TIME Afghanistan

Suicide Bomber Kills Afghan President’s Cousin

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — A powerful cousin of outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai was assassinated by a suicide bomber hiding explosives in his cap on Tuesday, a provincial official said. It was the latest attack targeting Afghan power brokers and government officials as insurgents and political factions struggle for power ahead of the withdrawal of foreign combat forces by the end of this year.

Hashmat Khalil Karzai was a staunch supporter of the president and had played an active role in the campaign to choose his cousin’s successor.

The attacker blew himself up while bowing to kiss Karzai’s hand following morning prayers for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr in a reception room at the Karzai family home in the southern province of Kandahar, a provincial government spokesman said.

It was similar to the September 2011 killing of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who at the time was the leader of a government-appointed peace council seeking reconciliation with militants.

President Karzai condemned the attack. “Just like all other Afghans who are the daily targets of terrorist attacks, our family too is no exception and as every other Afghan, we too will have to bear it,” he said in a statement.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack, which comes at a sensitive time in Afghanistan as an audit is taking place under international supervision of all 8 million ballots cast last month in the second round of the country’s presidential election. The process is key to insuring a peaceful transfer of power as the international community winds down its combat mission and foreign aid dwindles.

Hashmat Karzai was campaign manager for former Finance Minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who is competing against Abdullah Abdullah.

The president, who was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, has appealed for a speedy conclusion to the audit, saying that Afghanistan urgently needs a new leader.

Dawa Khan Minapal, the provincial government spokesman, initially said the explosives were hidden in a turban but later said they were under a cap worn by the bomber. He said one person also was wounded and authorities were investigating how the bomber got the explosives through the security checks at the Karzai home in the district of Karz.

It was not the first time that Karzai’s family members have been targeted. The president’s powerful half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, who was the head of the provincial council, was slain in his home in the city of Kandahar by his bodyguard in July 2011.

British Ambassador Richard Stagg also expressed condolences to the Karzai family.

Hashmat’s “killers must not be allowed to prevent the desire of ordinary Afghans to see a peaceful political transition based on the votes they cast,” Stagg said in a statement.

TIME Military

Afghanistan: Awash in Guns, as Well as Narcotics

U.S.-supplied weapons like these M-16s in Kandahar, Afghanistan, often lack proper accounting by both U.S. and Afghan authorities, according to a new investigation SIGAR

Contrary to law, U.S. military lacks data on nearly half the weapons delivered

The bad news out of Afghanistan this week is that the U.S. military’s accounting for the arsenals the Pentagon is giving to Afghan security forces is plagued by “incompatible inventory systems” that generate “missing serial numbers, inaccurate shipping and receiving dates, and duplicate records,” according to a new report from the top U.S. government investigator inside Afghanistan.

The worse news? The problems become “far more severe” once the weapons are in the hands of the Afghan forces. “Given the Afghan government’s limited ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, there is a real potential for these weapons to fall into the hands of insurgents, which will pose additional risks to U.S. personnel, the Afghan National Security Forces, and Afghan civilians,” according to John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

Sopko and the U.N. have made clear in recent years that the production of opium in Afghanistan is growing with every passing year. Sopko’s latest report, released Monday, makes clear that Afghanistan is also awash in undocumented American-supplied arms.

As the U.S. pulls its combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, proper accounting and tracking of the arms become critical for Afghan forces to battle the Taliban — and to keep those weapons out of enemy hands. “Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops,” the New York Times reported Sunday.

“We’re not talking just handguns and M-16s and AK-47s,” Sopko told TIME correspondents over lunch on Friday. “We’re talking some high-powered stuff — grenade launchers, RPGs, machine guns — anything that one person could use.” His new report says the U.S. recorded improperly, or simply failed to record, the serial numbers of 43% of the nearly half-million small arms the U.S. has supplied Afghanistan over the past decade.

Sloppy U.S. record keeping is compounded by Afghanistan’s indifference to the congressionally mandated U.S. oversight of the weapons’ whereabouts. “When we went there and said, ‘We want to see how the Afghans handle this,’ the Afghans refused to let us in to check the weapons” at one facility in Kabul, Sopko said. U.S. military officials told Sopko’s auditors they’d get them in. “We showed up and guess what — everybody was attending a funeral,” Sopko said. “We could not get in. When our guys tried to take pictures, all of a sudden, whoa, the Afghans kicked us out — and our U.S. military couldn’t get us in.”

