TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Opium Poppy Cultivation Hits All-Time High 

AFGHANISTAN-UNREST-POPPY
An Afghan farmer works in a poppy field on the outskirts of Kandahar on April 27, 2014 Javed Tanveer—AFP/Getty Images

As of June 30, 2014, the U.S. had spent approximately $7.6 billion on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan grew to an all-time high in 2013 despite America spending more than $7 billion to fight it over the past decade, a U.S. report showed on Tuesday.

Federal auditors SIGAR reported that Afghan farmers grew an unprecedented 209,000 hectares of the poppy in 2013, blowing past the previous peak of 193,000 hectares in 2007.

As of June 30, 2014, the report said, the United States had spent approximately $7.6 billion on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan.

One factor for the surge was affordable deep-well technology, which over the past decade turned 200,000 hectares of desert in southwestern Afghanistan into arable land much of which is now being used for poppy cultivation.

Nangarhar province in the east, and other provinces, once declared “poppy free,” have seen a resurgence in cultivation. Nangarhar had been considered a model for successful counterinsurgency and counter-narcotics efforts and was deemed “poppy free” by the U.N. in 2008. It however saw a fourfold increase in opium poppy cultivation between 2012 and 2013.

An Afghan government official says that Taliban and opium smugglers are fighting for the income of opium in different parts of the country, while cultivation takes place mostly in the south and southwest where insurgents are highly active and the government has little influence.

“The recent fights in Helmand and other provinces of the country are in fact the fight against opium,” Afghan Counter Narcotics Minister Mubarez Rashedi told the country’s upper house of parliament. “The big opium smugglers alongside the Taliban are fighting against the Afghan government.”

TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Troop Death Toll Hits Record High

Afghan Army handover
Afghan Army soldiers carry their comrade in a wheel-barrow after he was shot during a firefight on Tuesday April 2, 2013 in Wardak Province. Michel du Cille—The Washington Post / Getty Images

2014 marked the deadliest year for Afghan forces struggling to take control of the country

More than 4,000 Afghan troops died in combat in 2014, a record high since the U.S.-led invasion began in 2001, according to new casualty figures released by the Afghan defense ministry.

The new figure marks the first update to the death toll since 2013, when a mounting number of casualties prompted officials to suspend the count rather than risk doing harm to troop morale, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The updated tally counts roughly 4,380 casualties suffered by Afghanistan soldiers and police since the beginning of 2014, underscoring an escalating battle between Taliban rebels and Afghanistan’s fledgeling administration, which is racing to gain control of the country before the last remaining US combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.

[WSJ]

TIME Afghanistan

Wounded AP Reporter Vows to Return to Afghanistan

(NEW YORK) — Over and over, Kathy Gannon has re-lived the decisions that led to the death of her close friend Anja Niedringhaus and her own severe injuries, as they went about their jobs chronicling the story of Afghanistan.

Gannon, a veteran Associated Press correspondent, and Niedringhaus, an award-winning AP photographer, had worked together on countless stories and negotiated many dangers for five years. But they were always “very smart with how we went about doing the stories, because we wanted to keep doing the stories,” Gannon recalled.

Then, on April 4, they were sprayed with gunfire by an Afghan police commander as they prepared to cover the presidential election the next day.

Were she to go back in time, would she do anything differently? The answer, firmly, is “No.”

“We weren’t careless or cavalier about the security arrangements …,” Gannon said at AP headquarters in New York last week, in her first interview since the attack. “We really made sure that we had a safe place to stay, we knew who we were traveling with, we knew the area in which we were going. Honestly, I’ve thought it through so many times — I know neither Anja or I would have done anything differently.”

The stakes in the election were high for Afghanistan, a country already wracked by 13 years of war that was facing both the prospect of Western forces leaving and a renewed Taliban insurgency.

The two women had driven from Kabul, the capital, to the eastern city of Khost, then connected with a convoy under the protection of Afghan security forces that was transporting ballots to an outlying area. Their goal was to get a first-hand sense of how ordinary Afghans would respond to this window of democracy in a province considered a Taliban stronghold.

