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Archive for Afghanistan

Newsline: U.S. accelerates plan to drastically downsize Kabul embassy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is accelerating a plan to cut up to half of the workforce at the U.S. embassy in Kabul starting at the end of next month, sparking concern it will undermine the fragile Afghan peace process, U.S. officials and congressional aides said. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-afghanistan-embassy-exclusive/exclusive-us-accelerates-plan-to-drastically-downsize-kabul-embassy-idUSKCN1S12C4) Pompeo’s order for the largest U.S. diplomatic mission comes about a year earlier than expected, a surprise development given the meager progress in U.S. talks with Taliban militants on an agreement that would pave the way for a U.S. troop withdrawal and an end to America’s longest war. The Taliban, their negotiating leverage bolstered by U.S. President Donald Trump’s public impatience to end the war, could dig in further because they would regard a large embassy drawdown as more confirmation of his eagerness to reduce the U.S. role in Afghanistan. The Kabul embassy is a testament to the size of America’s investment in Afghanistan since it went to war there in 2001 after the September 11 attacks. With a workforce of about 1,500, the heavily fortified compound underwent an $800 million expansion four years ago and now includes 700 beds for staff. News that Washington was examining a workforce cut in Kabul first was reported by National Public Radio in February. Foreign Policy magazine reported earlier this month that the State Department was preparing to reduce personnel by half in 2020. Now, the reduction “is starting as soon as May 31 and they want to have it done by September,” said one congressional aide.


Newsline: US Eyes Plans to Cut Diplomatic Staff in Afghanistan, Iraq

President Donald Trump’s administration is considering reducing its diplomatic footprint in Afghanistan as part of a broader effort to extricate the United States from its costly and deadly 18-year conflict, U.S. officials tell Foreign Policy. The State Department is preparing to cut by half the number of U.S. diplomats posted in Kabul in 2020, according to three U.S. officials familiar with internal deliberations. It may also advance plans to reduce the number of diplomats posted to the U.S. Embassy in Iraq as Washington winds down its war footing in the Middle East and South Asia to prepare for what it calls an era of “great-power competition” with China and Russia. (https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/04/05/u-s-eyes-plans-to-cut-diplomatic-staff-in-afghanistan-iraq-middle-east-south-asia-trump-troop-draw-down-wars-diplomacy/) The deliberations coincide with U.S. peace talks with the Taliban and assessments on how to withdraw U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. Once obscure diplomatic outposts, the U.S. embassies in Kabul and Baghdad ballooned into the largest and costliest diplomatic missions in the world following U.S. military interventions there. Diplomats comprise only a portion of embassy personnel in both Kabul and Baghdad, which includes officials from other federal agencies, contractors, and security staff. In February, NPR reported on a leaked internal document from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that called the outpost too big and urged a “comprehensive review” of its size, though the document did not outline the scale of the proposed cuts. The State Department’s presence in Afghanistan pales in comparison to the U.S. military’s, but the embassy in Kabul, along with the embassy in Baghdad, makes up a disproportionate size of State’s budget and personnel compared with embassies in other parts of the world. Some diplomats believe it’s time to shift those resources elsewhere.

Newsline: Top Pakistani official called ambassador “little pygmy”

A top Pakistani official just called the US ambassador to Afghanistan a “little pygmy” on Twitter. Her angry words, in this case, are more than just an insult: They have the potential to upend the Trump administration’s delicate, years-long efforts to reach a peace deal in Afghanistan that would it allow it to withdraw troops after nearly 20 years of war. Here’s what happened: John Bass, America’s top diplomat in Afghanistan, tweeted directly at Pakistan’s new prime minister and former cricket star, Imran Khan, over a controversial statement he made about Afghanistan’s government. “Some aspects of #cricket apply well in diplomacy, some do not,” he wrote, adding that it’s “important to resist temptation to ball-tamper with the #Afghanistan peace process and its internal affairs.” (https://www.vox.com/world/2019/3/27/18284293/pakistan-bass-imran-khan-mazari-afghanistan-diplomat) Khan has yet to respond to Bass’s tweet, but Shireen Mazari, Pakistan’s human rights minister, had some choice words for the US envoy, called him a “little pygmy”. If you’re thinking “surely she will retract that” — no such luck. In response to criticism on Twitter, she sent out another zinger: “But seriously what diplomatic norms? US dips have been violating them all day today from Zalmay to this moron!”

