TIME Afghanistan

Afghanistan Finally Has a New President

AFGHANISTAN-ELECTION
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai signs a power-sharing agreement with unseen rival Abdullah Abdullah at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on Sept. 21, 2014. Wakil Kohsar—AFP/Getty Images

Ghani Ahmadzai will serve as president of Afghanistan after signing a power-sharing deal with Abdullah Abdullah, who will become the country's chief executive

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s two presidential candidates signed a power-sharing deal on Sunday that makes one president and the other chief executive, ending months of political wrangling following a disputed runoff that threatened to plunge the country into turmoil and complicate the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Ending an election season that began with first-round ballots cast in April, the election commission named Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as the winner and next president. But the commission pointedly did not release final vote totals amid suggestions that doing so could inflame tensions.

Ghani Ahmadzai and new Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah signed the national unity government deal as President Hamid Karzai — in power since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban — looked on. It took weeks of negotiations to form a power-sharing arrangement after accusations of fraud in the June runoff vote.

The candidates signed the deal at the presidential palace, then exchanged a hug and a handshake.

“I am very happy today that both of my brothers, Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, in an Afghan agreement for the benefit of this country, for the progress and development of this country, that they agreed on the structure affirming the new government of Afghanistan,” Karzai said after the signing.

The deal is a victory for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who first got the candidates to agree in principle to share power during a July visit to Afghanistan. Kerry returned to Kabul in August and has spent hours with the candidates, including in repeated phone calls, in an effort to seal the deal.

A White House statement lauded the two leaders, saying the agreement helps bring closure to Afghanistan’s political crisis.

“This agreement marks an important opportunity for unity and increased stability in Afghanistan. We continue to call on all Afghans — including political, religious, and civil society leaders — to support this agreement and to come together in calling for cooperation and calm,” the White House statement said.

Jan Kubis, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, said the uncertainty of the past months took a heavy toll on Afghanistan’s security, economy and governance. NATO said in a statement that it hoped both leaders could move forward “in the spirit of genuine political partnership.”

The decision not to release vote totals underscores the fear of potential violence despite Sunday’s deal. One of Abdullah’s final demands was that the election commission not release the vote count because of the fraud he alleges took place.

Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani, chairman of the election commission, said the final ballot counts have been shared with both candidates and that the commission would announce the numbers publicly later.

A Ghani Ahmadzai supporter — Halim Fidai, a former governor — said Sunday that Kubish, the U.N. representative, told the commission not to release vote tallies. A U.N. official who insisted on anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly said the allegation was not true and that the U.N. was only facilitating dialogue between the candidates and the election commission regarding the release of the results.

A senior U.S. official said the vote result is transparent but may be released slowly over fears of violence. The official insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to be identified publicly.

Ghani Admadzai supporters and election commission reports circulating on social media said that the final vote gave Ghani Ahmadzai roughly 55 percent and Abdullah roughly 45 percent.

The four-page power sharing contract says the relationship between president and chief executive — a position akin to prime minister — must be defined by “partnership, collegiality, collaboration, and, most importantly, responsibility to the people of Afghanistan.”

It spells out the powers for the new chief executive position: participation with the president in bilateral meetings, carrying out administrative and executive affairs as determined by presidential decree, and parity in selection of key security and economic ministries.

The deal specifies that the president leads the Cabinet but that the chief executive manages the Cabinet’s implementation of government policies. The chief executive will also chair regular meetings of a council of ministers.

An inauguration ceremony to see Ghani Ahmadzai replace Karzai as president and swear in Abdullah as chief executive was expected within days. Abdullah’s spokesman Fazel Sancharaki said the event could be held on Sept. 29.

As talks dragged on, Abdullah’s mostly northern supporters had threatened to form a parallel government or react violently to any outright victory by Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister and World Bank official whose power base is in the country’s south and east. Ghani Ahmadzai said he always maintained that ethnic politics in Afghanistan demand some sort of power sharing deal and not a winner-takes-all government.