As they sat in their vehicle in a well-guarded compound amid scores of police and security officers, one of the men supposedly assuring their safety walked up, yelled “Allahu Akbar,” and fired on them with his AK-47. Then, he dropped his emptied weapon and surrendered.

Niedringhaus, 48, died instantly of her wounds. Gannon, 61, was hit with six bullets that ripped through her left arm, right hand and left shoulder, shattering her shoulder blade.,

“I looked down and my left hand was separated from my wrist,” Gannon said. “I remember saying, ‘Oh my God, this time we’re finished.’ … One minute we were sitting in the car laughing, and the next, our shoulders were pressed hard against each other as if one was trying to hold the other up. The shooting ended. I looked toward Anja. I didn’t know.”

As the AP driver sped their bullet-riddled car over bumpy roads to the nearest hospital, a municipal facility 45 minutes away, the AP translator told Gannon, “Kathy, don’t leave us.” She was sure she was dying.

“That time was very much about really making peace,” Gannon recalled. “I was so trying to just breathe and just go peacefully.”

At the hospital, Gannon was placed on a gurney, in excruciating pain. Yet there were reassurances.

“At one point the doctor said to me, ‘Your life is as important to me as it is to you. We really are working trying to save it.'”

In the operating room, she was sedated. When she woke up, she’d already been airlifted from a U.S. base near Khost back to Kabul. It was only there, still only half-conscious, that she realized her friend was dead.

Within days, Gannon flew by an air ambulance jet to a hospital in Germany, and, later, to the United States, to continue her treatment at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

The months of physical recovery and therapy have been grueling. Gannon raves about the care she has received, in particular the reconstruction work overseen by Dr. Duretti Fufa at the New York hospital that involved rebuilding her left arm with bone, fat and muscle from her left leg.

“It’s so minute. You have to attach the nerves, you have to attach the arteries, the vessels,” Gannon said. “I had a gaping six-inch (15-centimeter) hole right through where several bullets had just smashed through the arm. There was nothing there. She has completely rebuilt it.”

“She has continued at every stage to do wonderfully,” Fufa said. The hand and reconstructive specialist praised the surgeons abroad for stabilizing the complex injuries enough to allow Gannon’s arms to be salvaged, and Gannon for doing all the hard work of a patient that followed. “She is an incredibly motivated person. I could not ask for a more motivated and pleasant patient to work with.”

Said Gannon: “As horrible as everything was, there were so many times you think, ‘My God, I’m so fortunate.’ Every nerve, even the smallest nerve in my left hand, was intact. How is that possible?”

Her recovery remains a work in progress; the fingers of her left hand are still immobile. As soon as she can, she wants to visit Niedringhaus’ grave near her birthplace in Germany to say a last goodbye. And she is determined, after further surgery and therapy, to return to Afghanistan — and to report again from there for the AP.

“Neither Anja or I would ever accept to be forced out by some crazy gunman,” Gannon said. (Their attacker has since been convicted of treason and sentenced to death by an Afghan court.)

Both her tight-knit family in Canada and her husband and stepdaughter in Pakistan worry, but know her well enough to understand she will go back.

Gannon has established a strong bond with Afghanistan over three decades of covering it. As she put it, “There’s history still to be told there.”

“Afghanistan is a tremendous story of people who have really been caught in such successive traumas that they always seem to come out on the losing end,” she said. “Afghans, through 35 years, have come through one war after another always believing that it’s going to get better. … I have a tremendous affinity for that struggle that they have constantly, constantly endured and never succumbed to hopelessness.”

Moreover, Gannon says Niedringhaus would want her to go back.

Niedringhaus loved shooting all sorts of subjects, including sports, but she spent much of her working life in trouble spots — Iraq, the Gaza Strip, Israel, Kuwait, Turkey — and was one of 11 AP photographers who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for coverage of the Iraq War.

