Connect with us

Current

how Kabul fell to the Taliban

Voice Of EU

Published

on

US soldiers crept out of Bagram Airfield in the dead of night on July 1st. As they departed, they shut off the electricity in the fortified military base that had been the heart of America’s war against the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies for two decades.

It was not just the air base the Americans left in the dark but also Afghan troops. Washington was determined to withdraw all US soldiers from Afghanistan by September 11th, the anniversary of the al-Qaeda-led attacks on the US that prompted the invasion of the landlocked central Asian country in 2001. Bagram was to be taken over by the local armed forces, tasked under the leadership of President Ashraf Ghani with picking up the fight against a resurgent Taliban.

Mistrustful of their Afghan counterparts, US commanders chose not to disclose the precise time of their departure. “For operational security reasons, we didn’t go into the exact hour at which all US forces would leave Bagram,” John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, would confirm later.

When the Afghan commander discovered the US troops had left hours earlier, Bagram had already been looted.

An Afghan National Army soldier in Bagram Airfield four days after it was abandoned by US troops on July 1st. Photograph: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images
An Afghan National Army soldier in Bagram Airfield four days after it was abandoned by US troops on July 1st. Photograph: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

The tactical decision would reverberate long after. Afghan ground forces were already anxious about operating without protective US air cover and intelligence. The Bagram desertion reinforced the sense of abandonment growing within Ghani’s administration ever since February 2020, when then-president Donald Trump struck a deal with the Taliban over the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

“The February 2020 deal was an exit deal, not peace deal, and the hasty manner in which it was conducted destroyed the remaining psychological security that Afghan forces felt from their 20-year partnership with the US forces,” said Mike Martin, a former British army officer who served in Afghanistan and author of An Intimate War, a book on the conflict.

“That was symbolised by leaving Bagram in the middle of the night – without telling the Afghans – which gave the Taliban a perfect propaganda message.”

Within weeks, most of Afghanistan’s US-equipped and trained army units would surrender with little resistance to motorbike-riding, Kalashnikov-wielding fighters – allowing the Taliban to seize Kabul in an offensive whose speed stunned Washington, Nato allies and the Islamist group itself.

The capture of Zaranj

Over the past year, the Taliban expanded its influence over Afghanistan’s sparsely populated rural areas, moving in people and equipment. They used intimidation – via targeted killings of civil society figures and threats on social media – but also local diplomacy to strike deals with tribal leaders in anticipation of the US withdrawal.

In late July, US officials estimated that the Taliban controlled half of Afghanistan’s 420 rural districts, up from just a fifth a month earlier. By then, the group intent on establishing a radical Islamist emirate in Afghanistan had set its sights on the country’s cities, all under government control.

The Taliban’s initial attacks last month on three key cities – Kandahar and Lashkar Gah in the south, and Herat in the west – were initially repelled by the western trained commandos of the Afghan special forces.

But on August 6th, the Taliban captured Zaranj, the dusty capital of south-western Nimroz province, with little resistance. With no special forces present to assist them, Afghan troops and officials fled to neighbouring Iran, setting off alarm bells in Washington, which had not expected the Taliban to immediately mount frontal attacks on cities.

People in Zaranj on August 7th, the day after it was captured by the Taliban. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images
People in Zaranj on August 7th, the day after it was captured by the Taliban. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

The next day, the Taliban captured a second provincial capital, Sheberghan, the northern stronghold of Abdul Rashid Dostum, the 67-year-old ethnic Uzbek warlord and former Afghan vice-president who had returned to Afghanistan days before after staying several months in Turkey for medical treatment.

In videos circulating on social media, Taliban fighters appeared open-mouthed inside Dostum’s opulent palace with its baroque gold-painted furniture and dazzling red and blue neon disco lights, later trying on his ceremonial military uniforms and ethnic dress pulled from his closet.

