At least eight have been were killed and scores injured in Niger in two consecutive days of angry protests over the Charlie Hebdo affair. The French cultural center was attacked and several churches burned. Protests began outside the grand mosque of capital Niamey Jan. 16, and quickly spread to other parts of the country. Police in Algiers fired on protesters with rubber bullets after rioting broke out at an anti-Charlie march Jan. 17. In Pakistan a local photographer was hit by gunfire and seriously wounded in protests outside the French consulate in Karachi. Angry protests are also reported from Afghanistan. A demonstration in Chora district, Uruzgan province, followed Friday prayers at a local mosque where a cleric asked worshippers to rally in support of the Charlie attackers, who he praised as "true mujahedeen." (EuroNews, AFP, BBC News, News24, Jan. 16)
Well, the supposed NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan was formally announced Dec. 28. A quiet ceremony in Kabul was arranged in secret due to increasing Taliban strikes in the area, including suicide bombings and gun-battles. On Jan. 1 the US-led International Security Assistance Force is to be replaced by a NATO "training and support" mission—with nearly 12,500 foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan, the big majority supplied by the US. Officially, they are not to participate in direct fighting. The Pentagon's "Operation Enduring Freedom" is now to be replaced by "Operation Freedom's Sentinel," in turn part of NATO's new "Operation Resolute Support." (Jurist, DoD) The AP story, as presented on HuffPo, headlines: "US Formally Ends War In Afghanistan" Emphasis on the "formally," eh? Reads the lead: "The war in Afghanistan, fought for 13 bloody years and still raging, came to a formal end Sunday with a quiet flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul that marked the transition of the fighting from US-led combat troops to the country's own security forces." How can a war that is "still raging" come to an "end"? Similar absurd claims marked the US "withdrawal" from Iraq in 2011. Is Iraq at "peace" now? We utterly reject this stupid, arrogant US-centrism that universally infects left, right and center in the United States. The war in Afghanistan is not over, and the US has no power to "end" it!
The Pakistani military said Dec. 6 that it killed Adnan Shukrijumah, a senior al-Qaeda operative, in a raid at Shin Warsak in the Taliban-stronghold tribal agency of South Waziristan. (See map.) One soldier was also killed during the operation. The militants were supposedly under the protection of local Taliban leader Mullah Nazir. (Long War Journal, Dec. 6) Four days earlier, at least five Taliban militants were killed in a US drone strike in Shirzad district of Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. (See map.) (News Tribe, Pakistan, Dec. 2) The Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, have been using Afghan territory as a rearguard but are now under pressure from a renewed effort against them by Kabul and its international backers. According to Reuters, their leaders have had to flee towns along the border for refuge in remote mountain villages. An air-strike on Nov. 24 hit a house where Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah had stayed the night before and killed two commanders, one Taliban source said. The Taliban in this area are also facing opposition from local tribesmen, who have been organized into a paramilitary force. Kunar governor Shuja-ul Mulk Jalala said: "Villagers, backed by a unit of Afghan police and army launched an operation against the Pakistani Taliban. Villagers asked for some support and weapons to fight them. Tribal elders complained that there were no difference between good or bad Taliban and decided to drive them out." (Reuters via Samaa, Pakistan, Dec. 4)
Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rose 7% from 209,000 hectares in 2013 to 224,000 hectares, according to the 2014 Afghanistan Opium Survey (PDF) released Nov. 12 by the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Opium production may increase 17%, with yields estimated to reach 6,400 tons in 2014 compared to the previous year's total of 5,500. These increases come after record highs were marked in 2013, when cultivation rose 36% and production by almost a half over 2012.
The top international commander in Afghanistan, US Army Gen. John Campbell, is assessing whether more coalition troops should remain in the country beyond the Obama administration's current plans for a "complete withdrawal" in 2016. In a phone interview from Kabul with Foreign Policy (Nov. 3), Campbell said he was "beginning now to take a hard look" at what effect delays in concluding a US-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement have had on the preparedness of the Afghan military in the face of a resurgent Taliban. "Do I come back and do I alert my leadership and say we are coming down to this number, we need to hold a little bit longer to take advantage of some of the things that President [Ashraf] Ghani has put in place and we need more NATO forces in certain locations for longer?" Campbell said. "I've got to do that analysis and we're just starting that now."
Afghanistan's electoral dispute was officially resolved Sept. 21, after months of wrangling. Under the deal, Ashraf Ghani becomes president while runner-up Abdullah Abdullah is to nominate a "chief executive officer" (likely himself) with powers similar to those of prime minister. (BBC News) AP reports that the Obama administration hopes to follow this up with a new secuirty deal that will allow some 10,000 US troops to remain in Afghanistan next year after all "combat forces" are supposedly withdrawn at the end of 2014. The outgoing Hamid Karzai had punted on such an arrangement. The deal may be a win for Washington, but not so much for Afghans. Patricia Gossman blogs for Human Rights Watch:
A new law designed to regulate Afghanistan's nascent mining sector could increase corruption, lead to forced displacements and even allow armed groups to take control of the sector, transparency groups have warned. The law, passed by parliament earlier this month, is likely to lead to the signing of several key deals to extract the country’s newfound minerals—estimated to be worth as much as $3 trillion. Yet the transparency organization Global Witness warned that the law "does not include basic safeguards against corruption and conflict." Government officials deny the claim, saying that further protections are to be written in later. Afghanistan's discovery of huge reserves of key minerals in recent years has raised hopes of a bounty of deals that could potentially help the country’s economy grow, and stabilize the country, following the pullout of US troops at the end of 2014. Yet the bids have been delayed by what were perceived as an unfriendly legal framework for business. Sayed Hashemi, legal director at the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, said a previous law signed in 2010 was seen as too tough on companies as it did not allow them to turn exploration licenses into exploitation. "No investor was interested to come into Afghanistan," he told IRIN. Hashemi said the new law is intended to make investing easier.
Ground combat engagements have surpassed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the most common cause of conflict-related civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported (PDF) July 9. The report states that in the first six months of 2014, 1,901 civilian casualties, including 474 deaths, were attributed to ground engagements, accounting for 39% of all civilian deaths and injuries in that period. IEDs, previously the most common cause of civilian injuries, caused 1,463 civilian casualties in the same period. "The fight is increasingly taking place in communities, public places and near the homes of ordinary Afghans," said director of human rights for UNAMA, Georgette Gagnon. "More efforts are needed to protect civilians from the harms of conflict and to ensure accountability for those deliberately and indiscriminately killing them." The report laid out an action plan for "Afghan Government Forces" and "International Military Forces" as well as "Anti-Government Elements" to reduce civilian casualties.