She and Gannon started working together in 2009 in Kabul, when Niedringhaus had just finished an assignment embedded with a military unit. The photographer was mildly irked when Gannon voiced some skepticism about such reporting arrangements.

But “That evening we were talking about stories,” Gannon recalled. “We just hit it off … it was as if we had known each other for ever.”

The partnership flourished as the two journalists found much in common in their approaches to their jobs. They did not do their work from a distance. Instead, they got away from officialdom and spent time in villages, sleeping on the floors of mud houses.

“I loved the way Anja got so excited about the stories,” said Gannon. “She loved getting up close with the people.”

Gannon recounts all the firsts they accomplished together. They were the first international journalists to embed with both the Pakistani and the Afghan armies. They traveled from Quetta in Pakistan to Kandahar aboard an oil tanker carrying fuel to U.S.-led coalition forces. They got details of the massacre of 16 Afghans by a U.S. soldier from survivors, and visited poppy fields deep in Taliban country.

Now, Gannon insists she will do it again — without Niedringhaus, but in her memory and with her spirit.

“If it was reversed, Anja would be out there telling those stories too — she’d be telling them in the most amazing pictures,” she said.

“I want to go and try and tell them. It might be physically half a team, but emotionally and every other way, when I go back, it’s a two-person team. We’re together on this.”

TIME war

Stop Pretending Drone Warfare Is Casualty-Free for America

The Invisible Front
The Invisible Front

Yochi Dreazen is managing editor of Foreign Policy. His new book, The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War, is out today.

Make no mistake: U.S. troops may not die during the fight against the Islamic State, but there will be a human cost

President Barack Obama has been delivering a single message again and again in the weeks since U.S. warplanes started bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria: there will be no American boots on the ground in either country. Bombing the militants from the air rather than sending U.S. forces to fight them on the ground means that there is virtually no chance of U.S. casualties, which is crucial to maintaining the support of a war-weary American public.

But the White House is wrong to suggest that the current campaign will have no human costs. U.S. pilots may not get killed in combat or suffer physical wounds, but they aren’t immune to post-traumatic stress disorder and the other invisible wounds afflicting hundreds of thousands of veterans of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Quite the opposite: reams of military-funded research has found that growing numbers of the pilots flying both manned fighter planes and armed drones are suffering from PTSD and depression because modern technology gives them uncomfortably vivid views of the carnage that results from one of their airstrikes. Have no illusions about the current campaign: U.S. troops may not die or suffer grievous physical injuries during the fight against the Islamic State, but it will exact a human toll all the same.

Drone operators are being hit particularly hard, and understanding why means taking a closer look at what those responsible for wielding the Obama administration’s weapon of choice against militants around the world see and experience every time they pick up the controls. The drone pilots typically work out of windowless trailers at bases in Nevada and California, spending 12 hours at a time hunched over video screens beaming back high-resolution imagery—better and clearer that what the average American watches on an HD TV—of the people and vehicles moving on the ground thousands of miles away. They track their targets for days or weeks before pulling the trigger. And that’s when, researchers say, the problems really start.

The results of the growing number of studies examining what long-distance war does to those who fight it are stark and striking. An Air Force survey in 2011 found that 41% of the Air Force personnel operating the unmanned aircrafts’ advanced surveillance systems reported “high operational stress,” along with 46% of those actually piloting the robotic planes.

The survey’s findings on post-traumatic stress disorder, one of the worst psychological maladies of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, were just as striking. It concluded that 7% of the drone crews were in danger of developing PTSD, roughly half the proportion of troops returning from actual combat (the civilian rate is about 5%). PTSD is linked to depression and anxiety and is thought to be the primary reason for the military’s record suicide rate.

Last year, a study by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center found that drone operators were at “similar risk” for mental health issues like PTSD, depression, and anxiety as the pilots of the manned warplanes and other aircraft flying over Iraq and Afghanistan from bases in the two war zones because they were experiencing — even from the safety of their trailers thousands of miles away — “witnessing traumatic experiences” like the deaths of U.S. troops or the militants they had just killed by pulling a trigger on what looks like a video game joystick.