Within two days, the Taliban was in control of five of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals, four of which were in the north – historically a bastion of warlords’ resistance to Taliban rule. They also laid siege to Kandahar and Herat, Afghanistan’s second- and third-largest cities. This prompted the US and the UK to request their citizens to leave the country immediately.

In Washington, President Joe Biden remarked the US had spent $1 trillion in Afghanistan, including on training and equipping the armed forces.

“They have got to want to fight,” he said.

Ghani swallows his pride

Ghani, a former World Bank official and author of a book on fixing failed states, was elected president in 2014. But as Washington sought to extricate itself from Afghanistan, he grew isolated.

Foreign officials say Ghani – whose resignation the Taliban demanded as a precondition for talks with Kabul – was in denial. They describe a leader who was convinced that Biden would abandon his predecessor’s withdrawal plans, and contemptuous of the battle-hardened northern warlords who could help him rally resistance to a Taliban onslaught.

As the Taliban advanced, Ghani first remained aloof. That changed last Wednesday when he flew to the northern provincial capital of Mazar-i-Sharif to rally warlords he despised to defend the city. There, he met Dostum, who arrived separately from Kabul on a commercial flight filled with loyal commandos.

Then presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani (right) with his vice-presidential candidate, Abdul Rashid Dostum, in 2014. Photograph: Shah Marai/AFP via Getty Images
Then presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani (right) with his vice-presidential candidate, Abdul Rashid Dostum, in 2014. Photograph: Shah Marai/AFP via Getty Images

“He has had to swallow his pride and actually deal with them,” said Ahmed Rashid, author of several books on central Asia. The warlords were “the only people putting up resistance”, he added.

The talks between Ghani, Dostum and local strongman Atta Mohammad Noor, governor of Balkh province, were overshadowed by the mass surrender that same day of hundreds of Afghan soldiers in nearby Kunduz. By the time Ghani flew back to Kabul, the Taliban was in control of nine of the country’s 34 provincial capitals.

Denial in Washington

In Washington, Biden met his national security advisers to discuss the deteriorating security situation. The Pentagon had been conducting evacuation drills for months, and carried out a tabletop exercise to evacuate US citizens from Kabul 10 days earlier.

But only last Thursday, as a 12th provincial capital fell, did Biden give the order to implement an embassy evacuation plan involving the deployment of 3,000 troops. On Saturday, Biden sent another 1,000 troops.

That Thursday evening Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the US, tried to alert senior Biden administration officials and other senior congressional Democrats, seeking an urgent increase in US support for the Afghan armed forces.

“She spent the entirety of Thursday night and Friday trying to speak to everybody,” said an official at the Afghan embassy. But she could not raise all the officials. And though some congressional leaders expressed sympathy, Raz’s calls for action fell on deaf ears.

The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Adela Raz, at an event in late June. Photograph: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Adela Raz, at an event in late June. Photograph: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

A US defence official admitted the evacuation plan “looked haphazard”. It offered contingencies for different scenarios and ground conditions, but was initially underpinned by the assumption of “a permissive” environment – namely that Kabul would not be subjected to any Taliban threat during the operation.

A veteran warlord surrenders

Near the Iranian border, veteran warlord Mohammad Ismail Khan had for weeks resumed the fight against the old enemy. He and his militia were to defend Herat, his hometown and the cradle of Afghanistan’s Sufi tradition, far removed from the Taliban’s austere Wahabism.

Khan’s troops were expanded by disgruntled Afghan soldiers, unhappy with the army’s ineffectiveness and alleged failure to pay their salaries.

But by Friday, the 70-year-old warlord had laid down his arms and was posing for photographs on a plush sofa with members of the same Islamist organisation he had fought as part of the northern alliance in the 1990s. One of them wrapped his arm around his shoulders.