The problem of untracked weapons, according to excerpts from the 28-page report, is likely to get worse:

As of November 2013, more than 112,000 weapons provided to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police exceed requirements in the current [Afghan government requirement] …

excess weapons

The Afghan National Army has 83,184 more AK-47s than needed because, prior to 2010, DOD issued both NATO-standard weapons, such as M-16s, and non-standard weapons, such as AK-47s. After 2010, DOD and the Afghan Ministry of Defense determined that interoperability and logistics would be enhanced if the Afghan National Army used only NATO standard weapons. Subsequently, the requirement was changed. However, no provision was made to return or destroy non-standard weapons, such as AK-47s, that were no longer needed …

This problem of the Afghan National Security Forces having more weapons than needed is likely to be exacerbated as the number of ANSF personnel decreases to lower levels in the coming years. Specifically, the current requirements in the [Afghan government requirement] are based on supporting the ANSF at a surge strength of 352,000 personnel. At the Chicago Summit held in May 2012, the international community and Afghan government approved a preliminary model for a reduction of the ANSF force strength by 123,500 personnel to a total of 228,500 by 2017. [U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan] told us they are still planning on providing weapons at the 352,000 personnel level because that is the number stated in the current [Afghan government requirement].

Part of the accountability problem, the report notes, stems from imposing rules that require schooling in a country without much of it. “Efforts to develop the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces personnel to manage the central depots,” it says, “have been hindered by the lack of basic education or skills among ANSF personnel.”

TIME Military

Quadruple Threat: Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine, All Rolled Into One

Branched out: From Marine, Soldier, Sailor to U.S. Air Force Airman
Now-Air Force Staff Sgt. Jesus Yanez has also served in the Army, Navy and Marines since 1993. Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez / Department of Defense

Staff sergeant has served in all four branches of the U.S. military

Despite the Pentagon’s nonstop jawboning about joint operations—where the military’s four sister services cooperate to prevail on the battlefield—those with time in uniform will tell you that each service is like a foreign land to the other three.

That makes Staff Sergeant Jesus Yanez, currently manning checkpoints at the biggest U.S. base in Afghanistan, a genuine world traveler.

Since 1993, he has served in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

His skills pay dividends when he’s spending his day off getting pizza or walking around with military colleagues at Bagram air base, just outside Kabul. After his buddies spy an American sailor wearing foreign-looking insignia they don’t understand, the questions begin:

“They ask me, `What rank is that?’ And I’ll say `He’s a petty officer,’ and they ask: `What’s a petty officer?’” referring to the Navy’s non-commissioned officers. “They’ll ask me, `Do you salute warrant officers?’”—those in the Army between enlisted and officers—“and I’m like, `Yes, Army warrant officers get a salute.’”

But military life’s not all about rank. “The food in the Air Force is much better than in the Army, Navy or Marine Corps,” says Yanez, who is in the middle of a five-month tour in Afghanistan with the Air Force—and enjoying every bite. Marine chow, not so much: “You could throw a biscuit into the wall and make a hole through it.” But the Marines, he concedes, score high elsewhere: “Their uniforms are probably the best in the military.”

Yet he says he has learned from each of the services. “In the military, you’re like a family,” Yanez says. “It doesn’t matter what branch you’re in, if something happens to you, everybody’s going to be there for you. And the military gave me an education—I have an associate’s, bachelor’s and a master’s.”

Yanez as a Marine 20 years ago. USMC

Yanez, 39, hails from El Paso, Texas. He served as an active-duty Marine from 1993-97. “They always say the Marine Corps’ boot camp is the hardest one to go through,” he remembers thinking. “In my mind, when I was in high school, I’d think if I could be a Marine, I could do anything.”

He left the corps and spent a couple of years in the civilian world. “After awhile, I missed the military, just in general,” Yanez recalls. The single father of two wanted to stay in El Paso. He was looking for a reserve slot, and checked out, but rejected, the El Paso Marine Reserve unit. “I didn’t want to do artillery,” he says of their specialty.

So he ended up in a nearby Navy Reserve unit. “The Navy Reserve had a master of arms program, which is almost like an MP [military police], and that when I enlisted,” he says. “I wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement.” But Yanez says he found the Navy too informal—“I wasn’t used to the first-name basis at the reserve unit”—especially following his Marine service.

