US military chairman backs Afghanistan commander

Updated 15 November 2012
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US military chairman backs Afghanistan commander

WASHINGTON: The top US military officer said on Thursday he was confident that General John Allen would be promoted to NATO supreme commander in Europe despite his being linked to a sex scandal.
Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, is currently under investigation over thousands of e-mails exchanged with the woman who inadvertently led the FBI to CIA director David Petraeus’s mistress, leading to his resignation.
US President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have expressed confidence in Allen, but his nomination to become the next NATO supreme allied commander has been put on hold pending the investigation.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, the highest-ranking US military officer, said he “absolutely had confidence” in Allen’s ability to continue directing the country’s longest-running war.
“I asked him if he thought, in the context of this additional stress in his life, if he would be affected by it and he assured me that he was ready, willing and able to continue in command,” Dempsey said in a report posted on the Defense Department’s website.
“I absolutely have confidence in his ability to do that,” he said in an interview with the Pentagon’s American Forces Press Service.
“We have John Allen scheduled to become the (European Command) commander, and I wouldn’t want him to miss that opportunity unless there is reason for that to happen,” Dempsey said.
“I don’t see that at this point, but I see this investigation and how long it could take affecting that.”
Pentagon officials said Allen, who is married, exchanged 20,000 to 30,000 e-mails — some of which may have been “inappropriate” — with Jill Kelley, a married Tampa socialite who was friends with top generals and their families.
Earlier this year Kelley reported receiving threatening e-mails, which led FBI investigators to married army reservist Paula Broadwell and uncovered her affair with Petraeus, who is also married.
Allen denies any sexual liaison with Kelley, but the volume of e-mails, some of which is reported to be “flirtatious,” could amount to a breach of military rules on the part of the four-star Marine general.


After Afghan cease-fire gamble, prospects rise for US-Taliban talks

Updated 11 min 29 sec ago
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After Afghan cease-fire gamble, prospects rise for US-Taliban talks

KABUL/WASHINGTON: Prospects have risen for negotiations between the Taliban and the United States after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called a cease-fire and allowed militants to roam into cities in a gamble to encourage peace talks.
The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 by US-led troops, insist that any negotiations with what it calls the “puppet” Afghan government on a peace plan can begin only after talks with the United States about withdrawing foreign forces.
Analysts and Western diplomats said Ghani’s offer to hold unconditional peace talks had set the stage for US officials to open backchannel negotiations with the Taliban, despite Washington’s policy that peace talks be Afghan-led.
“Ghani has done his bit,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank.
“It is now for the US to cut through this blockade,” he said, although that would be a departure from US policy that talks to end the 17-year-old war must be wholly Afghan-led.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared ready to tweak the policy when he welcomed Ghani’s 10-day extension of a cease-fire that is currently due to end on Wednesday. The Taliban said its cease-fire ended on Sunday.
“As President Ghani emphasised in his statement to the Afghan people, peace talks by necessity would include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces,” Pompeo said. “The United States is prepared to support, facilitate, and participate in these discussions.”
Richard Olson, former US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, described the statement as significant “in that it signals that the US is prepared to ultimately discuss the issue that is paramount to the Taliban, which is the withdrawal of foreign forces.”
A senior US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity before the start of the cease-fire, however said there were a number of issues that made direct talks between the Taliban and the United States unlikely in the short-term.
The official said there was a substantial gap in knowledge about the Taliban — for instance as to who had the authority to negotiate on the their behalf. “There is not enough intelligence or resources on this issue,” the official said.
A second official said there was still a question of what would happen with hard-line elements of the Taliban. “There are Taliban that won’t come to the table,” the official said.
Taliban call
The Taliban, in a statement marking the end of their cease-fire on Sunday, said the organization was unified and called on “the invading American party” to “sit directly for dialogue with the Islamic Emirate to find a solution for the ongoing imbroglio.”
A senior diplomat with knowledge of the negotiations leading to the cease-fire estimated the chances of eventual talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government at “50-50.”
“The Taliban want to talk to the US directly on withdrawal (of foreign forces) because they do not want to share the credit of withdrawal with the government,” the official said.
And while Washington has long resisted direct talks with Taliban, the official said that recent developments indicate “the US now seems less and less averse to it.”
In August, US President Donald Trump unveiled a more hawkish military approach to Afghanistan, including a surge in air strikes. Afghan security forces say the impact has been significant, but the Taliban roam huge areas of the country and, with foreign troop levels of about 15,600, down from 140,000 in 2014, there appears little hope of outright victory.
Ghani, never widely popular, met his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, on Sunday to secure support for peace talks. He visited a restaurant in Kabul where he met diners and took selfies with children, trying to capitalize on the unprecedented party atmosphere created by the cease-fire to mark last weekend’s Eid Al-Fitr festival.
But Amrullah Saleh, the former head of intelligence and head of a political party, said Ghani had committed a blunder by allowing insurgents to pour into government-controlled areas.
“Thousands of Taliban fighters were allowed to enter with guns and some of them could be hiding in civilian areas, planning attacks,” Saleh told Reuters.
Ghani has also come in for praise.
“Now we can say that our president is making an absolute honest attempt” for peace, said Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, the chairman of the outspoken New National Front of Afghanistan.