Abdullah believes he won the first round of the election in April with more than 50 percent of the vote, which would have precluded a runoff. But the official results showed him winning about 45 percent of that vote in a crowded presidential field of 10.

He also believes he won a June runoff with Ghani Ahmadzai. But initial results totals showed Ghani Ahmadzai with about 56 percent of the vote. After the recount the election commission invalidated 1 million of the approximately 8.1 million cast in the runoff, according to the un-released vote counts, suggesting that fraud was indeed widespread.

Though the White House statement said that “respect for the democratic process” is the only viable path forward for Afghanistan, the next Afghan government to many has the appearance of a product of more of negotiations than vote tallies.

A power-sharing deal was almost sealed about a week ago, but Abdullah then demanded that no vote totals from the runoff be released.

The U.S. official said the United States government believes the new president was declared as the result of quantitative electoral results from many millions of legitimate votes and that though a political agreement was made to form a unity government the government is headed by a president decided upon by an electoral process.

U.N. and Afghan election officials spent weeks auditing the runoff results after allegations of fraud, a common occurrence over Afghanistan’s last two presidential elections. Abdullah’s side maintained the fraud was so sophisticated it was undetectable.

The U.S. has been pushing for a resolution so the next president can sign a security agreement that would allow about 10,000 U.S. forces to remain in the country after combat operations wrap up at the end of the year. Karzai refused to sign it; Ghani Ahmadzai has said he will.

The 13-year war against the Taliban has largely been turned over to Afghan security forces, a development that has seen casualties among Afghan soldiers rise significantly this year.

The U.S. and international community will continue to fund the Afghan army in the coming years but the Afghans themselves will have to fend off Taliban attempts to again take over wide areas of the country.

TIME

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TIME Afghanistan

Suicide Bomber Attacks NATO Convoy in Kabul Killing 3

U.S. troops carry the dead body of a member of an international troop at the site of suicide attack in Kabul
U.S. troops carry the dead body of a member of an international troop at the site of suicide attack in Kabul September 16, 2014. Omar Sobhani — Reuters

Taliban claims responsibility

Updated: Sept. 16, 2014, 2:51 a.m. E.T.

A suicide bomber attacked a military convoy in Kabul Tuesday morning, killing three NATO soldiers and injuring 16 civilians.

The explosion took place around 8 a.m. local time in heavy traffic on the airport road near the Supreme Court, according to the BBC.

Witnesses said a vehicle from the convoy was completely destroyed in the attack, and injured soldiers were seen receiving first aid soon after.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast, which took place amid uncertainty and controversy over Afghanistan’s recent presidential elections. The elections have been dogged by allegations of fraud.

The nationalities of the soldiers in the convoy are not yet known, reports said.

TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Militants May Join ISIS Says Their Commander

The link-up could pose a renewed threat to an already fragile Afghanistan

An Afghanistan-based militant group with links to the Taliban is considering aligning itself with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the BBC reports.

Commander Mirwais of the Hezb-e-Islami, a group notorious for its brutality, called ISIS fighters “great mujahideen,” and told the BBC his group was waiting to see if ISIS met the requirements for a true Islamic caliphate. “We pray for them,” he said, “and if we don’t see a problem in the way they operate, we will join them.”

Hezb-e-Islami, along with the rest of the Taliban and its allies, are in conflict with an Afghan government in the midst of a leadership crisis. A winner of the recent presidential election has yet to be named, as the voting is being audited.

Mirwais said the current government was weak and had no control in rural areas, adding that the group will “continue to fight until we establish an Islamic state.”

Kabul-based politician and intelligence expert Amrullah Saleh told the BBC that politics and society in Afghanistan had changed too much for the Taliban to retake power. But a link-up between Afghan insurgents and extremist ISIS fighters could pose a renewed threat.

[BBC]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 26

1. “This is a reflection of long-standing and growing inequalities of access to basic systems of healthcare delivery.” –Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer on the Ebola outbreak.