Veteran Afghanwarlord Mohammad Ismail Khan in March, 2014. Photograph: Aref Karimi/AFP via Getty Images
Veteran Afghanwarlord Mohammad Ismail Khan in March, 2014. Photograph: Aref Karimi/AFP via Getty Images

“Very, very complex local dynamics hard to comprehend for anyone,” Kabul-based Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary said in a tweet.

Mazar-i-Sharif fell on Saturday morning, sending Dostum and Noor scurrying to neighbouring Uzbekistan. Noor hinted that the Taliban’s blitz had been facilitated. “Despite our firm resistance, all the government and [security forces] equipment were handed over to the Taliban as the result of a big organised and cowardly plot,” he said in a tweet from his refuge. “I have a lot of untold stories that I will share in due course.”

That afternoon, the value of the Afghani, the national currency, plunged 20 per cent against the US dollar. As government officials boarded commercial flights out of the country, Ghani belatedly released a brief pre-recorded message on television, vowing to “remobilise the armed forces”.

Taliban at the gates

By Sunday morning, Kabul was encircled by Taliban fighters. Helicopters flew US embassy officials to the airport. Another 1,000 American troops were ordered to secure the airport and assist the evacuation after Afghan forces vanished. Any assault on US citizens would be met with a “swift and strong military response”, Biden warned.

In the Qatari capital of Doha, US commander Gen Frank McKenzie met Taliban leaders to agree a deconfliction arrangement during the US evacuation in Kabul. The Taliban would not hinder the US evacuation effort at the airport, but would be able to walk into the presidential palace.

At 7pm, Afghans learned that Ghani had fled. Islamist militants poured into Kabul and took over abandoned police posts. They were even given a tour of the presidential palace by security personnel.

Members of theTaliban inthe presidential palace in Kabul on Monday. Photograph: Al Jazeera/AFP via Getty Images
Members of theTaliban inthe presidential palace in Kabul on Monday. Photograph: Al Jazeera/AFP via Getty Images

Over the weekend, 22 Afghan military aircraft and 24 Afghan helicopters carrying 585 Afghan servicemen flew to Uzbekistan. Planes evacuating at least 100 Afghan troops also landed in Bokhtar in Tajikistan.

On Monday, Kabul woke up to Taliban occupation. In the airport, pandemonium erupted as mobs of desperate Afghans overran the tarmac and tried to push their way on to planes flying out. The day before, one US flight had taken 640 Afghans on the floor of a single military plane. Now, US military helicopters buzzed the crowds to clear the runways for take-off.

Some among those staying behind clung to the landing gear of a US military plane, only to fall to their deaths shortly after take-off. The air force found human remains in the wheel base after it landed.

Meanwhile, in the capital, whose squares filled with families fleeing the Taliban, conspiracy theories were running wild as lives – in and out of the country – were shaken up.

“There were multiple rumours that directions not to fight were somehow coming from above,” Ajmal Ahmady, the Harvard-educated governor of the Afghan central bank, said in a tweet on Monday after going into exile.

“Seems difficult to believe but there remains a suspicion about why the [Afghan National Security Forces] left their posts so quickly. There is something unexplained.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

Source link

Current

Zappone turns down invitation to appear before committee to discuss envoy role

Voice Of EU

Published

on

Former minister Katherine Zappone has turned down an invitation to appear before an Oireachtas committee to explain the circumstances surrounding her now-scrapped appointment as a special envoy.

The chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan confirmed on Monday that Ms Zappone had declined an invitation to attend to discuss the matter.

The committee, which met last Wednesday in private session, agreed to write to the former minister and invite her to appear before it.

It is understood the decision was taken at a private meeting after it was proposed by Sinn Féin spokesman on foreign affairs John Brady and his Social Democrats counterpart Gary Gannon.

The committee is also to invite Martin Fraser, the secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach and the State’s highest-ranking civil servant, to address the issue of precisely when Ms Zappone’s name was communicated to the Department of the Taoiseach.

Controversy erupted over an attempt by Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to appoint Ms Zappone as a special envoy for freedom of expression and LGBTQ+ rights.