He traded the Navy for the Army in late 2001. “After September 11, I just felt that I needed to go back and do my part for my country,” he says. But he spent time stateside after his new reserve unit already had deployed to Iraq, which Yanez found disappointing. “The opportunity for me to deploy with the Army wasn’t there,” he says. In his reserve service, Yanez generally has drilled one weekend a month, with a two-week block of training annually.

But while working as a civilian Army police officer at El Paso’s Fort Bliss, he heard from Air Force reservists there that they routinely deployed overseas. So in 2006, he joined the Air Force as a member of the Texas Air National Guard’s 204th Security Forces Squadron, and spent part of 2010 in Iraq.

“It sort of just happened, being in all four branches,” Yanez, with the 455th Expeditionary Base Defense Squadron at Bagram, recently told an Air Force public-affairs officer. “I didn’t even think about it until one of my friends mentioned it.” Pentagon officials said Thursday that Yanez’s quad-service heritage is “highly unusual,” but don’t have data detailing just how rare it is.

Yanez doesn’t boast of his unusual military background. “I don’t have any stickers on my vehicle—I don’t even have any tattoos,” he says. But something betrays his past, at least to keen observers. “People always ask me, even though I’m in an Air Force uniform, if I was a Marine,” he says. “Because I still have a high and tight flattop” haircut. “Saves me a lot of money.”

One more thing. Yanez doesn’t want those in the Coast Guard thinking he’s slighting them. Coasties always feel dissed when people talk about the nation’s four military services, because Coast Guard personnel insist they’re the fifth. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, but can be commanded by the Department of Defense in times of war. “Maybe I’ll get a job with the Coast Guard,” he says, “when I retire.”

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: July 22

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Ukraine rebels turn over bodies from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17; Kerry seeks Gaza cease-fire; Detroit suspends water shutoffs; One of the largest private gifts ever for scientific research; Georgia GOP primary; 10 years since the 9/11 Commission report

  • “After days of resistance, pro-Russian rebels on Monday yielded some ground in the crisis surrounding downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17—handing over passengers’ bodies, relinquishing the plane’s black boxes and pledging broader access for investigators to the crash site.” [WashPost]
    • Why Putin Is Willing to Take Big Risks in Ukraine [WSJ]
    • “The crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 exposes the truth about RT, the Russian English-language propaganda outlet.” [TIME]
  • Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and U.N. diplomats pursued talks on halting fighting that has claimed more than 500 lives. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in neighboring Egypt, while U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Israel later in the day.” [Reuters]
  • “Whether the Afghan forces can sustain themselves in the critical districts the Green Berets will be ceding to them is an urgent question all over the country. The answer will help define America’s legacy in Afghanistan, much as it has in Iraq, where the Iraqi forces have fallen apart in combat.” [NYT]
  • “Congress and the President have finally found some common ground: Obama will sign the first significant legislative job training reform effort in nearly a decade on Tuesday.” [TIME]
  • Breakthrough on VA Reform Bill? [Hill]
  • “President Barack Obama on Monday signed an executive order aimed at protecting workers at federal contractors and in the federal government from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” [Politico]
  • “The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is suspending its water shutoffs for 15 days starting today to give residents another chance to prove they are unable to pay their bills.” [Detroit Free Press]
  • “…the Broad Institute, a biomedical research center, announced a $650 million donation for psychiatric research from the Stanley Family Foundation—one of the largest private gifts ever for scientific research. It comes at a time when basic research into mental illness is sputtering, and many drug makers have all but abandoned the search for new treatments.” [NYT]
  • Jack Kingston’s Insider Advantage [NJ]
  • “The evidence for a left-wing challenge to Clinton that could defeat her is thin to nonexistent.” [Slate]
  • “Ten years ago today, we released The 9/11 Commission Report to the government and the American public…” [USA Today]
TIME foreign affairs

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: Tragedy Fuels the U.S. Intervention Machine

John McCain
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., criticizes the Obama administration during a Jackson, Miss., runoff rally in support of Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran at the Mississippi War Memorial in Jackson, Miss., June 23, 2014. Rogelio V. Solis—AP

Whatever happened in Ukrainian airspace doesn’t immediately or obviously involve the United States.

Apart from the probable cause of its destruction, we know almost nothing about the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 that was “blown out of the sky” yesterday over eastern Ukraine, according to Vice President Joe Biden. President Obama confirmed today that one American was among the dead and that separatists with ties to Russia are allowing inspectors to search the wreckage area. In today’s press conference, Obama stressed the need to get real facts — as opposed to misinformed speculation — before deciding on next steps.