To understand what that means in human terms, consider the story of former Airman First Class Brandon Bryant, who flew drones over Afghanistan. In searing interviews with GQ, Bryant described the strange intimacy of using infrared cameras to watch the purported militants he was tracking as they went about their daily lives: having sex with their wives on the rooftops of their houses or playing soccer with their children. Then he would pull his trigger, and some of those the men would disappear in a flash of white flame.

“The smoke clears, and there’s pieces of the two guys around the crater. And there’s this guy over here, and he’s missing his right leg above his knee. He’s holding it, and he’s rolling around, and the blood is squirting out of his leg, and it’s hitting the ground, and it’s hot,” Bryant told the magazine, remembering one strike. It took him a long time to die. I just watched him.”

Another time, Bryant was using his drone to fly over a convoy of Humvees traveling down a dusty road in a blood-soaked stretch of Iraq, looking out for possible buried bombs. He spotted something suspicious, but a communications problem prevented him from being able to warn the Humvee commander on the ground. He watched, powerless to help, as a bomb tore through one of the vehicles, killing three soldiers and wounding several others.

The vivid imagery of the deaths he’d caused and seen sent Bryant over the edge. He drank so much whiskey and Coke that he would pass out and sleep in a parking lot near his hometown. Once, his mother woke up to discover that he had left a loaded semi-automatic pistol. She immediately worried he was getting to the point where he would take his own life. He began to seek help and was quickly diagnosed with PTSD. Therapy eventually pulled him back from the brink, but it had been a close call.

Bryant’s invisible wound is all-too-common among the pilots flying manned and unmanned warplanes in war zones. The White House has been deliberately vague about how long the current campaign against the Islamic State will continue, but has warned that it could take years. That means America’s pilots will be at war for a long time to come, even if America’s ground troops are not. Those pilots may never set foot in Iraq or Syria, but they could become casualties of war all the same.

 

Yochi Dreazen is managing editor of Foreign Policy. He covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for The Wall Street Journal and has reported from more than 30 countries. His new book, The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War, is out today.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Disease

What It Will Take to End Polio

President Franklin D. Roosevelt leaves his home at 49 East 65th Street for a short visit to his family estate at Hyde Park, north of New York City on Sept. 27, 1933.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt leaves his home at 49 East 65th Street for a short visit to his family estate at Hyde Park, north of New York City on Sept. 27, 1933. Martin Mcevilly—NY Daily News/Getty Images

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Franklin Roosevelt never knew the Pakistani babies battling polio today, but he knew their pain. The world is fighting to end that suffering forever

You can still see the ramps and rails at Franklin Roosevelt’s house on East 65th Street in Manhattan—even though they’ve been gone for decades. They’re easily visible in the pictures that decorate the home. They’re visible, too, in the popular iconography of Roosevelt, who was photographed standing countless times after being paralyzed by polio in 1921, but always with a hand on a bannister, an arm on an aide, a cane in his grip—and ramps and rails at the ready.

The six-story Roosevelt house, where the family lived from 1908 until their move to the White House in 1933, is now owned—and was restored—by New York’s Hunter College. These days it’s a place of learning and policy conferences. But it is also a place of historical serendipity.

“When the house was built, it was one of the first private residences in New York that had its own elevators,” Hunter president Jennifer Raab told me as we toured the building this morning. Those became indispensable once FDR became paralyzed, and it was in that house that his kitchen cabinet thus gathered in the four months between his election in 1932 and his inauguration 1933. “The New Deal was born here,” Raab says.

For FDR, there were abundant compensations for polio. As Ken Burns’ documentary The Roosevelts makes clear, the disease deepened and grounded him. It made him a champion of children with polio—an effort that led to the March of Dimes and the later Salk and Sabin vaccines—and for that matter a champion of all people who suffered hardship. It was polio that gave Roosevelt a fuller temperament—and in turn gave the nation a fuller Roosevelt.

