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Archive for Afghanistan

Newsline: US scaling back Afghanistan embassy

The Trump administration is in the midst of carrying out a dramatic scaling back of the US embassy in Afghanistan, with the goal of cutting half of the embassy’s personnel by the end of September, according to five sources familiar with the matter. The diplomatic draw down comes as the US is hopeful that a peace deal will be reached with the Taliban that would pave the way to reduce the number of US troops in the country from approximately 14,000 to between 8,000 and 9,000 in the coming months, according to two sources familiar with the negotiations. (https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/01/politics/us-scaling-back-afghanistan-embassy/index.html) The goal of the troop reduction had been relayed to the Afghan government by Gen. Scott Miller, the head of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and US Special Eepresentative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. As part of the diplomatic scale back, the State Department is sending home diplomats from Kabul without replacements, cutting back on security personnel, closing some facilities and cancelling proposals to build additional structures like new apartments for embassy personnel.

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Newsline: Powerful explosion rocks Afghan capital, near US Embassy

A powerful explosion has rocked the Afghan capital, rattling windows and sending smoke billowing from Kabul’s downtown area near the U.S. Embassy. Afghan security forces were engaged in a firefight with gunmen who worked their way into a building in Kabul, Reuters reported. As many as 65 people were injured in the blast, including 9 children, the report said. (https://www.foxnews.com/world/powerful-explosion-rocks-afghan-capital-near-us-embassy) The explosion early July 1 occurred as the streets in the capital were packed with morning commuters. Officials and police were at the scene of the blast and few details were available, including casualties. Kabul’s chief police spokesman, Firdous Faramaz, could only confirm the explosion, but was unclear on the target or the type of explosive device. Both the Taliban and the Islamic State operate in Kabul. The attack comes as the Taliban and the United States hold talks in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar, where the militant group maintains a political office.

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.