03/25/15

Obama Snubs Europe in Favor of Russia

By: Denise Simon
Founders Code

In recent days, Barack Obama has been cozy with the president of Afghanistan, Ghani granted him the favor of extending the deployments of troops in the Afghan theater. Ashraf Ghani is visiting the White House and giving a speech to Congress that is full of gratitude for the United States commitment to the country.

This raises Obama’s reputation in dealing with foreign affairs, but does it really? When applied to matters in the Middle East, the Far East and Europe, his attention to nurturing those relationships continue to dive.

The NATO General Secretary, Jens Stoltenberg is in town for 3 days to deal with the crisis in Ukraine that is spilling over to Europe, the Baltic States and Ukraine. Obama has no time to meet with him, zero. The question is why?

President Barack Obama has yet to meet with the new head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and won’t see Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week, even though he is in Washington for three days.  Stoltenberg’s office requested a meeting with Obama well in advance of the visit, but never heard anything from the White House, two sources close to the NATO chief told me.

The leaders of almost all the other 28 NATO member countries have made time for Stoltenberg since he took over the world’s largest military alliance in October. Stoltenberg, twice the prime minister of Norway, met Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa to discuss the threat of the Islamic State and the crisis in Ukraine, two issues near the top of Obama’s agenda.

Kurt Volker, who served as the U.S. permanent representative to NATO under both President George W. Bush and Obama, said the president broke a long tradition.  “The Bush administration held a firm line that if the NATO secretary general came to town, he would be seen by the president … so as not to diminish his stature or authority,” he told me.

America’s commitment to defend its NATO allies is its biggest treaty obligation, said Volker, adding that European security is at its most perilous moment since the Cold War. Russia has moved troops and weapons into eastern Ukraine, annexed Crimea, placed nuclear-capable missiles in striking distance of NATO allies, flown strategic-bomber mock runs in the North Atlantic, practiced attack approaches on the U.K. and Sweden, and this week threatened to aim nuclear missiles at Denmark’s warships.
“It is hard for me to believe that the president of the United States has not found the time to meet with the current secretary general of NATO given the magnitude of what this implies, and the responsibilities of his office,” Volker said.

Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, declined to say why Obama didn’t respond to Stoltenberg’s request. “We don’t have any meetings to announce at this time,” she told me in a statement. Sources told me that Stoltenberg was able to arrange a last-minute meeting with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

According to White House press releases, Obama didn’t exactly have a packed schedule. On Tuesday, he held important meetings and a press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House (Ghani will meet with Stoltenberg while they are both in town). But the only event on Obama’s public schedule for Wednesday is a short speech to kick off a meeting related to the Affordable Care Act. On Thursday, he will head to Alabama to give a speech about the economy.

Stoltenberg is in town primarily for the NATO Transformation Seminar, a once-a-year strategic brainstorming session that brings together NATO’s leadership with experts and top officials from the host country. The event is organized by the Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia, and the Atlantic Council.

“The focus of this year’s seminar is to think through how best to update NATO’s strategy given real threats in the east and the south, against the backdrop of a dramatically changing world,” said Damon Wilson, a former NSC senior director for Europe who is now with the Atlantic Council. “The practical focus is to begin developing the road map to the next NATO summit, which will take place in Warsaw in July 2016, a summit which will presumably be the capstone and last summit for the Obama administration.”

Last year, the seminar was hosted in Paris, and then-NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen got a separate bilateral meeting with President Francois Hollande of France.

Last Friday, at the German Marshall Fund Brussels Forum, Stoltenberg talked about the importance of close coordination inside NATO in order to first confront Russian aggression and then eventually move toward a stable relationship with Moscow.

“The only way we can have the confidence to engage with Russia,” he said, “is to have the confidence and the strength which is provided by strong collective defense, the NATO alliance.”

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski told the Brussels Forum that there has been a worrisome lag between NATO’s promises of more defensive equipment for Poland and what has actually arrived, a blow to the alliance’s credibility. “It’s very important and necessary for everyone to have the conviction, including the potential aggressor to have this conviction, that NATO is truly determined to execute contingency plans,” he said.

The White House missed a perfect opportunity to reinforce that message this week in snubbing Stoltenberg. It fits into a narrative pushed by Obama critics that he would rather meet with problematic leaders such as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who will get an Oval Office meeting next month, than firm allies. The message Russian President Vladimir Putin will take away is that the White House-NATO relationship is rocky, and he will be right.

*** Putin is taking full advantage of this neglect and the means by which it plays out does not have a positive result. When it comes to Ukraine, we are bound by a long standing agreement to support and protect the country, to date that has not happened. Ukraine is working to increase the size of its forces against continued Russian aggression. Obama has refused to tend to the relationship with Poland. As a gesture, we have deployed 4 A-10’s to Poland. Even the country of Georgia is at risk of Russian juggernaut.

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that a recent Russian military exercise has marked the beginning of a series of such drills this year, a show of force that comes amid a bitter strain with the West over Ukraine.