There are no such compensations for the handful of children around the world who still contract the crippling disease. On the same morning I was making my visit to the Roosevelt house, word came out of Pakistan that the country is on target to top 200 polio cases in 2014, its biggest caseload since 2000. Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic—the other two are Afghanistan and Nigeria, with 10 and six cases respectively so far this year—and it’s the only one in which the caseloads are moving in the wrong direction.

As recently as 2005, Pakistan’s case count was down to just 28, helping to push polio to the brink of eradication. That same year, however, religious leaders in northern Nigeria declared a boycott of the vaccine, claiming that it contained HIV and was intended to sterilize Muslim girls. This led to a wildfire spread of the Nigerian strain that stretched as far southeast as Indonesia.

But Nigeria got its house in order, and the hot zone now—a more challenging one—has shifted to Pakistan, particularly in the tribal areas in the north and in the mega-city of Karachi. Some of the problem is simply the crowded, unhygienic conditions in Karachi. But the bigger piece is the fighting in the tribal regions, which have made vaccinations difficult or impossible. That’s been exacerbated by Taliban gunmen, who have shot and killed 59 polio field workers and police officers trying to protect them since 2012.

“It’s a very sad thing,” Aziz Memon, head of Rotary International’s PolioPlus team, told TIME by phone from Pakistan today. “We’re trying to get vaccinators on the ground and into the field despite the ban. And now rains and flooding that have broken 100-year-old records are creating more problems.”

Rotary, which has been the point-organization for the eradication of polio for more than 25 years, is being assisted by the Gates Foundation, Save the Children and multiple other international groups, all working to push back against the Taliban blockade. Vaccinators routinely wait at bus stops around Pakistan, climbing aboard and looking for kids who have no vaccination records and administering the drops on the spot. Refugee camps in the war torn tribal regions provide another way of standing between the virus and the babies.

“When the virus is contained like this it’s a good opportunity to step in and control it,” says Memon. “We can also take advantage of the low-transmission season, which starts soon.”

The effort to snuff out polio altogether is more than merely the moral thing, it’s also the practical thing. Bill Gates repeatedly stresses that $1 billion spent per year over the next few years can save $50 billion of the next 20 years, money that would otherwise be spent treating polio and constantly fighting the brushfire war of vaccinating against outbreaks. Eliminate the disease for good and those costs go with it. What’s more, the delivery networks that are put in place to do the job can be easily repurposed to fight other diseases.

None of this long-range thinking makes a lick of difference to the 187 Pakistani children—or the 10 Afghanis or six Nigerians—who forever lost the use of their legs this year. They are paralyzed, as they will be for life. For them, there is no offsetting wealth, no townhouse with an elevator, no path to global greatness. There is only the disease—a pain FDR recognized and fought to fix. In Pakistan, that same fight is being waged today.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Afghanistan

Taliban Suicide Bombers Kill 7 in Kabul, Wound 21

Afghanistan
Afghan security forces guard the site of a suicide attack in Kabul on Oct. 1, 2014 Massoud Hossaini—AP

Wednesday's attacks involved two suicide bombers targeting buses carrying Afghan troops in the country's capital

(KABUL, AFGHANISTAN) — Taliban suicide bombers struck two buses carrying Afghan soldiers in Kabul early Wednesday, killing seven people and wounding 21, just a day after the signing of a key U.S.-Afghan security pact.

The long-awaited deal allows U.S. forces to remain in the country past the end of 2014, ending the uncertainty over the fate of foreign troops supporting Afghans as they take over the fight against the Taliban insurgency.

Wednesday’s attacks involved two suicide bombers targeting buses carrying Afghan troops in the country’s capital.

The first attacker hit a bus with Afghan National Army officers in west Kabul, killing seven and wounding 15, said the city’s criminal investigation police chief Mohammad Farid Afzali.

The second attacker, who was also on foot, blew himself up in front of a bus in northeastern Kabul, wounding at least six army personnel, Afzali said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying the security pact with America has only motivated the group and given the Taliban “more morale” to fight the enemy.