Yet even with little in the way of concrete knowledge — much less clear, direct ties to American lives and interests — what might be called the Great U.S. Intervention Machine is already kicking into high gear. This is unfortunate, to say the least.

After a decade-plus of disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people (including almost 7,000 American soldiers) and constitutionally dubious and strategically vague interventions in places such as Libya, it is well past time for American politicians, policymakers, and voters to stage a national conversation about U.S. foreign policy. Instead, elected officials and their advisers are always looking for the next crisis over which to puff up their chests and beat war drums.

Which is one of the reasons why Gallup and others report record low numbers of people think the government is up to handling global challenges. Last fall, just 49 percent of Americans had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust and confidence in Washington’s ability to handle international problems. That’s down from a high of 83 percent in 2002, before the Iraq invasion.

In today’s comments, President Obama said that he currently doesn’t “see a U.S. military role beyond what we’ve already been doing in working with our NATO partners and some of the Baltic states.” Such caution is not only wise, it’s uncharacteristic for a commander-in-chief who tripled troop strength in Afghanistan (to absolutely no positive effect), added U.S. planes to NATO’s action on Libya without consulting Congress, and was just last year agitating to bomb Syria.

Despite his immediate comments, there’s no question that the downing of the Malaysian plane “will intensify pressure on President Obama to send military help,” observes Jim Warren in The Daily News. Russia expert Damon Wilson, who worked for both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, says that no matter what else we learn, it’s time to beef up “sanctions that bite, along with military assistance, including lethal military assistance to Ukraine.” “Whoever did it should pay full price,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the head of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, says. “If it’s by a country, whether directly or indirectly, it could be considered an act of war.”

The immediate response of Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2012 Republican presidential, was to appear on Fox News’ Hannity and fulminate that America appears “weak” under the leadership of President Obama and to imply that’s why this sort of thing happens. If the Russian government run by Vladimir Putin or Russian separatists in Ukraine are in any way behind the crash — even “indirectly” — said McCain, there will be “incredible repercussions.”

Exactly what those repercussions might be are anybody’s guess, but McCain’s literal and figurative belligerence is both legendary and representative of a bipartisan Washington consensus that the United States is the world’s policeman. For virtually the length of his time in office, McCain has always been up for some sort of military response, from creating no-fly zones to strategic bombing runs to boots on the ground to supplying arms and training to insurgents wherever he may find them. He was a huge supporter not just of going into Afghanistan to chase down Osama bin Laden and the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks but staying in the “graveyard of empires” and trying to create a liberal Western-style democracy in Kabul and beyond.

Similarly, he pushed loudly not simply for toppling Saddam Hussein but talked up America’s ability to nation-build not just in Iraq but to sculpt the larger Middle East region into something approaching what we have in the United States. Over the past dozen-plus years, he has called for large and small interventions into the former Soviet state of Georgia, Libya, and Syria. He was ready to commit American soldiers to hunting down Boko Haram in Nigeria and to capturing African war lord Joseph Kony. In the 1990s, he wanted Bill Clinton to enter that Balkan civil wars early and often.

In all this, McCain resembles no other politician more than the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, whose hawkishness is undisputed. Like McCain, Clinton has long been an aggressive interventionist, both as a senator from New York and as secretary of state (where her famous attempt to “reset” relations with Russia failed spectacularly when it turned out that the “Reset” button she gave her Soviet counterpart meant “overcharged” rather than the intended conciliatory term). In the wake of Flight MH17 being shot down, Clinton has already said that the act of violence is a sign that Russian leader Vladimir Putin “has gone too far and we are not going to stand idly by.”

For most Americans, the failed wars in the Iraq and Afghanistan underscore the folly of unrestrained interventionism. So too do the attempts to arm rebels in Syria who may actually have ties to al Qaeda or other terrorist outfits. Barack Obama’s unilateral and constitutionally dubious deployment of American planes and then forces into Libya under NATO command turned tragic with the death of Amb. Chris Stevens and other Americans, and we still don’t really have any idea of what we were trying to accomplish there.

No one can doubt John McCain’s — or Hillary Clinton’s — patriotism and earnestness when it comes to foreign policy. But in the 21st century, America has little to show for its willingness to inject itself into all the corners of the globe. Neither do many of the nations that we have bombed and invaded and occupied.

