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    Afghanistan Tag

    Today the Afghan government announced that it is investigating new reports of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Intelligence sources, as well as the Afghan government, previously reported that Omar had probably died "two or three" years ago, but are working alongside other officials in the region to confirm the new reports. More from the BBC:
    A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Wednesday that the authorities were trying to verify the reports. "As soon as we get any more authentication... we're going to let the media and the people of Afghanistan know about that," Sayed Zafar Hashemi said. The Afghan government, elected last year, has embarked on a peace process with the Taliban.

    We have covered the case of Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who vowed to carry her mattress around campus in protest of her alleged rapist who remained on campus. That alleged rapist was cleared by the University, and now is suing to clear his name. I don't know if Sulkowicz was lying or telling the truth. But the sharp dispute hardly makes the case comparable to what Afghan women have to go through. Beatings. Burkas. Lack of education. Executions.

    And down goes another campaign pledge! Today President Obama held a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to announce that the United States will maintain its 9800 troop count in Afghanistan through the end of the year. The President had previously promised to reduce that troop count to 5500. Watch: Troop levels for 2016 will be decided later this year. We're changing the game again, but we're not quite sure about the details. Sounds about right---but I'm not sure it's unwarranted. In Afghanistan, Ghani is looking at the beginning of what is known as the "spring fighting season," wherein extremists look to Afghanistan for the purposes of recruitment. This may be another broken promise on Obama's part, but this isn't "tweak" in existing plans; the entire drawdown was scrapped, ostensibly because Ghani asked for help. No small deal.

    Yesterday, the International Security Assistance Force was folded away into history as the combat mission in Afghanistan officially came to an end. After more than 13 years, the day-to-day combat operations have now been handed over to Afghan security forces. The new international mission, dubbed "Resolute Support," will provide training and support for Afghanistan's military, and require the continued service of 11,000 American troops; considering the total force caps off at 13,500, the American contribution will not be insignificant. In addition to providing more training, American forces are also authorized to assist in counterterrorism operations, which means that we'll be providing air and ground support to Afghan troops for at least the next two years. President Obama took a break from his vacation to send along a congratulatory statement to the coalition forces in Afghanistan, saying that, "[w]e are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service." But many in Afghanistan worry about what the change in mission will do to the already tenuous control Afghan troops hold over the country's security:
    Afghans have mixed feelings about the drawdown of foreign troops. With the deteriorating security situation, many believe the troops are needed to back up the Afghan effort to bring peace after more than three decades of continual war. "At least in the past 13 years we have seen improvements in our way of life — freedom of speech, democracy, the people generally better off financially," said 42-year-old shop keeper Gul Mohammad. But the soldiers are still needed "at least until our own forces are strong enough, while our economy strengthens, while our leaders try to form a government," he said. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that Afghanistan's 350,000-member security forces are ready to take on the insurgency alone, despite complaints by officials that they lack the necessary assets, such as air support, medical evacuation systems and intelligence. On Sunday, he said that ISAF's mandate was "carried out at great cost but with great success."

    On November 25, 2001, the first American was killed in the Afghan war, during a prisoner uprising in northern Afghanistan. He was a CIA special operations officer.  His name was Johnny "Mike" Spann.  His story is not told often enough. We have written of Mike Spann several times before, each one documenting a different aspect of his life and family he left behind: (Family of Mike Spann at cemetery) Here's a brief description of his story:

    While we were sleeping, President Obama decided U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan. In May, Obama said, "this year, we will bring America's longest war to a responsible end," as he discussed his plan to withdraw troops. Here was his announcement of troop withdrawal given in the Rose Garden in May:

    Now this is interesting. The General Accounting Office has just issued a report concluding that the Department of Defense broke the law in the Bergdahl-Taliban swap (h/t @JakeTapper). It has to do with the requirement of congressional notification prior to transferring a detainee at Gitmo. Bowe Bergdahl was swapped for 5 high level Taliban Gitmo detainees with no notice to Congress. Here's the Summary of the GAO report:
    The Department of Defense (DOD) violated section 8111 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014 when it transferred five individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the nation of Qatar without providing at least 30 days notice to certain congressional committees. Section 8111 prohibits DOD from using appropriated funds to transfer any individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay unless the Secretary of Defense notifies certain congressional committees at least 30 days before the transfer. As a consequence of using its appropriations in a manner specifically prohibited by law, DOD also violated the Antideficiency Act.
    The full report is here, and concludes as follows:
    Our opinion in this matter rests upon the Secretary of Defense’s responsibility to comply with a notification condition on the availability of appropriations to transfer individuals from Guantanamo Bay. This opinion does not address the Secretary’s decision to transfer the five individuals in this case as part of DOD’s efforts to secure the release of an American soldier. However, when DOD failed to notify specified congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of its transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Qatar, DOD used appropriated funds in violation of section 8111. As a consequence of using its appropriations in a manner specifically prohibited by law, DOD violated the Antideficiency Act. See 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a). DOD should report its Antideficiency Act violation as required by law.
    So what? Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch says the penalties are pretty significant:

    NBC News reports:
    U.S. Army Major General Harold Greene was buried today at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, including a caisson, two escort platoons, casket team, firing party, colors team, and a caparisoned horse. The U.S. Army band, "Pershing's Own," played softly as the funeral procession made its way down the long hill past the rows of simple white gravestones to bring General Greene to his final resting place. The graveside service began with a few words, followed by a 13-gun salute. The major general's widow, Dr. Susan Myers, was seated in the front row. To her right was their son 1st Lt. Matthew Greene, his daughter Amelia Greene, followed by Major General Greene's father, also Harold Greene. After three rifle volleys and the playing of "Taps," the American flag, once placed on the major general's casket, was carefully folded as the band played "America the Beautiful." U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno presented the flag to his widow, and additional flags to his children and father. General Greene, 55, became the highest-ranking fatality in the war in Afghanistan after an Afghan military police officer opened fire on Aug. 5th, 2014.

    Reports are coming from Afghanistan today about a brutal shooting of American military personnel at an Afghan-NATO training base in Kabul. From The New York Times:
    A United States Army major general was killed on Tuesday by an Afghan soldier, shot at close range at a military training academy on the outskirts of Kabul, an official of the American-led coalition and Afghan media reported Tuesday. The officer was the highest-ranking member of the American military to die in hostilities in the Afghanistan war. The coalition official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and would not release the name of the major general, said an unspecified number of other service members of the American-led coalition and Afghan soldiers, including a senior Afghan commander were also shot. Their conditions were not known.
    Martha Radditz from ABC News reports the American general killed would be the highest ranking casualty of the entire Afghanistan war. Other media reports say many more Americans were injured in the "insider attack."

    As is typical with our mainstream media these days, the sexy story of the day fades as the next sexy story of the day comes along. Back in the real world, however, the United States and its citizens paid a high price to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban and end the al-Qaeda sanctuary in that country. So one would hope that Americans would want to know that things in Afghanistan have gone from bad to worse since their presidential elections.
    Driven by increased ground combat between insurgents and government forces, civilian casualties in Afghanistan surged 24 percent through the first half of the year, reaching their highest levels since 2009, according to the United Nations. The findings were released just as a Taliban attack unfolded in the densely populated center of Kandahar, the main city in southern Afghanistan. At least nine people were killed in the Kandahar assault and the ensuing gun battle, including four civilians, Afghan officials said, violently illustrating how ground fighting, as opposed to improvised explosive devices, has emerged as the deadliest facet of the war. The United Nations report said that the death toll this year was especially high for women and children.
    The Afghan runoff election results are highly questionable due to allegations of serious fraud committed by the outgoing Hamad Karzai regime and ballot stuffing by the apparent winner, Ashraf Ghani. Ghani's vice presidential candidate is former Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Seen as more moderate than Ghani, Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah claimed victory on Tuesday in Afghanistan's disputed election, blaming fraud for putting him behind in preliminary results as fears rise of instability, ethnic unrest and Taliban military successes:

    The other day we noted how the father of Johnny "Mike" Spann reacted with dismay to the Taliban-Bowe Bergdahl swap. Mike Spann, a CIA officer and former Marine, was the first American killed in the Afghanistan war, during an uprising of prisoners in Northern Afghanistan. We have covered the story many times over the years. It is one of heroism, of small groups of special forces and CIA officers who operated in conjunction with Northern Afghanistan ethnic warlords to rout the Taliban long before there was a sizable U.S. ground presence. One of those warlords was Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who wrote a memorial to Spann and erected a monument (featured image). General Dostum is back in the news as he's running for Vice President of Afghanistan [the runoff election is today], and as ethnic warlords once again are seen as the key to fighting the Taliban as the U.S. winds down. Oh, and General Dostum is on Twitter. The uprising that led to Spann's death included not only so-called American Taliban John Walker Lindh (now in prison in the U.S.), but also one of the 5 Taliban leaders exchanged for Bergdahl. We've previously featured Spann's daughter Alison, and all her great accomplishments. Alison was recently interviewed on Fox News (via Instapundit) and echoed her grandfather's dismay at the swap:

    The polling is pretty consistent that the public is not buying Obama's spin on the trade of 5 senior Taliban Gitmo detainees for alleged deserter Bowe Bergdahl. CBS News reports:
    Just over a week after U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was freed by the Taliban, a CBS News Poll shows 45 percent of Americans disapprove of the deal that saw him released in exchange for five Taliban militants, while 37 percent approve of it. About one in five do not have an opinion. Views differ by political party: most Republicans disapprove of the deal, while just over half of Democrats approve. Among those who have served in the military, 55 percent disapprove of the prisoner swap. Most Americans -- 56 percent -- say the U.S. paid too high a price to secure Bergdahl's release. Among veterans, that figure rises to 65 percent. Republicans and independents say the deal cost the U.S. too much, while Democrats are more divided: 42 percent think the terms of the agreement were reasonable, but almost as many -- 39 percent -- say the U.S. paid too high a price.
    Pew Research further finds:

    The Taliban have released a video of Bowe Bergdahl being released to U.S. Special Forces soldiers who arrived by helicopter. Five high ranking Taliban members were released from Gitmo in exchange. The release of the video is part of the Taliban victory lap: (full propaganda video here) Statements from Bergdahl's fellow soldiers about the circumstances of his departure from his base are very troubling, as are the Obama administration's ridiculous refusal to acknowledge the issues. There are heroes in this video. The Special Forces soldiers who risked their lives landing into what could have been a trap, in order to rescue someone who may turn out to be a deserter who caused the deaths of other Americans searching for him. The image of these Special Forces soldiers reminds me of men like Johnny "Mike" Spann, a CIA officer who was the first American killed in the Afghan war during a prisoner uprising.  We have written of Mike Spann several times before, Remembering Johnny “Mike” Spann:
    The story of this small band of men has been told, but not told enough. Spann was killed during the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi when Taliban prisoners gained access to weapons and attacked.

    Since the news broke over the weekend regarding the recovery of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five detainees held at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, there have been mixed reactions from the public.  Many are obviously very critical of the decision to exchange what are now known to be some pretty bad guys. But there is also much discussion about the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s initial disappearance, much of which has been unconfirmed and unclear over the years. News reports are now surfacing that offer accounts from soldiers who claim to have served with Bergdahl. From CNN:
    The sense of pride expressed by officials of the Obama administration at the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not shared by many of those who served with him, veterans and soldiers who call him a deserter whose "selfish act" ended up costing the lives of better men. "I was pissed off then, and I am even more so now with everything going on," said former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl's platoon when he went missing on June 30, 2009. "Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war, and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him."

    So, we have Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl released in exchange for five of the most notorious Taliban held in Guantanamo, the place Obama keeps saying he wants to empty. This certainly helps to empty it. The five men will now be held by Qatar, which has reassured us they'll be in secure conditions but won't say what those conditions are, except that they can't travel out of the country for a year. Qatar is a Wahabi country, by the way, with a history of assisting Islamic movements worldwide. Obama has been winding down the Afghan War, and one of his stalled goals in connection with that is negotiations with the Taliban. So it may be that the release of these particular prisoners wasn't just a reluctant move in order to free Bergdahl, it may be more accurate to say that Bergdahl's release was negotiated at this point in time in order to free the Taliban Five:
    The official’s comments hinted that the deal is seen as potentially helping the Afghan government, which soon will have a new president, in efforts to end strife with the Taliban -- a point seconded by Jonah Blank, a senior political scientist at the Santa Monica, California-based RAND Corporation. “The Taliban prisoners released weren’t mere bargaining chips: It’s quite possible that, as influential figures, they’ll facilitate a broader negotiated settlement,” in Afghanistan, said Blank, a former staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
    Doesn't sound as though the plan is to keep them locked up in Qatar, does it?