Russia’s new role in Afghanistan

More than two decades after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Moscow is once again seeking to play a major role in the country by boosting military and economic cooperation with Kabul. DW examines.

Präsident Wladimir Putin Russland mit Präsident Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai Afghanistan

Russia and Afghanistan have become friends again, putting behind their past enmity and bitter memories from the decade-long Soviet occupation of the South Asian country. The two countries today share good relations, and they even signed a security agreement last year.

Just recently, Moscow gave 10,000 Kalashnikov rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition to the Afghan government. And further Russian military and economic aid is expected to flow to Kabul. Continue reading

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Afghanistan in 2015 – Withdrawing pledges to withdraw

2015 was a troubled year for Afghanistan. With the Taliban and IS achieving temporary success within the country, NATO was forced to revise its troop withdrawal plans.

An Afghan army soldier stands guard at the attack site at Kandahar airport, southern Afghanistan

The Afghan security forces were expected to assume full responsibility for defense and security within their country for the first time this year. At the end of 2014, NATO’s combat mission concluded, leaving its follow-up mission “Resolute Support” to merely observe, advise, and train the Afghan army. For this mission, more than 10,000 NATO troops remained in Afghanistan. 850 of the soldiers were provided by the German military.

While Afghan forces were taking the reins on ensuring peace and order within the country, initiatives for a peace process with the Taliban were being pushed forward. In the spring of 2015, it looked as though the peace talks were off to a good start, but these hopes were soon dashed.

Mullah Mohammed Omar FBI wanted picture

Fractured Taliban

The confirmation of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar ended the first fragile successes of the initial peace talks. It was said that Omar – who supposedly died in 2013 – campaigned for the talks and supported them as long as they involved the conclusion of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. After the Afghan government announced his death – and the Taliban confirmed it – in July of 2015, the basis for the peace negotiations fell apart.

The new leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, rejected a rapprochement between the parties. Despite numerous rumors about an internal rift in the Taliban – some of its fighters supposedly refused to recognize Mansour as their leader – the militant group proved its strength by increasing the number of attacks.

According to a semi-annual report from the UN, the number of casualties reached a new peak in 2015. Around 5,000 civilians died as a result of the violence in the first half of the year.

“The fact that the Taliban was able to weather so many challenges this year – particularly a difficult leadership transition – will give it confidence for the next year,” argued Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center.

“At the end of the day, the Taliban still has two things working in its favor: a continued relationship with Pakistan, which will afford it sanctuary; and an Afghan government perceived as weak and ineffective, which could help spark recruitment,” the analyst told DW.

The fall of Kunduz

Taliban fighters pose for a photo next to a UN vehicle which they used in Kunduz, Afghanistan after taking parts of the city

Despite many previous signs of a deteriorating security situation in the country, the fall of the provincial capital of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan signalled a turning point in the eyes of NATO.

For a few days (from September 28 until October 13), parts of this strategically-located city were in the hands of the Taliban. Images of fleeing Afghan security forces were seen around the world. The Taliban took triumphant selfies with locals in Kunduz and patrolled the streets in state police cars. According to the UN, around 850 people were killed. The fall of Kunduz was a serious blow to the morale of the Afghan military and the police.

With the temporary fall of Kunduz, it became obvious that Afghanistan is not in the position to defend itself. “I’m quite sure that the fall of Kunduz, as well as the growing threat of IS in Afghanistan, figured prominently in President Obama’s decision to halt the US troop withdrawal,” Kugelman told DW.

For its part, the German government wants to increase the number of troops it stations in Afghanistan to 980 next year. For Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, this figure is by no means sufficient.

“To only slightly increase the number of soldiers in Afghanistan and to only do a little more than what had been done before is inadequate. It fails to address the real problems.” In addition to massive problems on the security front, the country is also afflicted by a raft of social, economic and institutional challenges, Ruttig said.

Afghan refugees

A consequence of this precarious state of affairs is the exodus of huge numbers of Afghans seeking better lives elsewhere. In 2015, over 140,000 Afghans fled to Europe, a majority of them to Germany.

According to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, more than 31,000 refugees from Afghanistan were registered in November, alone. After the Syrians, the Afghans are now the second largest group of asylum seekers.

