US defense chief in Afghanistan to assess the way ahead

Defense Secretary Mark Esper believes the US can reduce its force in Afghanistan to 8,600 without hurting the counterterrorism fight against Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group. (AP)
Updated 20 October 2019

US defense chief in Afghanistan to assess the way ahead

  • Mark Esper believes the US can reduce its force in Afghanistan to 8,600 without hurting the counterterrorism fight against Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group
  • The US has about 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan as part of the American-led coalition

KABUL, Afghanistan: US Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived Sunday in Afghanistan, where stalled peace talks with the Taliban and persistent violent attacks by the insurgent group and Daesh militants have complicated the Trump administration’s pledged to withdraw more than 5,000 American troops.
Esper told reporters traveling with him that he believes the US can reduce its force in Afghanistan to 8,600 without hurting the counterterrorism fight against Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group. But he said any withdrawal would happen as part of a peace agreement with the Taliban.
The US has about 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan as part of the American-led coalition. US forces are training and advising Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations against extremists. President Donald Trump had ordered a troop withdrawal in conjunction with the peace talks that would have left about 8,600 American forces in the country.
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had a preliminary peace deal with the Taliban, but a surge in Taliban violence and the death of an American soldier last month prompted Trump to cancel a secret Camp David meeting where the peace deal would have been finalized. He declared the tentative agreement dead.
“The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, that’s the best way forward,” said Esper, who was making his first trip to Afghanistan as defense secretary. He visited Afghanistan in his previous job as US Army secretary.
He would not say how long he believes it may be before a new peace accord could be achieved.
A month after the peace agreement collapsed, Zalmay met with Taliban in early October in Islamabad, Pakistan, but it was not clear what progress, if any, was being made.
Esper’s arrival in Kabul came as Afghan government leaders delayed the planned announcement of preliminary results of last month’s presidential election. Esper said he plans to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Both Ghani and his current partner in the unity government, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, have said they believe they had enough votes to win. The Sept. 28 vote was marred by widespread misconduct and accusations of fraud.
Officials said the announcement of preliminary results has been delayed due to problems with the transparency of the process, delays in transferring ballot papers and delays in transferring data from a biometric system into the main server.
Esper planned to meet with his top commanders in Afghanistan as the US works to determine the way ahead in the 18-year war.
Trump, since his 2016 presidential campaign, has spoken of a need to withdraw US troops from the “endless war” in Afghanistan. He has complained that the US has been serving as policemen in Afghanistan, and says that’s not the American military’s job.


Global civil unrest and violence in quarter of countries in 2019, expected to rise in 2020: Report

Updated 17 January 2020

Global civil unrest and violence in quarter of countries in 2019, expected to rise in 2020: Report

  • Identified Sudan as most troubled and “extreme risk” country in the world
  • According to the report, 2019’s biggest flashpoint locations were Hong Kong and Chile

LONDON: Nearly a quarter of the world’s nations witnessed a rise in unrest and violence in 2019 with the figure expected to rise in 2020, according to a study released earlier this week.

Verisk Maplecroft, a socio-economic and political analysis company, said in its index of global civil unrest that 47 of the world’s 195 countries were affected and that the number could hit 75 in the year ahead.

The UK-based consultancy firm identified Sudan as the most troubled and “extreme risk” country in the world, which had previously been held by Yemen.

According to the report, 2019’s biggest flashpoint locations were Hong Kong and Chile and neither is expected to be “at peace” for at least two years its researchers claim.

“The reasons for the surge in violent unrest are complex and diverse. In Hong Kong, protests erupted in June 2019 over a proposed bill that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, However, the root cause of discontent has been the rollback of civil and political rights since 1997,” the firm said.

“In Chile, protests have been driven by income inequality and high living costs but were triggered by a seemingly trivial 30-peso (USD0.04) increase in the price of metro tickets,” it added.

Other countries now considered hotbeds unrest include Lebanon, Nigeria and Bolivia. Asia and Africa are disproportionately represented with countries such as Ethiopia, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe also coming under the “extreme risk” label.

Since authoritarian leader Omar Al-Bashir was overthrown in April, Sudan was gripped by protests, violence and killings as armed forces battled democracy supporters for control of the new government.

The index predicts that a further 28 countries examined will see a “deterioration in stability,” suggesting that nearly 40% of all countries will witness disruption and unrest at some point in 2020.

Ukraine, Guinea Bissau and Tajikistan are all expected to see the sharpest rises in unrest, but the report highlights growing concern in the world’s biggest and most powerful countries as well.


Countries identified include the hugely influential nations of Russia, China, Turkey, Brazil and Thailand.

Maplecroft says there will be increased pressure on global firms to exercise corporate responsibility, especially those in countries “rich in natural resources where mining and energy projects often need high levels of protection.”

“However, companies are at substantial danger of complicity if they employ state or private security forces that perpetrate violations,” the report added.