“They need to give more sacrifices to make their homeland free,” Mujahid said, referring to Taliban fighters.

In a separate statement to media, the Taliban denounced the Bilateral Security Agreement as an “American plot” and said that “such fake documents will never hold back the lawful jihad,” or holy war.

In Kabul, dozens of Afghan security forces sealed off the attack sites, littered with broken glass, as military ambulances took the victims to hospital. Worried Afghans passed by, on their way to work.

Under the security pact, along with a separate deal signed with NATO, about 10,000 American troops and several thousand more from other NATO countries will stay to train and advise Afghan forces after the international combat mission ends on Dec. 31.

More than a decade after U.S. forces helped topple the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Afghanistan is still at war with the Islamic militant group, which regularly carries out attacks, mainly targeting security forces.

There are also serious questions about the ability of the Afghan security forces to take on the militants, even with a residual U.S. force remaining in the country.

In other violence, two police officers were killed when a suicide bomber targeted a police vehicle late Tuesday in Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province. Five policemen were also wounded in the attack, Omar Zwak, the spokesman for the provincial governor said Wednesday.

The U.S.-Afghan pact was long in the making. U.S. officials had first warned their Afghan counterparts that if the security accord was not signed by the end of 2013, the Pentagon would have to start planning for a full withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

But when the year ended, the White House moved back the deadline, saying then-President Hamid Karzai needed to sign off within weeks. Karzai surprised U.S. officials by ultimately saying he would not sign the accord and would instead leave that task for his successor.

But the results of the race to replace Karzai took months resolve, finally coming to a conclusion on Monday with the swearing in of Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as Afghanistan’s second elected president.

Ghani Ahmadzai signed the security agreement Tuesday, nearly one year after the White House’s initial deadline.

TIME Afghanistan

Afghanistan, U.S. Sign Long-Awaited Security Pact

Ashraf Ghani Afghanistan
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani looks on as he listens to teachers during his visit to the Amani High School in Kabul on Sept. 30, 2014. Wakil Kohsar—Pool/Reuters

Update: Sept. 30, 11:37 a.m. ET

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Afghanistan and the United States signed a security pact on Tuesday to allow U.S. forces to remain in the country past the end of year, ending a year of uncertainty over the fate of foreign troops supporting Afghans as they take over responsibility for the country’s security.

Afghan, American and NATO leaders welcomed the deal, which will allow about 10,000 American troops to stay in the country after the international combat mission ends Dec. 31. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai had refused to sign it despite U.S. threats of a full withdrawal in the absence of legal protections for American forces. U.S. officials have said that the delay in the deal’s signing does not affect plans for next year.

President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who was sworn into office a day earlier, told a crowd assembled at the presidential palace in the capital Kabul for the signing ceremony that the agreement signaled a fundamental shift for the positive in the country’s relations with the world.

“This agreement is only for Afghan security and stability,” he said in comments broadcast live on state television. “These agreements are in our national interest. The Bilateral Security Agreement will pave the ground for Afghanistan to take control,” he added.

President Barack Obama hailed what he called a “historic day in the U.S.-Afghan partnership that will help advance our shared interests and the long-term security of Afghanistan,” according to a White House statement.

“This agreement represents an invitation from the Afghan Government to strengthen the relationship we have built over the past 13 years and provides our military service members the necessary legal framework to carry out two critical missions after 2014: targeting the remnants of al-Qaida and training, advising, and assisting Afghan National Security Forces,” it said.

More than a decade after U.S. forces helped topple the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Afghanistan is still at war with the Islamic militant group, which regularly carries out attacks, mainly targeting security forces.

Newly appointed Afghan national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar and U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham signed the actual document. A second agreement allowing NATO troops to stay in the country was signed during the same ceremony.

Government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who has assumed a post akin to prime minister after signing a power-sharing agreement with Ghani Ahmadzai, also welcomed the security deal.

