US Needs to Win in Afghanistan

Kabul- A bipartisan US Senate delegation has called for more American troops and more-aggressive American military action in Afghanistan, as well as pressure on neighboring Pakistan, saying the United States needs “a winning strategy” to end the 16-year war and prevent the spread of terrorism.

“We are united in our concern that the present situation in Afghanistan is not on a course for success. We need to change that quickly,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a news conference at NATO and US military headquarters in the Afghan capital at the end of a three-day visit to the region. 

“America is the strongest nation on Earth,” but “we are not winning, and obviously we need a new strategy to win,” McCain said. “We are frustrated that this strategy has not been articulated yet.”

The Trump administration has been working for several months on a new policy for the region, where US and Afghan forces have been fighting insurgents for the past 16 years. But the plans have been delayed by internal debates, while Afghanistan and Pakistan have faced a renewed rash of suicide bombings and insurgent attacks. 

McCain and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who visited Pakistan and Afghanistan this week with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and two other senators, said they plan to take back a message to President Trump that he needs to adopt a bold military plan for the region but also complement it with a strong and informed diplomatic policy. 

“If we leave radical Islam alone, we will not be safe at home,” Graham said. He said he plans to tell the president that “he needs to pull all our troops out” or add even more than the 3,000 to 4,000 troops US military officials have asked for, to turn the current military “stalemate into a success.”

But Graham also said that “throwing more bombs” is not enough and that the Trump administration needs to put more effort into understanding and influencing regional leaders. “Rex Tillerson needs to come here quick,” Graham said, referring to the secretary of state, who has not yet visited the region.

Many Afghan and US experts have said that Washington needs to provide more political support to the faltering Afghan government and to the stalled peace process, rather than relying on a mainly military policy. 

McCain said the group has been only partly satisfied with its visit to Pakistan, which included a military tour of North Waziristan, the tribal region along the Afghan border where the army drove out Islamist militant groups in 2014 and 2015. Members of the US group said they questioned Pakistani army officials about continued alleged support for the militant Haqqani network. 

“We told them the Haqqanis have a safe zone there, and that is not acceptable,” McCain said. “They said they had taken some measures, but we made it clear we expect them to help and cooperate against the Haqqani group and others.”

Pakistan has repeatedly denied harboring the Haqqanis or other extremist militias, but Afghan and US officials believe those groups are responsible for a number of deadly attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan and the United States have a long history of security ties, but Pakistan supported Taliban rulers there until it faced US pressure to abandon them. 

Despite the urgent tone of the senators’ remarks, McCain predicted that the conflict in Afghanistan would continue “on a low-burning simmer for a long time to come.” But he reiterated that only an aggressive US effort to bolster Afghan military actions would force the Taliban to negotiate. “That won’t happen unless they feel they are losing,” he said.

Taliban insurgents have maintained a steady pace of attacks on major urban centers, including Kabul, and they now control or influence more than 40 percent of the nation’s territory. The strategy advocated by US military officials here, who were the senators’ hosts, would add several thousand US.troops, along with a similar number from NATO countries. The US military officials would focus on building a large Afghan special-operations force and beefing up the Afghan air force. 

Graham said he was impressed with a newly named group of Afghan military officials, saying they had “cleaned house” and moved to make needed reforms. The Afghan defense forces have been criticized for widespread corruption, poor leadership and high rates of desertion. 

The Washington Post

In Kabul, a Sidewalk Cobbler Repairs More than Shoes


KABUL — Just after 7 a.m., Ramzan Haidary opens the old wooden shutters to his tiny workshop and unrolls a patched awning over the sidewalk. Then he sets out a rack of polished boots, assorted shoelaces and a pair of yellow ladies’ sneakers, unpacks his satchel of hammers and awls and pliers, and climbs onto his cushion to await the day.