Reflecting the tensions, U.S. and other NATO forces staged maneuvers in the Baltics, and a convoy of U.S. troops has driven through eastern Europe in a bid to reassure the allies.

Last week’s Russian maneuvers that spread from the Arctic to the Black Sea involved 80,000 troops, about 100 navy ships and more than 220 aircraft.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin Tuesday that the maneuvers were aimed at checking the readiness of the newly formed group of forces in the Arctic, as well as the military’s capability to quickly field troops to several theaters of operations.

“I proceed from the assumption that this was just the start of efforts to train the armed forces,” Putin said.

As part of the drills, the state-of-the art Iskander missiles were deployed to Russia’s westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad bordering NATO members Poland and Lithuania, and long-range, nuclear-capable Tu-22M3 bombers were sent to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine a year ago.

The move was intended to demonstrate Russia’s readiness to raise the ante amid a bitter strain in relations with the West, but for now the Kremlin apparently has stopped short of making the deployment permanent.

Shoigu reported to Putin that all troops involved in the maneuvers have returned to their home bases.

Asked specifically if the Iskander missiles also had returned to their location, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov referred to Shoigu’s statement in comments carried by Russian news agencies.

Even though the latest maneuvers ended last week, the Russian military continued their training.

NATO said it scrambled Danish and Italian jets based in Lithuania early Tuesday to escort four Russian military jets flying with their transponders switched off in international airspace over the Baltic Sea. The alliance said the Russian planes were heading to Kaliningrad.

02/1/15

Afghanistan Conditions with Taliban/al Qaeda

By: Denise Simon
Founders Code

Has anyone talked to Ashraf Ghani about the Taliban or the 5 detainees released from Guantanamo and handed over to Qatar? What is the near future for Afghanistan with the Talibans’ recent terror attacks? There is and remains a military stalemate between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan. Perhaps the agreement signed with Afghanistan is a clue.

We conclude that the security environment in Afghanistan will become more challenging after the drawdown of most international forces in 2014, and that the Taliban insurgency will become a greater threat to tan’s stability in the 2015–2018 timeframe than it is now.

The insurgency has been considerably weakened since the surge of U.S. and NATO forces in 2009, but it remains a viable threat to the government of Afghanistan. The coalition’s drawdown will result in a considerable reduction in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations by Afghan, U.S., and NATO forces. History suggests that the Taliban will use sanctuaries in Pakistan to regenerate their capabilities as military pressure on the movement declines. In the 2015– 2016 timeframe, we assess that the Taliban are likely to try to keep military pressure on the ANSF in rural areas, expand their control and influence in areas vacated by coalition forces, encircle key cities, conduct high-profile attacks in Kabul and other urban areas, and gain leverage for reconciliation negotiations. In 2016–2018, once the insurgency has had time to recover from the last several years of U.S. and NATO operations, a larger and more intense military effort will become increasingly likely.

We conclude that a small group of al Qaeda members, many of whom have intermarried with local clans and forged ties with Afghan and Pakistani insurgents, remains active in the remote valleys of northeastern Afghanistan.  However, as a result of sustained U.S. and Afghan counterterrorism operations, this group of al Qaeda members does not currently pose an imminent threat to the U.S. and Western nations. Further, so long as adequate pressure is maintained via U.S. and Afghan counterterrorism operations, the group is unlikely to regenerate the capability to become a substantial threat in the 2015–2018 timeframe.

We conclude that, in the likely 2015–2018 security environment, the ANSF will require a total security force of about 373,400 personnel in order to pro- vide basic security for the country, and cope with the Taliban insurgency and low-level al Qaeda threat.

***

The United Nations provided a report in December of 2014 that in part reads:  The present report provides an update on the situation since the fourth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team was submitted to the Committee on 30 April 2014 (S/2014/402). The inauguration of the new President of Afghanistan on 29 September marked the first democratic and peaceful transition of executive authority in the history of Afghanistan. This was achieved despite intensive efforts by the Taliban to disrupt the second round of the presidential elections on 14 June 2014. The Taliban also exploited the political uncertainty following the elections until a government of national unity was formed in September 2014. Consequently, 2014 saw a significantly elevated number of Taliban attacks across Afghanistan, marking an increase in their activity.

Although the current fighting season has not yet concluded, the prospects of the Taliban breaking the strategic stalemate look slim despite the almost complete withdrawal of international combat troops. The most intensive military onslaught of the Taliban during the 2014 fighting season resulted in several district centres in the south and the east being overrun, but only briefly, as the government forces proved resilient and were able to recapture them within days. Meanwhile, an intensive Taliban effort to take control of Sangin district in Helmand Province failed.