“It has been signed after very careful considerations,” he said, adding that “the BSA is not a threat to our neighbors. It will help strengthen peace and stability in the region.”

Abdullah and Ghani Ahmadzai struck the power-sharing agreement earlier this month after a prolonged dispute over alleged voting fraud in June’s presidential runoff. Karzai’s refusal to sign the security pact, and the prolonged uncertainty over who would succeed him, had delayed the signing.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the agreement, saying it outlined the group’s new mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.

“We remain committed to help finance the Afghan security forces through 2017, to help Afghanistan to further strengthen its institutions, and to further develop our political and practical cooperation with Afghanistan through our Enduring Partnership,” he said in a statement.

TIME Afghanistan

U.S. Adviser: Afghanistan to Sign Troop Deal Tuesday

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — A senior adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday that Afghanistan will sign a deal Tuesday to allow American soldiers to remain in the country past the end of the year.

John Podesta, speaking to a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, said he didn’t know if newly inaugurated President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai would be the official signing the deal for Afghanistan.

Podesta said he would sign it on behalf of the U.S.

The deal will allow about 10,000 American troops to stay in the country after the international combat mission ends on Dec. 31.

The announcement comes after Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was sworn in Monday as Afghanistan’s new president, replacing Hamid Karzai in the country’s first democratic transfer of power after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban.

Moments after Ghani Ahmadzai took the oath, he swore in his election challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, as chief executive, fulfilling a political pledge he had taken to share power and defuse election tensions that had threatened to spark violence between the country’s north and south.

In his first speech, Ghani Ahmadzai called on the Taliban and other militants to join the country’s political process and lay down their weapons. However, extremist violence Monday killed at least 12 civilians and police officers as foreign forces prepare to withdraw from the country at the end of the year.

“We are tired of war,” Ghani Ahmadzai said in a televised address. “Our message is peace, (but) this doesn’t mean we are weak.”

U.S. officials previously had said they expected Ghani Ahmadzai or an official in his government to sign the security agreement with the U.S. shortly after his inauguration. Both Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah said during their campaigns they would sign the deal.

TIME Afghanistan

New Afghan President Sworn In After Disputed Vote

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai speaks during a news conference at his resident in Kabul on Sept. 10, 2014 Massoud Hossaini—;AP

"We want to be held accountable. I am your leader but I am no better than you. If I make mistakes, you should hold me accountable"

(KABUL, AFGHANISTAN) — Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was sworn in Monday as Afghanistan’s new president, replacing Hamid Karzai in the country’s first democratic transfer of power since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban.

Moments after Ghani Ahmadzai took the oath, he swore in his election challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, as chief executive, fulfilling a political pledge he had taken to share power and defuse election tensions that had threatened to spark violence between the country’s north and south.

Ghani Ahmadzai, a former World Bank official and Afghan finance minister, wore a dark black turban popular in the country’s south as he swore in his two vice presidents and then Abdullah.

Abdullah, a former foreign minister, spoke first and thanked Karzai for his service and the people of the country for casting votes in the millions despite the threat of attack from Taliban militants who tried to thwart the election process.

“We are committed as one in the national unity government,” Abdullah said. “Our commitment will be fulfilled together as unified team to create national unity.”

Ghani Ahmadzai then congratulated Karzai for a peaceful and democratic transition of power, and he thanked Abdullah for making the national unity government possible.

“We want to be held accountable. I am your leader but I am no better than you. If I make mistakes, you should hold me accountable,” Ghani Ahmadzai said.

Karzai — the only president Afghanistan and the West have known since the invasion — wore a wide smile as he greeted his presidential guards upon entering the palace. Karzai has said he is glad to be stepping down after more than a decade of what the U.S. ambassador recently said was one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

The inauguration caps a nearly six-month election season that began when ballots were first cast in April. A runoff election in June between Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah stretched on for weeks as both sides leveled charges of fraud. The United Nations helped carry out what it said was the most thorough recount in its history, a count that reduced Ghani Ahmadzai’s vote percentage from 56 percent to 55 percent, but still gave him the win.

