Mattis and other top military advisers last year persuaded Trump to commit thousands of new troops to Afghanistan, where the Taliban are slaughtering local forces in record numbers and making major territorial gains.
Trump at the time said his instinct was to get out of Afghanistan.
The pullout comes as the United States spearheads international efforts to end the war with the Taliban, which was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.
Khalilzad, who has met with Taliban representatives several times in recent months, has expressed hopes for a peace deal before the Afghan presidential elections scheduled for April.
Foreign observers and officials said Trump’s move had handed the Taliban a major propaganda and tactical victory, without the militants having to make any concessions.

(With agencies)


Meet Saudi Arabia’s artist to the kings

Saudi painter Hisham Binjabi’s stunning creations have become the choice of kings. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 14 min 15 sec ago
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Meet Saudi Arabia’s artist to the kings

  • From the age of three, Hisham Binjabi has never lost his appetite for art

JEDDAH: When it comes to royal connections, Saudi painter Hisham Binjabi can truly claim to have made it an
art form.

During a lifetime at the easel, the unassuming Jeddah-based artist’s stunning creations have become the choice of kings.

And it all began at the age of just 14, when Binjabi painted a portrait of King Faisal and ended up presenting it in person to the late king of Saudi Arabia.

Further commissions were to follow, which resulted in Binjabi producing works of art not only for the Saudi royal family, but royalty in other countries too.

Today he owns two galleries in Jeddah from where he exhibits artwork and sculptures from around the world. 

Binjabi revealed his incredible story to Arab News while at work painting on canvas at a recent Jeddah book fair.

Hisham Binjabi made works of art not only for the Saudi royal family, but royalty in other countries too. (Photos/Supplied)

From the age of three, when he painted the walls of his family home in black, Binjabi has never lost his appetite for art. His talent was recognized at school where he was known as the “boy who paints,” and although he chose to major in science, a teacher spotted his artistic skills and taught him the basics of mixing colors.

Binjabi said: “After that I started to practice, and whenever I didn’t need to attend a class, I would escape to the painting room. As I became stronger with the use of colors, my teacher suggested I pick a subject to paint and I chose to do a portrait of King Faisal.”

After framing his picture, Binjabi was spotted carrying his creation down the street by the then-minister of education, who was so taken by it that he invited the teenager to present it to King Faisal himself. 

On the right track

The young artist continued to paint in his home and later studied English literature at King Abdul Aziz University, where again his talents were spotted. 

The dean of the university asked him to produce a painting to display in a tent, and this time the subject was to be camels.

During a visit to the campus, the then-King Khaled saw the painting and asked to meet the artist. “Before I knew it, I was standing in front of King Khaled,” said Binjabi. 

“The king asked me why I had painted camels, and I told him that camels were the friends of Bedouin people.”

The king invited Binjabi to go to Riyadh and attend the first ever Janadriyah Festival, and from then on his works became highly prized by royalty. The then-Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz asked him to produce a painting of his guests, a French prince and Sheikh Zayed of the UAE, watching camels through binoculars. 

As a result, Binjabi was invited to stay at Sheikh Zayed’s palace in Abu Dhabi, where he spent four months painting a family portrait for the leader.

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was to be another of Binjabi’s distinguished clients, and even while studying for a Master’s degree in Lebanon, he painted for the king of Lebanon.

He said: “It did get overwhelming. I never asked to be associated with royalty, it just happened. Something in my heart kept pushing me along and telling me I was on the right track.”

Today he still represents the Kingdom in many different countries. 

“My life is full of stories about art which I find inspirational,” Binjabi added.