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.


Turkey sends 40,000 refugees back to the provinces from Istanbul

Updated 15 November 2019

Turkey sends 40,000 refugees back to the provinces from Istanbul

  • The Istanbul governor’s office said 42,888 migrants were rounded up by police and sent back to their assigned provinces between July and October
  • Under the system, they must stay in the province to which they were initially assigned, and can only visit other cities with short-term passes

ISTANBUL: Turkey said Friday it had expelled more than 40,000 refugees living in Istanbul and sent them back to the provinces where they were initially registered.
A campaign was run from July through to the end of October, aimed at reducing the number of refugees in Turkey’s biggest city and economic hub.
The country hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees — more than any other country — though technically they are only under “temporary protection” because the government does not offer them formal refugee status.
Under the system, they must stay in the province to which they were initially assigned, and can only visit other cities with short-term passes.
The Istanbul governor’s office said 42,888 migrants were rounded up by police and sent back to their assigned provinces between July and October, without specifying their nationalities.
It said in July that 547,000 Syrians were officially registered in Istanbul, and that no new registrations were being accepted.
Turkey has faced limited social problems despite the refugee influx from the eight-year conflict in its southern neighbor.
But an economic downturn has sharpened tensions, and analysts say the refugee issue likely contributed to the ruling party’s surprise defeat in the Istanbul mayoral election this year.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to defuse the issue with plans to create a “safe zone” in northern Syria to which refugees can return, though rights groups have cast doubt on the feasibility of the plan.