“We are doing everything in our power so that Afghans do not believe it is necessary to leave the country,” Sayed Zafar Hashemi, spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, recently told DW. In an interview with DW’s Conflict Zone, President Ghani said the refugees in Europe wouldn’t become more than “dishwashers.” He emphasized, that it is not possible for refugees to economically rise in Europe and the only chance for a career lies in Afghanistan.

For Alexey Yusupov, director of the Freidrich Ebert Foundation in Kabul, this trend towards fleeing Afghanistan originated from tactically circulated misinformation from human smugglers and lenders. “It is not only about rhetoric, but it is also about concretely and actively tackling these networks,” Yusupov told DW. Until now, these measures have failed as more and more people continue to flee Afghanistan. “People need to realize that they can change their living conditions for the better, so that they will stay,” he asserted.

The Afghan government has developed programs which will try to tackle this issue in the coming year. One example is a project called “Jobs for Peace,” an initiative supported by Germany, which will create jobs in Afghanistan. Only time will tell whether or not the feeling of hopelessness can be averted in 2016.

Rückzug vom Rückzug

2015 war ein unruhiges Jahr für Afghanistan. Taliban und IS konnten zeitweise Erfolge erzielen. Die NATO sah sich gezwungen, ihre Rückzugspläne zu revidieren.

Bundeswehr Soldaten der Clausewitz-Kaserne in Burg Archiv 2011

Die afghanischen Sicherheitskräfte sollten dieses Jahr das Land erstmalig in Eigenverantwortung schützen. Ende 2014 wurde der Kampfeinsatz der NATO beendet. Die Nachfolgemission “Resolute Support” sah lediglich vor, die afghanische Armee zu beraten und auszubilden. Dafür sind mehr als 10.000 NATO-Soldaten am Hindukusch im Einsatz. Die Bundeswehr stellt etwa 850 Soldaten.

Während die afghanischen Sicherheitskräfte eigenständig für Ruhe und Ordnung sorgen sollten, wurden Initiativen für einen Friedensprozess mit den Taliban vorangetrieben. Im Frühjahr 2015 sah es fast danach aus, als würden die Gespräche erfolgreich anlaufen. Doch die Hoffnungen wurden bald zerschlagen. Continue reading

Hilfsgelder statt Kampftruppen für Afghanistan

Die Afghanen werden nach dem Truppenabzug nicht allein gelassen. Im Gegenzug bietet Präsident Ashraf Ghani der Staatengemeinschaft Reformen an. Von der Afghanistan-Konferenz in London berichtet Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi.

US-Außenminister John Kerry und Regierungschef Abdullah Abdullah bei der Afghanistan-Konferenz in London (Foto: Getty)

Die internationale Gemeinschaft wird Afghanistan auch nach dem Abzug der ausländischen Truppen zur Seite stehen. Das bekräftigten die Geberländer am Donnerstag bei der internationalen Afghanistan-Konferenz in London. Afghanistan sollen weiterhin mehrere Millionen Euro zur Verfügung gestellt werden. Als Gegenleistung für die finanzielle Hilfe, versicherte der neugewählte Präsident Ashraf Ghani, werde die afghanische Regierung Korruption bekämpfen und politische Reformen umsetzen. US-Außenminister John Kerry zeigte sich in seiner Rede zuversichtlich, dass nicht nur Afghanistan davon profitiere. Continue reading

Explosive remnants put Afghan lives at risk

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi in Kabul

The withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan is a done deal, but what happens with the explosive remnants of war the troops are leaving behind? Victims hope that the NATO summit comes up with answers.

“I used to feel bad about my condition,” Rahmat Merzayee says. “Whenever I would see a girl on the street, I would wish I wasn’t there and hide myself.” He stops for a moment. Then his blue, pale eyes twinkle with joy again. “Today I have learned to live with my condition. My work has given me so much self-confidence.”

Rahmat was just nine years old when he lost both of his legs. He stepped on a mine while playing outside. Just for a brief moment, just for a second he didn’t look where he was going and his life changed forever. Since then Rahmat has had to wear prostheses and can only move with the help of his crutches. But giving up is not an option.

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US-Afghan security pact still uncertain

Afghanistan is expected to send its defense minister to a crucial NATO summit in Wales this week. The new president is still not in office, and the country’s bilateral security agreement with the US remains unsigned.

