Kabul downplays security fears as US withdraws troops

In this file photo, US Army soldiers walk as a NATO helicopter flies overhead at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar on Aug. 12, 2015.
Updated 22 December 2018

Kabul downplays security fears as US withdraws troops

  • Trump announces measures to pull out 7,000 troops from the country
  • President Ghani’s government says move will not impact security situation

KABUL: After the US caught everyone by surprise with its announcement to withdraw nearly half of its troops from Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani’s government downplayed the significance of the move on Friday by saying that Washington’s plans would have no impact on the security situation in the country.
Reports of the sudden departure of 7,000 troops came a day after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from Syria; and follows closely on the heels of talks between the Taliban’s representatives and US diplomats in the UAE for solutions to end the Afghan conflict.
The move coincided with reports that US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had tendered his resignation. However, it was not clear if he took the decision based on Trump’s order to pull out troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
Additionally, there were no statements to verify whether the move which is expected to be implemented in a few weeks was due to the talks in Abu Dhabi which had taken place in the presence of officials from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Pakistan.
President Ashraf Ghani’s government which could not take part in the two-day dialogue said — after more than 12 hours of silence – that the US’ plans to withdraw troops from the country would have no impact on the security situation in Afghanistan. “Troops pull out will not affect security situation in the country,” Harun Chakhansuri, Ghani’s spokesman, told reporters.
“Most of the US troops which will possibly be withdrawn from Afghanistan – are engaged in training and advise mission for Afghan forces…who are capable of defending the country,” he said.
Ghani’s chief adviser, Fazel Fazly, downplayed the impact of the move by tweeting that ever since the president had assumed office more than four years ago, the Afghan forces have fought on the frontline on their own. Recalling the drastic pullout in 2014 when tens of thousands of foreign and US-led troops had withdrawn from the country, he said concerns that the security situation would deteriorate proved to be wrong then and would be wrong this time, too.
“The alarms raised about Afghanistan’s future in the media were more rampant in December 2014. Most analysts believed that Afghanistan would collapse with the departure of more than 1,00,000 troops. But our brave defense and security forces proved these analysts wrong and defended the nation with great valor,” he said.
The Taliban have gained ground in recent years, partly due to a drawdown in 2014, but more importantly due to internal divisions within Ghani’s government. Additionally, the number of casualties among national forces, civilians, and the Taliban have soared with some US officials openly admitting that the war cannot be won with military might.
Ordinary Americans, for their part, have questioned the need to spend money on and retain troops in Afghanistan for a war which began with US-led forces ousting the Taliban in late 2001.
Trump himself has spoken against retaining the troops in Afghanistan on several occasions. However, he has been unpredictable in his stance. Last year, based on the advice of Pentagon’s generals, he opted to increase air offensives and send additional troops to Afghanistan to turn the tide.
The plan seems to have backfired with the Taliban occupying more areas in the country. While Ghani’s embattled government rejects the impact of the withdrawal, several generals said that the government was not consulted or forewarned about Trump’s planned order.
Some observers said that the pullout — combined with US talks with the Taliban which has led to most believing that Washington is after the formation of an interim government in Afghanistan — would impact the morale of the troops and further embolden the militant group.
Michael Kugeleman, a regional analyst added that the decision would be used by the Taliban as a victory point. “Let’s be clear; Trump’s decision, if confirmed, amounts to a propaganda coup and a tactical triumph for the Taliban. It (Taliban) has gotten the troop withdrawal it has always wanted,” he said.
Rahmatullah Nabil, a former Afghan spymaster, disagrees. He reasons that the proposed move would encourage the Taliban to take part in the peace process. “From my point of view, the exodus of roughly 7,000 American troops can persuade the Taliban to actively participate in the peace process,” he told Arab News, detailing the short-term and long-term impact on security forces.
“In the short term, it will have an impact on Afghan security forces and promote the inclination of acquiring power through war, but it will not have an actual impact on the war itself,” he said.
Several lawmakers, especially women, expressed concerns at the hasty move reasoning that it offers no assurance to Afghans about their future. “My fear is that God forbid, the security situation will deteriorate. Without American forces, Kabul and the entire country can collapse in one day,” Raihana Azad, an MP told Arab News.
“This will also prove to Afghans that Americans are short-term friends, people will become more disappointed with America and our neighbors will use their influence and resources to consolidate their power here,” she added.