By Democracy Now!

2. Despite commitments to the contrary, elite colleges are still failing to bring poorer students into the fold.

By Richard Pérez-Peña in the New York Times

3. #ISISMediaBlackout: Tuning out Islamist rhetoric and taking out their powerful propaganda weapon.

By Nancy Messieh at the Atlantic Council

4. What makes income inequality so pernicious? The shocking odds against moving up the income ladder for some Americans.

By Richard Reeves at the Brookings Institution

5. The specter of Iraq’s looming collapse is inflaming concerns about Afghanistan’s electoral crisis. But the two countries are very different.

By The Editors of Bloomberg View

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 19

1. To understand the conflict in Ferguson, we must acknowledge and overcome structural racism.

By Karen J. Aroesty in the St. Louis Dispatch

2. As we leave Afghanistan, we owe justice and transparency to civilians caught in the crossfire of our occupation.

By Christopher Rogers in Al-Jazeera America

3. The wisdom of crowds: The CIA is learning a lot by aggregating the guesswork of ordinary Americans.

By Alix Spiegel at National Public Radio

4. In the age of MOOCs, remote labs are making a comeback and giving STEM students affordable new ways to do research.

By Steve Zurier in EdTech

5. Delaying child bearing and getting a high school diploma could drastically alter the future for today’s teen moms.

By Emily Cuddy and Richard V. Reeves at the Brookings Institution

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 15

1. 1,000 new visas is a good start, but to continue building trust, the U.S. must further expand the visa program for Afghans assisting ISAF at great risk.

By Jordan Larson in Vice

2. It’s not too late for the Internet to ditch pop-up ads and build a better web.

By Ethan Zuckerman in the Atlantic

3. A peace deal may be the only way to relieve Gaza’s “health disaster.”

By Dana Lea in Politically Inclined

4. Now ubiquitous, mobile phones can close the gap for maternal health care.

By Becky Allen and Jenna Karp at the Council on Foreign Relations

5. To save the African elephant, we must ban all ivory sales for a decade or more.

By Daniel Cressey in Nature

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Afghanistan

U.S. General Officer Killed in ‘Insider Attack’ in Afghanistan

Afghan National Army soldiers keep watch at the gate of a British-run military training academy Camp Qargha, in Kabul on August 5, 2014.
Afghan National Army soldiers keep watch at the gate of a British-run military training academy Camp Qargha, in Kabul on August 5, 2014. Omar Sobhani—Reuters

The Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday that a U.S. general was killed,

Updated 5:17 p.m. ET August 5

A man in an Afghan army uniform opened fire Tuesday on American-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, injuring up to 14 troops and killing a United States general officer, the Pentagon said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said at a news conference hours after the incident that the officer, Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, was “one of if not the highest ranking deaths” in the war in Afghanistan. Greene was re-assigned in January from a position in Washington, D.C., to take on the role of deputy commanding general in Afghanistan.

Multiple news outlets reported through the day that a U.S. Army major general was killed in the attack in Kabul, with the New York Times saying the officer was the highest-ranking member of the U.S. military to die in hostilities in Afghanistan.

Kirby said there were up to 15 casualties, including members of the Afghan National Security Forces. He said the shooter was suspected to be a member of the ANSF.

The NATO-led forces confirmed earlier that the attack occurred at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul, and not Camp Qargha as the German military said in its statement earlier Tuesday.

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, said a “terrorist in an army uniform” opened fire on local and international troops, according to the Associated Press.Azimi said the shooter was killed. The German military, which said the assault was launched “probably by internal attackers,” said a German brigadier general was among the injured.

So-called “insider attacks” in Afghanistan have dropped sharply since 2012, when such attacks killed 53 coalition troops, according to the AP. Last year, 16 people were killed by such attacks.

The Taliban, which often take credit for such attacks, did not immediately comment to a New York Times reporter.

[NYT]

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.”

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