Newsline: Afghan Ambassador to Return to Pakistan

Afghanistan will return its ambassador to Islamabad after Pakistan clarified Prime Minister Imran Khan’s remarks that Kabul had deemed to be political interference, the Afghan foreign ministry said on Mar. 28. (https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2019-03-28/afghan-ambassador-to-return-to-pakistan-after-pm-khans-remarks-clarified) Khan told Pakistani journalists on Mar. 25 that forming an interim Afghan government would smooth peace talks between U.S. and Taliban officials, according to published comments. The Afghan government recalled ambassador Atif Mashal from Islamabad the next day and demanded an explanation for remarks that it called “irresponsible.” The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, John Bass, also rebuked Pakistan. In a tweet on Wednesday addressed to Khan, Bass told the reknowned former cricketer not to “ball-tamper” with Afghan affairs. But after clarifications from Khan and Pakistan’s foreign ministry, Mashal will return to Islamabad, Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Sibghatullah Ahmadi said in a tweet. The Pakistani foreign ministry said on Mar. 26 Khan’s comments, reported by Pakistani media outlets and picked up in Afghanistan, had been taken out of context.

Newsline: Afghanistan Recalls Ambassador in Row Over Pakistan PM Remarks

Afghanistan has recalled its ambassador from Pakistan over reported remarks by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan that suggested Kabul should set up an interim government, calling the comments “irresponsible.” Khan told Pakistani journalists on Mar. 25 that forming an interim Afghan government would smooth peace talks between U.S. and Taliban officials since the militant group refuses to speak to the current government, according to comments published in The Express Tribune. “The Afghan government was a hurdle in (the) peace process that was insisting that Taliban should talk to it,” Khan is quoted as saying. He also said he had canceled a scheduled meeting with Taliban leaders because of objections by the Afghan government. Afghanistan summoned Pakistan’s deputy ambassador to discuss the “irresponsible” remarks by Khan, said foreign affairs ministry spokesman Sibghatullah Ahmadi in a series of tweets on Mar. 26. (https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2019-03-26/afghanistan-recalls-ambassador-in-row-over-pakistan-pm-remarks) The Afghan government deemed Khan’s statements as “an obvious example of Pakistan’s interventional policy and disrespect to the national sovereignty and determination of the people of Afghanistan,” Ahmadi said. The row marks the third time in just over a month that Kabul has demanded an explanation from Pakistan over comments related to peace talks, illustrating the flaring tensions between the two neighbors at a sensitive time.

Newsline: U.S. Looking To Reduce Kabul Embassy Staff

President Trump has said he wants to move away from “endless wars,” and suggested cutting half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Now the State Department is looking at cuts of its own in Afghanistan. NPR has obtained talking points written by staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. It says the embassy is too big and calls for a “comprehensive review” to determine that it’s “right-sized for the long-term.” “Our presence in Kabul has grown over the years to the current extraordinary footprint. This Mission is now the largest in the world by far, and bigger than we should be (twice the size of other large embassies and 35 percent larger than Baghdad).” The Kabul embassy did not respond to a request for comment. A State Department official would only say “we do not comment on internal communications.” One official told NPR the cuts are being pushed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (https://wamu.org/story/19/02/14/u-s-looking-to-reduce-kabul-embassy-staff-as-afghanistan-mission-changes/). Officials rarely discuss the size of any embassy, and there’s no sense in the document what the right size is for the one in Kabul. Staffing in Kabul is clearly in the thousands, including contractors and local staff. It sits on a sprawling campus of offices and housing in the center of the city, across from the U.S. military headquarters. An expansion of the embassy four years ago cost some $800 million. It included 1,200 desks and nearly 700 beds.

Newsline: Attack on Chinese consulate in Karachi allegedly planned in Afghanistan

Police in Pakistan alleged that a deadly attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi last year was planned in Afghanistan with the support of India’s spy agency – a claim India has denied. Karachi police chief Amir Shaikh also highlighted the grave security risks Beijing is facing over its ambitious investment scheme in the region. Five suspects – all from Pakistani separatist group the Balochistan Liberation Army – have been arrested in Karachi, Hub and Quetta over the attack, Shaikh told media on Friday, according to The Express Tribune. During the attack on November 23, three militants attempted to enter the Chinese consulate in Karachi but were shot dead by police at the checkpoint. Two police officers and two civilians were also killed during the exchange of fire. The BLA claimed responsibility for the attack.