It is still early. The sidewalk is wet because the fruit vendor next door has just sprayed the mangoes and apricots he bought from the wholesale market at 5. Across the street, a teenage boy is sharpening a knife next to a wire basket full of unsuspecting chickens. Around the corner, a canary starts to chirp as an old man hangs its cage next to a display of used shirts and trousers.

A half-dozen blocks away is the glitter and glare of Shahr-i-Naw, the Afghan capital’s ­fast-developing commercial district: new glass-walled mini-malls, garish wedding palaces, iPhone and laptop stores with gunmen outside, and displays of brand-name sports shoes, many imported from China.

But this older urban crossroads, anchored by a police post and a family-owned pharmacy, is smaller in scale, slower in pace and steeped in personal relationships.

Haidary’s business is little more than a cubbyhole next to a shade tree, but he has occupied it for 18 years, and everyone knows him. Every day he puts out a couple of wooden crates covered with bits of carpet, and there are always one or two people sitting on them, chatting and watching him work.
A white-haired man of 65 with an elfin face, Haidary rides his bicycle to work and back. On a good day, he takes in about $7.

“If you don’t have experience like me, you can drive a nail into your finger,” he says, grimacing as he presses a thick needle through several layers of leather.

Many of his customers are old acquaintances of modest means who are hoping to get a few more months’ wear out of their shoes. Times are hard, with a long-running insurgent conflict driving away investment. Despite the urban building boom, many people are out of work.

A grizzled porter named Muhammad Gul parks his wheelbarrow on the sidewalk. The two men greet each other familiarly and begin bargaining. Gul’s shoes are falling apart and need new soles. Haidary inspects them and asks for 60 cents. Gul says he can afford only 30 cents.

“I haven’t found any work this week, but I have guests coming, so I have to look decent,” he says. They settle at 40 cents.

In some ways, the community seems frozen in time, unaffected by the war raging in the countryside. People take pleasure in traditional niceties, content to do a little business and pour a little more tea. Yet decades of conflict and upheaval have left their mark here, too, although the scars are subtle.

Gul’s left hand is paralyzed from a shrapnel injury he suffered when he was a soldier 30 years ago, fighting for the Russian-backed government against an array of Afghan militias.

“I use my right hand to push my cart, but I can only use the other one to balance it,” he says.

Qadam Shah, who opened his next-door dry-goods shop “during the time of King Zahir Shah” in the 1970s, says he has finally stopped letting customers buy sugar and rice on credit, and he complains that the world of wholesale import has become nasty and devious.

“There is no trust anymore,” said Shah, 58, who stocks cooking oil from Kazakhstan and paper towels from Turkey. “Kabulis used to be educated and honest, but so many of them left. There was too much war and insecurity. Now everything is fake, and everyone tries to cheat you and disappear.”

The allure of new possessions can be costly in other ways, Shah says. Recently he heard the news about a neighborhood boy of 13 who had his heart set on a pair of sports shoes in a shop. His father told him the family could not ­afford them. That night, the boy killed himself.

The Hussaini pharmacy on the corner is even older than Shah’s shop, and the family has suffered through several generations of violent loss. The founder, Mir ­Fazel Hussaini, was imprisoned by the communist regime in the 1980s and never seen again. A decade later, during the civil war, a bomb destroyed the pharmacy and killed two of his sons. A third, Mirwais, rebuilt the business.

“We stayed to keep my father’s name alive,” said Mirwais Hussaini, 34, whose cramped premises are full of potted plants and family portraits. “Things are better now, but these days a suicide bomb could explode unexpectedly on any corner. People are afraid all the time.”

The twists of history also run through this nondescript pocket of the city. The police booth and fruit stand are decorated with posters of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the legendary anti-Soviet militia leader who was assassinated in 2001. A block away is the fortified compound of Abdurrashid Dostum, an Afghan vice president and former militia leader who is under investigation in connection with the brutal assault of an elderly politician.