Americans overwhelmingly support protecting Americans from terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. They are realistic, however, that the U.S. cannot spread democracy or preserve human rights through militarism.

When the United States uses its unrivaled military power everywhere and all the time, we end up accomplishing far less than hawks desire. Being everywhere and threatening action all the time dissipates American power rather than concentrates it. Contra John McCain and Hillary Clinton, whatever happened in Ukrainian airspace doesn’t immediately or obviously involve the United States, even with the loss of an American citizen. The reflexive call for action is symptomatic of exactly what we need to stop doing, at least if we want to learn from the past dozen-plus years of our own failures.

President Obama is right to move cautiously regarding a U.S. response. He would be wiser still to use the last years of his presidency to begin the hard work of forging a foreign-policy consensus that all Americans can actually get behind, not just in this situation but in all the others we will surely encounter.

TIME Foreign Policy

Inside John Kerry’s Diplomatic Save in Afghanistan

Presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah, right, and Ashraf Ghani embrace at a news conference with Secretary of State John Kerry where a deal to audit ballots was announced, in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 12, 2014.
Presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah, right, and Ashraf Ghani embrace at a news conference with Secretary of State John Kerry where a deal to audit ballots was announced, in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 12, 2014. Jim Bourg—The New York Times/Redux

Up to one million might have died, an Afghan leader warned.

As the sun went down over Kabul on Saturday July 13, Afghanistan’s future hung in the balance. Accusations of fraud in the country’s recent presidential election had paralyzed the country’s politics and threatened to trigger a civil war that could destroy the progress America’s costly military and diplomatic efforts had delivered since 2001. The parties in the dispute had convened at the residence of the American ambassador in Kabul, but the two sides couldn’t reach agreement.

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived on the scene that Saturday evening just as key Afghan players were headed out to the patio for their evening prayers. Scheduled to depart 90 minutes earlier for Vienna, where he was to join the ongoing international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, Kerry had delayed his departure to make a last ditch effort to broker a deal.

It was a dangerous moment, and not just for the Afghans. Without an agreement between second place finisher Abdullah Abdullah and the election’s declared winner, Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan was at risk of an implosion like the one that enabled the Taliban to take power in 1996—creating a safe haven for Osama bin Laden to plot the 9/11 attacks. And Kerry’s visit defied the advice of other Obama officials who warned any diplomatic intervention on the U.S. part held “the risk of complete failure,” in the words of a senior official.

The details of how Kerry defused the stalemate, based on accounts from a half-dozen officials familiar with the talks, reveals an Afghanistan closer to the brink than many outsiders may appreciate. It also illuminates rare foreign policy win for Kerry and for an Obama administration staggered by months of setbacks, one whose importance has been overshadowed by turmoil in the Middle East and Ukraine. Finally, it shows how fragile the country remains as the U.S. prepares to withdraw the last of its combat troops later this year.

The crisis was the result of the inconclusive June 14 presidential vote to replace the longtime Afghan ruler Hamid Karzai. Abdullah, the losing candidate, was insisting the vote had been rigged to the tune of hundreds of thousands of fraudulent ballots. By mid-July, Abdullah’s supporters had threatened to create a kind of protest government. Rumors swirled of an armed rebellion, with the potential to ignite dormant ethnic and tribal rivalries. “We will accept death but not defeat,” Ghani’s running mate, the notorious ex-warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, had recently vowed. “It was pretty frightening. People were preparing for civil war,” says one official.

On July 8 President Obama called Abdullah directly, warning that American aid to country could be cut off if he didn’t stand down. The call bought time but didn’t resolve the core dispute. “The president’s role was to intervene at a point where it looked like the dispute was threatening the stability of Kabul and the country. But that didn’t necessarily mean there was enough pressure to come to an agreement,” says one senior administration official. “Both candidates remained pretty dug in to their positions,” says another.

Kerry had arrived late on the night of July 10 from Beijing, diverting from his planned itinerary to Geneva for the Iran talks. Over the next three days, through long meetings, first with Abdullah’s camp, and then with Ghani’s, Kerry’s team hammered out a plan.

Afghanistan’s election commission, under international supervision, would audit every one of the eight million ballots cast in the June 14 vote (a runoff after an initial April 5 election.) The plan also called for a power-sharing arrangement that would give Abdullah an important role in the new Afghan government, potentially as a kind of deputy national leader. (The details have yet to be finalized and officials called reports of a European-style parliamentary system premature.)