Mr Coveney – who is attending UN meetings this week in New York – last week faced down a motion of no confidence as a result of his handling of the matter.

Earlier this month, Mr Coveney told the Oireachtas Committee Ms Zappone was mistaken in her belief she had been offered the job last March.

Mr Coveney also rejected claims that Ms Zappone lobbied for the position or that he breached Freedom of Information legislation by deleting texts between himself and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

However, Mr Coveney apologised for “sloppiness”, and for making mistakes in the past few weeks.

Records released by the Department of Foreign Affairs show Ms Zappone texted Mr Coveney to thank him on March 4th “so, so much for offering me this incredible opportunity”.

In mid-July she sent another message of thanks but Mr Coveney has insisted nothing had been formally agreed until it came to Cabinet on July 27th.

Source link

Continue Reading

Current

Lori Loughlin and fashion designer husband drop $13M on Palm Desert vacation home

Voice Of EU

Published

on

Former Full House actress, Lori Loughlin, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have dropped $13million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis, following their release from prison for their involvement in the college-admissions scandal.  

Loughlin, who was released from prison in December, with her husband following in April, appear to be celebrating their newfound freedom with the purchase of their vacation getaway in the La Quinta community.

The five-bedroom, 5.5 bathroom home, situated in the guard-gated exclusive Madison Club, comes lavished with several amenities, including a wine cellar, movie theater, two pools, two spas, a wet bar and an outdoor projector-theater.  

Former Full House actress, Lori Loughlin, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have dropped $13million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis, following their release from prison for their involvement in the college-admissions scandal.

Former Full House actress, Lori Loughlin, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have dropped $13million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis, following their release from prison for their involvement in the college-admissions scandal.

The open dining and living room area is perfect for watching L.A sunsets

The open dining and living room area is perfect for watching L.A sunsets 

The home comes equipped with several outdoor fireplaces, perfect for entertaining guests on chilly evenings

The home comes equipped with several outdoor fireplaces, perfect for entertaining guests on chilly evenings 

Opulent swimming pools encompass the outdoor area, in addition to an outdoor projector for watching films

Opulent swimming pools encompass the outdoor area, in addition to an outdoor projector for watching films 

The home comes lavished with several amenities, including a wine cellar, movie theater, two pools, outdoor fireplaces, two spas, a wet bar and an outdoor projector-theater

The home comes lavished with several amenities, including a wine cellar, movie theater, two pools, outdoor fireplaces, two spas, a wet bar and an outdoor projector-theater 

Former 'Full House' actress, Lori Loughlin, (right) and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, (left) have dropped $13 million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis

Former ‘Full House’ actress, Lori Loughlin, (right) and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, (left) have dropped $13 million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis

Built in 2019, the home was formally owned by Assurance co-founder Michael Rowell and his wife, Alexis, who purchased it for only $9.5 million. 

A few of their neighbors include Kris Jenner, Kourtney Kardashian, Nike’s Phil Knight, Cindy Crawford and Scooter Braun. 

The purchase comes a year after Loughlin and Giannulli bought a $9.5 million modern farmhouse in the Hidden Hills area of Los Angeles.      

A federal judge in Boston recently granted Loughlin ‘expedited’ permission to travel to Canada to possibly rekindle her career. The request was necessary as she remains on probation.

The five-bedroom, 5.5 bathroom home is situated in the guard-gated exclusive Madison Club in the La Quinta community

The five-bedroom, 5.5 bathroom home is situated in the guard-gated exclusive Madison Club in the La Quinta community

Built in 2019, the home was formally owned by Assurance co-founder Michael Rowell and his wife, Alexis, who purchased it for only $9.5 million

Built in 2019, the home was formally owned by Assurance co-founder Michael Rowell and his wife, Alexis, who purchased it for only $9.5 million

An large dining area opens out onto the terrace, as an intricate chandelier hangs from the ceiling

An large dining area opens out onto the terrace, as an intricate chandelier hangs from the ceiling

Also featured in the amenities is a chic, oversized wine cellar

Also featured in the amenities is a chic, oversized wine cellar 

Loughlin was unable to travel due to her prison sentence and ensuing community service commitments stemming from her involvement in the ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ scheme, which involved wealthy parents paying large sums of money to get their kids into elite universities.    

