Afghanistan Politics Guide

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  • President Barack Obama announced plans Thursday to keep nearly 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through most of next year and 5,500 when he leaves office in 2017, casting aside his promise to end the war on his watch and instead ensuring he hands off the conflict to a successor. Obama called the new war plan a "modest but meaningful" extension of the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, which he originally planned to end next year. He acknowledged America's weariness of the lengthy conflict but said he was "firmly convinced we should make this extra effort."
  • Mullah Mohammed Omar, the longtime leader of the Taliban, is dead. This has been falsely reported a number of times before, but this time both Afghan intelligence and the Afghan Taliban have confirmed his death. Omar actually died two years ago, in a Pakistani hospital. The Taliban appears to have covered it up for two years.
  • A suicide bomber in Afghanistan's eastern city of Jalalabad killed 33 people and injured more than 100 on Saturday, setting off a blast outside a bank where government workers collect salaries, the city's police chief said. President Ashraf Ghani blamed Islamic State militants, without giving further detail. If true, it would be the first such major attack carried out by the group in Afghanistan, marking a significant step in its expansion into South Asia.
  • President Barack Obama declared the 13-year war in Afghanistan officially over on Sunday, praising the troops and claiming that Americans are safer for their efforts. In Kabul, General John Campbell folded the flag of the International Security Assistance Force, and unfurled the flag of a new mission, Resolute Support. But while the administration would like to characterize this as a victory, the end of a conflict, it’s more of a re-branding. More than 10,000 United States troops will remain in Afghanistan, and just over one month ago, the president secretly expanded their 2015 combat mission to include fighting with the Taliban and/or al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network, or other insurgent groups.
  • In May, President Barack Obama announced that U.S. forces would withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2016. “Our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul, with a security assistance component,” he explained, “just as we’ve done in Iraq.” The administration’s recent decision to expand the kinds of missions U.S. troops can engage in after this year did not change the deadline for complete withdrawal and is limited by the small number of troops—just 9,800—that will be left. The U.S. will have next to no leverage in Afghanistan in a matter of weeks.
  • Caught between the promise to end the war in Afghanistan, demands from the Pentagon to carry out the military's mission there, and worries over the possible emergence of another ISIS-like group, President Obama approved guidelines in recent weeks to allow the Pentagon to target Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. The measure broadens previous plans that had limited the military to training and counterterrorism missions against al-Qaeda after 2014. According to The New York Times, which first reported on the new guidelines after speaking with several administration, military and congressional sources, Obama's order allows American forces to target the Taliban and other militant groups, but only when a clear threat can be determined.
  • On Sunday, American and British troops completed a secret withdrawal from Helmand Province, handing over one of the largest bases in Afghanistan to local troops. The maneuver effectively ended Britain's involvement in the 13-year-old war and was a major step in the drawdown of American combat troops, which are slated to leave Afghanistan by the end of the year. While there is a surfeit of fondness for declaring a theater of battle to be "key" or "crucial" or "vital," these descriptors actually fit Helmand, especially within the context of America's longest war. Helmand, in addition to being Afghanistan's largest province, was the venue of some of the war's bloodiest action.
  • The United States has spent $7.6 billion on counternarcotics programs during its 13-year occupation of Afghanistan, the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction announced today in a critical report that cites United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime statistics indicating Afghan opium poppy production reached its highest level ever in 2013. From the report:

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