It was Dostum’s rockets that destroyed the Hussaini pharmacy in 1993, when his forces were fighting Massoud and other militia leaders to control the capital. These days, the men guarding Dostum’s house often come to Haidary to have their boots ­polished, and when he leaves to pray at the local mosque, one of them usually strolls over and sits outside, keeping an eye on his tools.

Haidary doesn’t talk much as he hunches over in concentration, hammering and stitching and polishing, but he seems to relish the company and the conversation. After 20 minutes, he hands over Gul’s newly stitched shoes with a grin, and his customer smiles in satisfaction.

“Nice and neat. Just what I wanted,” Gul says, offering a gnarled hand in thanks.

Washington Post

Terrorist Attacks in Kabul…Violence, Endless War


KABUL — Behroz Haidary was a skilled surgeon, army captain, environmental activist and father of three. On Wednesday, he was making rounds at Kabul’s main military hospital when he was shot dead by gunmen who had infiltrated the facility, disguised as medics. It was his 37th birthday. The attack, claimed by ISIS, left at least 49 people dead and 70 wounded.

Abdul Qadir, 23, was a laborer from a poor neighborhood, with a part-time job as a government vaccinator. On March 1, he was giving polio drops to a girl outdoors when a suicide bomber rammed a nearby police station. The blast hurled Qadir into a ditch, and his charred body was found hours later. He was one of 23 people who died that day in twin attacks claimed by the Taliban.

Haidary and Qadir were among the most recent victims of the urban terror war in Afghanistan, a series of bombings and gun attacks that officials fear will intensify this year, with insurgents gaining territory and civilian deaths reaching a record 3,500 nationwide in 2016. In Kabul alone, such attacks have killed thousands in the past decade — and nearly 100 this month.

But most of the 16-year war has been fought in far-flung rural provinces, and most civilian victims as well as security forces die there. Often there are few witnesses and no detailed news coverage, so the deaths remain a remote abstraction.

When a convoy carrying supplies to snowbound villages was ambushed last month in Jowzjan province, leaving six aid workers dead, their names and faces remained unknown to the public. The same was true when a policeman fatally shot 11 of his sleeping fellow officers at a desert checkpoint in Helmand province two weeks ago.

But when terrorist violence invades the capital, the impact is more immediate; destruction and death zoom into public view. Television crews quickly reach bombing and shootout scenes. People post constant queries and reactions on social media — a mix of worry, relief, anger about the endless war and frustration about the government’s inability to protect the public.

“We are supposed to thank the president for going to visit people in the hospital and condemning a savage act,” one resident wrote Thursday on Facebook. “But saying sorry and condemning are not enough. Why can’t they do more to prevent it?”

On Thursday, the Ministry of Defense said the military hospital had been sealed shut while investigators try to discover how the attackers entered the hospital after blowing up the main gate. On Wednesday, security officials said they had driven an ambulance into the compound.

Officials also said they were trying to confirm whether ISIS was behind the attack, as its news outlet claimed. The Taliban issued a statement saying it had not been involved, but the group sometimes denies attacks that kill many civilians.

A posting on Facebook showed five masked men posing with assault rifles in front of a sign in Arabic naming them as “our sacrificers” in the “killing and maiming of mercenaries” at the military hospital. There was no way to tell where and when the photo was taken.

When the victims of such fatal attacks are well-known figures, their losses can resonate across social media and Afghan society. On Thursday, the news of Haidary’s death sparked an outpouring of condolences on social media, and photos of him with his children and colleagues circulated online.

He was buried at the hillside Deh Kapaik cemetery, below a monument to Marshal Mohammad Fahim, the late anti-Soviet militia leader and defense minister, with whom his family had military and ethnic ties. A portrait of Haidary in his army uniform rested among the flowers on his grave. Mourners in military garb raised occasional shouts of “Allah is great.”

In contrast, the death of Qadir one week earlier was virtually unnoticed in public and mourned quietly by relatives and neighbors.

Washington Post