But the real power struggle was taking place in marathon talks between the two sides, often brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials. The political deal the sides agreed to created the new position of chief executive that Abdullah will now fill.

U.S. officials have said they expect Ghani Ahmadzai to sign a security agreement with the U.S. shortly after his inauguration to allow about 10,000 American troops to stay in the country after the international combat mission ends on Dec. 31.

Even as the inauguration unfolded in the heavily guarded presidential palace, two bomb attacks took place on the road connecting the country’s main airport with the palace. One roadside bomb did not result in any deaths or injuries, but a second attack about a kilometer (half mile) from the airport by a suicide bomber killed six or seven people, police officer Abdul Latif said.

A bigger attack took place in the eastern province of Paktia. Police Capt. Mohammed Hekhlas said that a car bomb exploded near a government compound as gunmen attacked, sparking a gun battle that killed seven Taliban militants. Another police official, who gave his name as Azimullah, said four police officers and two civilians also were killed.

The inauguration took place eight days after the political deal was signed between Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah. Though Kerry played a big role in the political deal, the short notice of the inauguration date and events elsewhere in the Middle East did not allow him to attend. Instead, the U.S. was represented by John Podesta, counselor to President Barack Obama. Other notable guests included Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain and Indian Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari.

TIME Afghanistan

Senior Democrat: We Should Be Proud of Afghanistan Progress

Levin Briefs On Investigation Into Private Security Contractors In Afghanistan
Carl Levin, retiring chairman of the armed services committee, thinks Americans have a "distorted" view of what the U.S. has accomplished in Afghanistan. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D—Mich), chairman of the armed services committee, says things are getting better all the time in Afghanistan

Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the armed services committee, is leaving the Senate after 36 years. He spent Wednesday’s breakfast with a bunch of defense reporters responding to their questions on the U.S.-led attacks against Islamic militants and the Pentagon’s budget crunch.

Levin is no bomb-thrower or partisan hack. When we offered him the chance to say a final word at the end of his final breakfast with us, we listened:

Thank you for the years that we’ve been having breakfast together. I guess my one request, which I have feelings about, is our view of Afghanistan. I’ve been there a dozen times…they’ve made some amazing progress…The people of Afghanistan, by al measure, are glad we came. Eight million kids in school now, versus 800,000 kids under the Taliban; 40% girls, 40% women teachers. Universities now have formed.

Kabul, you can move in. Yea, there’s bombings and they’re covered all the time, and I understand it. But is it a glass half full? I think at least half full and I think, more importantly, it’s getting fuller…

I feel so strongly that the American public view of Afghanistan is distorted—it’s highly negative, they feel we failed. They have a right to feel some real satisfaction because we didn’t fail—quite the opposite. They haven’t succeeded yet, but with our help they have made some real strides, and it doesn’t come through.

So my plea would be, since this may be my last opportunity, would be to somehow or other cover the positives that have occurred in Afghanistan…

I just quote these public opinion polls: Americans, 70% or 65% think we have not achieved anything. In Afghanistan it’s 70 or 80% think we have. How does that happen that the people who are in the middle of that war think we’ve really done some good, and the people who are 10,000 or 15,000 miles away think we haven’t?

Particularly our troops and their families, they’ve got a right to feel they’ve accomplished something, ‘cause they have.

The American people, taxpayers, have a right to feel they’ve accomplished something, ‘cause they have…

I’m just going to hope that somehow or other [ex-defense secretary Robert] Gates’ point, his statement, will no longer prove to be true after a couple of more years. The statement that he made was that Afghanistan is the only war he’s ever seen that the closer you get to it, the better it looks.

I believe that that’s true, and I hope a couple of years from now, when I find a way to visit Afghanistan, that we’ll not only see more progress, but the American people finally realize that `Hey, it was worth it.’

 

 

U.S. Congressional Delegation Visits Afghanistan
Carl Levin, center, on a 2011 visit to Afghanistan. U.S. Navy / Getty Images

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