No security agreement means no US troops and no US money: For months, the US has been issuing this warning to the Afghan government. Washington warns that if the South Asian nation doesn’t sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), the US will withdraw all its troops by the end of the year. Outgoing president Hamid Karzai has so far refused to seal the deal and has delegated the responsibility to the incoming Afghan president.

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Explosive Kriegsreste gefährden afghanische Zivilisten

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi in Kabul

Der Abzug der NATO-Truppen aus Afghanistan steht fest. Was aber passiert mit den verbleibenden Kriegsresten, die weiter Leib und Leben der Afghanen gefährden? Aktivisten appellieren an die Verantwortung der NATO.

“Früher habe ich mich geschämt”, sagt Rahmat Merzayee ernst. “Wenn mir auf der Straße ein Mädchen entgegengekommen ist, habe ich mir gewünscht, im Erdboden zu versinken.” Er hält kurz inne. Dann aber blitzen seine blauen Augen vergnügt auf. “Ich habe gelernt, mit meiner Behinderung zu leben. Meine Arbeit hat mir wieder Selbstvertrauen gegeben.” Rahmat war erst neun, als er beide Beine verlor. Beim Spielen trat er auf eine Mine. Nur ein kurzer Augenblick, einen Moment nicht aufgepasst – und sein Leben veränderte sich für immer. Er muss Prothesen tragen und kann sich nur mit Gehhilfen fortbewegen. Trotzdem gibt er nicht auf.

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Afghanistan’s future in the balance

As Afghanistan and NATO prepare to sign an agreement for the pullout of the latter’s troops from the country, DW’s Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi takes a look at what Afghans expect of the future.

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi

After covering Afghanistan’s presidential elections, Afghan-German journalist Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi has returned to Kabul to report on the signing of the agreement between NATO and Afghanistan. She has been speaking with ordinary Afghans to get a sense what they expect for the future.

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Sorgen um Sicherheit in Nordafghanistan

Acht Soldaten der NATO-Truppen sind am Wochenende durch die Taliban ums Leben gekommen, darunter in der Provinz Baghlan ein Soldat der Bundeswehr. Diese setzt unterdessen ihren Abzug planmäßig fort.

Erstmals seit zwei Jahren ist ein deutscher Soldat durch die Taliban um Leben gekommen – ausgerechnet in der Provinz Baghlan, die in Kürze von der Bundeswehr an die afghanische Streitkräfte übergeben werden soll. Diese sollen dort zukünftig die Sicherheitsveranwortung übernehmen.

Helaluddin Helal, afghanischer Militärexperte und ehemaliger General, geht davon aus, dass von Juni an “eine Welle der Aktivitäten des Feindes im Norden beginnen wird, mit schlimmen Folgen für die Bewohner.” Auch seien die Handelsrouten im Norden dadurch bedroht. Die afghanischen Sicherheitskräfte hätten “weder die Koordination noch die notwendige Ausbildung und Ausrüstung, um die Angriffe des Feindes abzuwehren”, so die pessimistische Einschätzung des afghanischen Sicherheitsexperten.

“Afghanische Sicherheitskräfte machen gute Fortschritte”

Die Bundeswehr wird aber dennoch an ihren Abzugplänen festhalten. Im Stützpunkt Pol-Khumbri, der Hauptstadt von Baghlan, brechen die Deutschen seit März ihre Zelte ab. Die Soldaten werden bis zum Sommer das Lager verlassen und an die afghanischen Soldaten übergeben haben. Günther Katz, deutscher General und ISAF-Sprecher, bleibt optimistisch. Die afghanischen Sicherheitskräfte machten sehr gute Fortschritte, um die Sicherheitsverantwortung in Zukunft selber zu übernehmen.

Für die bergige Provinz heißt das jedoch nicht, dass überall Ruhe eingekehrt wäre.  Die Taliban seien für die Provinz weiterhin eine Bedrohung, sagt Ahmad Jawed Basharat, Sprecher des Polizeichefs. Allerdings sei die Sicherheitslage insgesamt “sehr gut” in Baghlan. Zurzeit gälten 14 der 15 Bezirke als sicher und in jeder seien ausreichend Sicherheitskräfte stationiert. “Lediglich in Baghlan-Mitte, wo die ISAF stationiert ist, und an der Grenze zur Provinz Kundus sind die Taliban aktiv, und hier gehen die Kämpfe weiter”, berichtet der Sprecher gegenüber der Deutschen Welle. Continue reading