A key asset in establishing the framework for the deal, officials say, was the relationship Kerry had built with the major players—Abdullah, Ghani, and also Karzai—over many years, dating to his tenure as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman. When Abdullah contested a fraud-rife 2009 election that returned Karzai to power, Kerry rushed to the country for long meetings with both men after a distrustful Karzai refused to talk to the U.S. special envoy to the country, Richard Holbrooke. Karzai is even less inclined to trust Washington today, and rarely speaks with President Obama. But the Afghan leader does maintain a good rapport with Kerry.

“Obviously a lot of the machinery of this took place from the White House and by phone. But ultimately a large part of why this got sealed is that Kerry had built up a relationship with Ghani, Abdullah and Karzai going all the way back to 2009,” says Jonah Blank, an Afghanistan expert with the RAND Corporation

Though the framework of the deal had been hammered out over the previous two days, the decisive moment came that Saturday evening, at the residence of U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham, after Abdullah and his retinue had finished prayers and broken their Ramadan fast. Ghani and his allies were elsewhere on the heavily fortified U.S. embassy compound; the two contenders for Afghanistan’s presidency had not yet met face-to-face.

Kerry had been buoyed by an earlier meeting with Karzai, who agreed to delay the country’s scheduled August 3 presidential inauguration, which a time-consuming audit of every ballot would require. But when Kerry arrived at Cunningham’s residence, Abdullah still wasn’t sold on a deal. Could he really trust an election process run by the government of Ghani’s ally Karzai?

Kerry pleaded with Abdullah to accept the deal. “I’m asking you as a friend to trust me,” he said. Kerry walked the group through several chapters in his life story, from the Vietnam War to the 2004 presidential campaign, and concluded by calling the meeting among the most important he’d ever attended. He urged Abdullah and his allies to consider the millions of Afghans who had voted despite Taliban threats—the Americans who had done so much for Afghanistan. “U.S. soldiers didn’t come here to fight and die to see this election fail,” Kerry said.

“You could tell that shifted the dynamic,” says an official who was present. Shortly after 9pm, Abdullah agreed to the deal.

Within half an hour, Ghani had arrived to clinch the agreement with his rival in person. The discourse between the Abdullah and Ghani camps had not been civil of late—at one rally, Abdullah’s running mate had called Ghani a name that roughly translates as “dried-up intestine.” But the men greeted each other warmly. If they felt personal hostility, says one official, “they did a good job of hiding it.”

As they headed to a midnight press conference, officials present say the men seemed to take pride in an agreement that had spared their country the threat of a nightmarish descent into chaos.

On July 16, President Obama opened his press conference announcing new economic sanctions against Russia by congratulating his Secretary of State for brokering the Afghan deal. Obama said it had preserved “the first democratic transfer of power in the history of that nation.”

In a conversation the day after Kerry’s departure, Ghani shared his relief over the outcome. The agreement, he said, may have saved one million Afghan lives.

TIME Afghanistan

Gunmen Attack Kabul Airport, Four Militants Killed

Afghan policemen arrive at the site of an attack in Kabul
Afghan policemen arrive at the site of an attack in Kabul on July 17, 2014 Omar Sobhani—Reuters

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a call to the Associated Press, claimed responsibility for the attack.

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Gunmen carried out a pre-dawn rocket attack on Kabul International Airport on Thursday, temporarily shutting down the facility and setting off a gunbattle with security forces in which four attackers were killed, officials said.

The militants occupied two buildings which were under construction some 700 meters (yards) north of the facility, and were using them as a base to direct rockets and gunfire toward the airport and international jet fighters flying over Kabul, said Afghan army Gen. Afzal Aman.

Kabul Police Chief Mohammed Zahir Zahir later said four of the attackers were killed and that the attack was halted without any civilian or police casualties.

The airport was later reopened and operations returned to normal, Zahir said, after security forces inspected the runways for shrapnel and explosives.

The pre-dawn attack comes during a tense time in Afghanistan, as a recount is underway from the disputed second round of a presidential election seen as key to insuring a peaceful transfer of power ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops by the end of the year.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the airport attack in a call to The Associated Press.

Aman said several rockets hit the airport but no planes were damaged.

The airport hosts civilian traffic and serves as a base for NATO-led forces that have been fighting the Taliban and other insurgents for more than a decade. Rocket attacks near the airport are not rare, but are not usually this close.