‘Terminator’ Rajapaksa storms to victory in Sri Lanka

Updated 17 November 2019

‘Terminator’ Rajapaksa storms to victory in Sri Lanka

  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa conducted a nationalist campaign with a promise of security and a vow to crush religious extremism
  • His triumph will, however, alarm Sri Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim minorities as well as activists, journalists

COLOMBO: Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who spearheaded the brutal crushing of the Tamil Tigers 10 years ago, stormed to victory Sunday in Sri Lanka’s presidential elections, seven months after Islamist extremist attacks killed 269 people.
Rajapaksa conducted a nationalist campaign with a promise of security and a vow to crush religious extremism in the Buddhist-majority country following the April 21 suicide bomb attacks blamed on a homegrown militant group.
His triumph will, however, alarm Sri Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim minorities as well as activists, journalists and possibly some in the international community following the 2005-15 presidency of his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mahinda, with Gotabaya effectively running the security forces, ended a 37-year civil war with Tamil separatists. His decade in power was also marked by alleged rights abuses, murky extra-judicial killings and closer ties with China.
Gotabaya, a retired lieutenant-colonel, 70, nicknamed the “Terminator” by his own family, romped to victory with 51.9 percent of the vote, results from the two-thirds of votes counted so far showed.
“I didn’t sleep all night,” said student Devni, 22, one of around 30 people who gathered outside Rajapaksa’s Colombo residence. “I am so excited, he is the president we need.”
Rajapaksa’s main rival, the moderate Sajith Premadasa of the ruling party, trailed on 42.3 percent. The 52-year-old conceded the race and congratulated Rajapaksa.
On Sunday three cabinet members resigned — including Finance Minister Mangalar Samaraweera.
The final result was expected later on Sunday with Rajapaksa due to be sworn in on Monday. Turnout was over 80 percent.
Premadasa had strong support in minority Tamil areas but a poor showing in Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese heartland, a core support base where Rajapaksa won some two-thirds of the vote.
Saturday’s poll was the first popularity test of the United National Party (UNP) government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Wickremesinghe’s administration failed to prevent the April attacks despite prior and detailed intelligence warnings from India, according a parliamentary investigation.
Premadasa also offered better security and a pledge to make a former war general, Sarath Fonseka, his national security chief, projecting himself as a victim seeking to crush terrorism.
He is the son of assassinated ex-president Ranasinghe Premadasa who fell victim to a Tamil rebel suicide bomber in May 1993.
But Gotabaya is adored by the Sinhalese majority and the powerful Buddhist clergy for how he and Mahinda ended the war in 2009, when 40,000 Tamil civilians allegedly perished at the hands of the army.
Under his brother, Gotabaya was defense secretary and effectively ran the security forces, allegedly overseeing “death squads” that bumped off rivals, journalists and others. He denies the allegations.
This makes the brothers detested and feared among many Tamils, who make up 15 percent of the population. Some in the Muslim community, who make up 10 percent, are also fearful of Gotabaya, having faced days of mob violence in the wake of the April attacks.
Under Mahinda, Sri Lanka also borrowed heavily from China for infrastructure projects and even allowed two Chinese submarines to dock in Colombo in 2014, alarming Western countries as well as India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Sunday that India looked forward to “deepening the close and fraternal ties... and for peace, prosperity as well as security in our region.”
The projects ballooned Sri Lanka’s debts and many turned into white elephants — such as an airport in the south devoid of airlines — mired in corruption allegations.
Unlike in 2015 when there were bomb attacks and shootings, this election was relatively peaceful by the standards of Sri Lanka’s fiery politics.
The only major incident was on Saturday when gunmen fired at two vehicles in a convoy of at least 100 buses taking Muslim voters to cast ballots. Two people were injured.
According to the Election Commission the contest was, however, the worst ever for hate speech and misinformation.