‘Ms. Loughlin anticipates she will be traveling for about one week’ and is ‘being offered a filming production project’ if granted permission, her initial request sent by a probation official stated.   

It emerged in 2019 that Lori and Giannulli bribed their daughters Olivia and Isabella’s way into University Of Southern California.

Lori and her fashion designer husband paid $500,000 to falsely pass the girls off as potential college rowers on USC’s rowing team.

Although they initially claimed to be innocent, Mossimo pled guilty last May to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and honest services and mail fraud, while Lori pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.  

Giannulli was sentenced to five months, while Loughlin served two months behind bars.

It emerged in 2019 that Lori and Giannulli bribed their daughters Olivia and Isabella's way into University Of Southern California

It emerged in 2019 that Lori and Giannulli bribed their daughters Olivia and Isabella’s way into University Of Southern California

Source link

Continue Reading

Current

Tenor fails to rent home as work in Covid-hit sector deemed precarious

Voice Of EU

Published

on

An Irish tenor, who has performed for presidents and emperors and been shortlisted for a Grammy award, is struggling to rent a home in Dublin because of a perception that working in the Covid-19-hit entertainment industry makes him a risk.

Paul Byrom said he was “knocked for six” last week after a potential landlord refused to even meet him on the grounds that the pandemic had made his profession singularly unsuitable for the rental market.

Byrom has earned his living as a musician for more than 20 years and has performed for Emperor Akihito of Japan, former Irish presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson and former US president Barack Obama.

He was one of the original soloists in the Celtic Thunder show that toured the world and had number one albums on the World Billboard Chart. A solo album, This is the Moment, debuted at number one on the same chart and was shortlisted for a Grammy nomination.

Byrom has continued to work online during the pandemic and is looking forward to restarting his live career soon. “I am no Bono, but I am not starting out in the game,” he said.

However, none of his achievements appear to have been good enough for one Dublin landlord. Byrom said he and his girlfriend were keen to move to a bigger home and found a two-bedroom house in south county Dublin advertised at a rent of €2,000 a month.

‘Exemplary tenant’

It was being let by the estate agent which manages the property the couple currently live in and he was assured that, as an “exemplary tenant” for more than three years, his application would most likely be considered favourably.

“The estate agents said that while it was looking after the letting, it wouldn’t be the management company and the guy who owned it would be the point of contact,” Byrom said. “I was told that the landlord would want to meet me and I had no problem with any of that – I thought that made sense.”

He and his girlfriend assembled all the paperwork including her payslips and details of his earnings from his accountant. “I had moved in in my head but then I got a phone call saying the application had been rejected,” he said.

His mother joked that he had been turned down “because the landlord didn’t want you practising your Ave Maria’s at 10 in the morning.”

But that was not the reason. It emerged that the “landlord thought that because Covid had hit my industry hard he would be too nervous to take me on. He simply didn’t want anyone from the entertainment industry,” Byrom said.

Mortgage

He said struggling to rent or get a mortgage were not the only issues entertainers encounter.

“Try and look for car insurance as a singer and the companies don’t want to know. So I can’t drive a car or rent a home or even take advantage of the bike to work tax scheme because I am self employed.

“And this is a country that claims to be the land of the bards and the poets. The amount of roadblocks put in an entertainer’s way are just crazy, but then they will say get out there and sing Danny Boy and represent the country. You’d have to wonder if Ireland wants artists to be here at all.”


Source link

Continue Reading

Trending

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates 
directly on your inbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!