Alarms sounded at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, as they usually do when there is an attack in the city, as ISAF jet fighters patrolled overhead.

The attack came nearly a week after U.S Secretary of State John Kerry helped broker a deal to carry out a full audit of last month’s presidential runoff following allegations of fraud by supporters of both candidates.

Unofficial and disputed preliminary results showed former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai well ahead of his rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, but Abdullah’s supporters have said that is only because of widespread fraud.

Since fraud was alleged on both sides, the deal provides that every one of the 8 million ballots will be audited under national and international supervision over the next three or four weeks.

Neither the election nor the weekend deal has had any visible effect on security in the country, which has long seen near-daily attacks.

On Tuesday a suicide bomber blew up a car packed with explosives near a busy market and a mosque in eastern Afghanistan, killing dozens of people in one of the deadliest insurgent attacks on civilians since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban.

TIME Military

Lawyer: Bergdahl ‘Deeply Grateful’ to Obama

Bergdahl Being Treated At U.S. Military Hospital In Germany
Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for nearly five years before being released in May. U.S. Army / Getty Images

Army sergeant held by Taliban believes President’s decision “saved his life,” his attorney Eugene Fidell tells TIME

No one’s heard anything yet from Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the former prisoner-of-war freed in a May 31 swap for five Taliban leaders after nearly five years as a Taliban prisoner. He hasn’t spoken to the press—by all accounts, he hasn’t even spoken to his parents. But, in typical American fashion, he has retained—and spoken to—an attorney.

“Sergeant Bergdahl is deeply grateful to President Obama for having saved his life,” Eugene Fidell, retained a week ago by the soldier, told TIME on Wednesday.

Fidell has traveled to Texas—where Bergdahl has returned to active duty at a desk job in San Antonio following his “re-integration” back into the service—to discuss with his client the investigation into the circumstances leading up to Bergdahl’s abduction in 2009. The attorney declined to offer any insights into Bergdahl’s mood, legal defense, or relationship with his family. Bergdahl also has an Army lawyer.

Eugene Fidell Yale

But Fidell did suggest the case—now being investigated by a two-star Army major general—is more complicated than he originally thought. That’s saying something: Fidell is a prominent military-law expert who lectures at Yale Law School on the topic, and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice.

“Before I was in the case, I was skeptical that the investigation called for a major general,” Fidell says. “I thought that a talented lieutenant colonel would be more than enough horsepower—I thought it was overkill.” Army officials say Major General Kenneth Dahl has yet to interview Bergdahl.

Fidell said he has changed his mind as he has dived into the case. “Based on what I now know about the complexity of the issues, which are in a number of spheres that I’m not going to get into, I understand why the Army thought that a general officer should be involved,” Fidell adds. “I now understand why management thought that it was a good idea to have a two-star officer doing this investigation.”

The lawyer, who has taken the case pro bono—without pay—declined to discuss the specifics that led him to change his mind. But Bergdahl’s case is complex: according to the soldiers with whom he served, Bergdahl simply walked away from his combat outpost in June 2009 before being captured by the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Some of those troops have called Bergdahl a deserter, and alleged that fellow soldiers died hunting for him.

Questions also surround the Army’s decision to allow Bergdahl to enlist, two years after he washed out of Coast Guard boot camp after only 26 days. And lawmakers on Capitol Hill have criticized Obama for giving up five senior Taliban leaders for Bergdahl, now 28.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., told TIME on Tuesday that he doesn’t believe the swap was in the nation’s interest. “We were duty bound to bring him back, but I think we’re duty bound to bring him back in the right way,” said the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcommittee. “What other opportunities were there for us to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release besides releasing these five high-ranking Taliban officials?…we did increase the risk to Americans and American interests by releasing these five.”

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said that Bergdahl is now free to come and go like any other soldier. “He’s free to leave base…he’s not under any particular restrictions,” Kirby said. “And I would remind you, he’s not been charged with anything.”

TIME

89 Killed in Suicide Blast in East Afghanistan

Mangled vehicles are pictured at the scene of a suicide attack at a market in Urgun district, Paktika province, Afghanistan on July 15, 2014.
Mangled vehicles are pictured at the scene of a suicide attack at a market in Urgun district, Paktika province, Afghanistan on July 15, 2014. Khanazgul Farhang—AFP/Getty Images

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — A suicide bomber blew up his car packed with explosives near a busy market and a mosque in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing 89 people and wounding more than 40, officials said.