On the political front, the Taliban leadership remains largely opposed to reconciliation, despite some elements that argue in favour. Hardliners from the “Da Fidayano Mahaz”1 (not listed), the “Tora Bora Mahaz” (not listed) and other affiliates push for renewed military efforts and argue that a campaign of attrition will wear out government forces and institutions over a period of several years. Meanwhile, the pragmatists associated with the Mu’tasim Group argue for a negotiated settlem   ent, which they believe could be to the Taliban’s advantage.

Stability in Afghanistan in 2015 and beyond will depend on two essential factors: the sustainability of external economic assistance, which is crucial to supporting the Government of Afghanistan and the national security forces and their continued development, and the persistence of Afghan confidence in government institutions and security forces, which is crucial to maintaining morale.

Regrettably, the Monitoring Team continues to receive a steady — albeit officially unconfirmed — flow of media reports indicating that some listed individuals have become increasingly adept at circumventing the sanctions measures, the travel ban in particular. Continuing to raise awareness with all stakeholders of the central role of the sanctions measures and their implementation as part of the wider political strategy of the international community remains one of the key tasks of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011) and the Team. *** Al-Qaida associates

There was a distinct increase in the activities and the visibility of Al-Qaida- affiliated entities in Afghanistan in 2014 (see annex II for an overview of the various Al-Qaida entities active in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region and of how they relate to one another). Although geographically removed from Afghanistan, the recent events in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, specifically the success of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), currently listed as Al-Qaida in Iraq (QE.J.115.04), present a challenge to the Taliban as a movement. In January 2014, the Afghan security forces seized propaganda material originating from an Iraq-based Al-Qaida affiliate in north-eastern Afghanistan. According to official information provided by Afghan officials to the Team, in mid-2014 the Taliban leadership was concerned that the success of ISIL in parts of northern Iraq would draw young people who were potential Taliban recruits to join ISIL in Iraq.

Although this did not happen, apparently because of how difficult it is to travel to Iraq, the Monitoring Team has received a steady stream of as yet unconfirmed reports and press articles pointing to the existence of direct contacts between individuals associated with the Taliban and individuals associated with ISIL. For example, it has been reported in several Afghan media articles that the current ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, listed as Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai (QI.A.299.11), lived in Kabul during the Taliban regime and cooperated closely with Al-Qaida groups in Afghanistan at the time.28 In addition, Taliban splinter groups such as the Da Fidayano Mahaz and the Tora Bora Mahaz continue to regularly report on and glorify ISIL activities on their websites.29 The Team will continue to monitor this situation and report to the Committee once it is able to present an official confirmation.

Currently, two prominent supporters of ISIL from the Afghan Taliban — Mawlavi Abdul Rahim Muslimdost (not listed), who is a leader of the “Jama’at al Da’wa ila al-Qur’an wa Ahl al-Hadith” (not listed) in Kunar Province, and Mawlavi Abdul Qahir (not listed) — have endorsed the leader of ISIL, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.30 Most other leaders of the Jama’at al Da’wa ila al-Qur’an wa Ahl al-Hadith had sworn allegiance to Mullah Omar’s “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” in 2010.31

The Tora Bora Mahaz is a militant group operating in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, that is reportedly under the operational control of the Taliban and its leader Anwar al-Haqq Mujahid (not listed), son of Yunus Khalis (not listed), who served as a Taliban shadow provincial governor. The group has primarily been attacking government forces in Nangarhar Province (see S/2014/402, para. 21). It publishes a magazine, Tora Bora, and maintains a website, on which it regularly cross-posts videos produced by ISIL.

At the individual level, some Arab nationals affiliated with Al-Qaida in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border area remain in touch with those who left for Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic. When in July a drone strike killed six Al-Qaida-affiliated individuals in North Waziristan, Abdul Mohsen Abdallah Ibrahim al Charekh (QI.A.324.14) — currently serving with the Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant (QE.A.137.14) — expressed grief over the loss of his friends.

A militant group calling itself “Al-Tawhid Battalion in Khorasan” (not listed) pledged allegiance to ISIL. The Abtalul Islam Media Foundation posted a statement from the group using its Twitter account on 21 September 2014. In the message, the leader of the Al-Tawhid Battalion, Abu Bakr al-Kabuli (not listed), pledged loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and asked him if the group should fight in Khorasan or wait to join the ranks of ISIL, whether in Iraq, the Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan or Pakistan.33  The position of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (QI.H.88.03), the leader of the Hizb-I- Islami Gulbuddin, concerning the political situation in Afghanistan remains contradictory. On the one hand, he is seeking an enhanced political role for Hizb-I- Islami Gulbuddin in post-NATO Afghanistan. Some leading members of his party are involved in intense negotiations with the President, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, and with Abdullah Abdullah to explore options for future cooperation that include the possibility of joining the new Government.34 Hekmatyar has also supported the holding of an intra-Afghan dialogue without foreign interference.35 On the other hand, Hekmatyar has criticized the signing by Afghanistan of a bilateral security agreement with the United States and claimed that a continued foreign presence means nothing but war. He has also lashed out at Iran (Islamic Republic of) and Pakistan for supporting the deal.