The attack in the town of Urgun in Paktika province was the deadliest in months in Afghanistan, underscoring the country’s instability as foreign troops prepare to leave by the end of the year.

Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the Defense Ministry spokesman, said the bomber detonated his explosives-laden vehicle as he drove by the crowded market in the remote town in Urgun district, close to the border with Pakistan.

The military was providing helicopters and ambulances to transport the victims to the provincial capital, Sharan, and so far 42 wounded have been moved to hospitals there, Azimi added.

The explosion also destroyed more than 20 shops and dozens of vehicles, he said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but the Taliban sent a statement to media denying their insurgent group was involved in the Paktika bombing and saying they “strongly condemn attacks on local people.”

Many of the victims were buried under the rubble, said Mohammad Reza Kharoti, the administrative chief of Urgun district.

“It was a very brutal suicide attack against poor civilians, he said. “There was no military base nearby.”

The bombing was also the first major attack since a weekend deal between the two Afghan presidential contenders brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry averted a dangerous rift in the country’s troubled democracy.

One of the two, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, told The Associated Press on Monday that he would meet his rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, on Tuesday to begin working out the framework for the next government, with participation from both camps and all communities in the country.

But violence has continued unabated in Afghanistan.

Hours before the Paktika blast, a roadside bomb in eastern Kabul ripped through a minivan carrying seven employees of the media office of the presidential palace, killing two of the passengers.

The explosion struck as the vehicle was taking the palace staffers to work, said Gul Agha Hashimi, the chief of criminal investigations with the Kabul police.

Five other people, including the driver, were wounded, said Hashimi, speaking to reporters at the site of the blast. “One passenger survived unharmed,” he said.

Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said it was a remotely detonated device planted along the midsection of a main road.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for that attack in a statement sent to reporters.

Roadside bombings are a major threat to both Afghan security forces and civilians across the country. Such attacks have escalated as the Taliban intensify their campaign ahead of the U.S.-led foreign forces’ withdrawal by the end of 2014.

TIME justice

Dutch Supreme Court Blocks Extradition of Al-Qaeda Suspect to U.S.

NETHERLANDS-PAKISTAN-USA-JUSTICE
The lawyer of Dutch-Pakistani national Sabir Khan, Andre Seebregts (L), arrives in the courtroom of The Hague, on February 12, 2013. Robin Utrecht—AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. wanted to put Sabir Khan on trial in New York for supporting terrorist attacks against Americans in Afghanistan

In a setback for the Obama administration’s use of law enforcement to fight al-Qaeda, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands on Friday blocked the extradition to the U.S. of Sabir Ali Khan, a Dutch-Pakistani man wanted in New York for conspiracy to commit murder and support of al-Qaeda.

The U.S. believes Khan was involved in Taliban and al-Qaeda attacks against Americans in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province in 2010, according to U.S. court documents obtained by TIME. Khan was arrested by Pakistani forces in Sept. 2010, allegedly at the request of the U.S., and held at a secret prison where he says he was tortured.

Khan, whose mother was Dutch, has citizenship in the Netherlands and was eventually released to Dutch authorities and flown to Holland, where he was arrested. His Dutch lawyer argued that the government should determine whether Khan was arrested at the U.S. behest, and whether he would face a threat of further torture if he were extradited.

The Dutch Supreme Court Friday ruled that the extradition could not proceed because the Dutch Government had declined to look into the alleged U.S. role in Khan’s arrest. The Court, which did not address the threat of torture by the U.S., concluded “the Dutch State should have done some research in this matter,” says Dutch Supreme Court Spokeperson Mireille Beentjes. In blocking the extradition, the court stressed “the large interest of combatting torture worldwide,” Beentjes said, quoting from the court’s opinion.

Robert Nardoza, spokesman for the Eastern District of New York, where Khan was indicted on five counts in 2010, said, “We’re going to review the ruling by the Dutch Supreme Court and consider our options.”

Khan, who is in his late 20s, declined to comment when reached by telephone Friday. He remains free and living in the Netherlands. In January, he told TIME that while he suspects he is under constant surveillance, “Officially I have no restrictions on me.”

The case shows how the U.S. must increasingly rely on other states’ legal systems in countering terrorism as Washington attempts to wind down extraordinary powers granted to the president after 9/11. Those states are sometimes more or less aggressive than the U.S. would like, and counterterrorism officials are having to adjust as a result.

 

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