Thursday, 29 March 2012

Withdrawal from Afghanistan

"NATO and the United States should change their policy because the time when they dictate their conditions to the world has passed," Ahmadinejad said in a speech in Dushanbe, capital of the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan

200 French troops leave Afghanistan

28 March, 2012

Two hundred French troops said goodbye to the war in Afghanistan on Wednesday as part of France's accelerated pullout from the country.

In January, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a faster-track exit for France, breaking from previous plans to go along with to the U.S.-led coalition's plan to withdraw combat forces by the end of 2014.

Sarkozy said France would speed up its withdrawal timetable, pulling out 1,000 — 400 more than its previous target — of its current 3,600 soldiers by year-end and withdraw all combat forces by the end of 2013. His announcement came a week after four unarmed French troops were killed by an Afghan soldier in Kapisa province in eastern Afghanistan.

For article GO HERE

Talks on Australian Afghanistan troop withdrawal
HIGH-LEVEL talks over the timing of Australia's withdrawal from Oruzgan began at the weekend at a meeting of NATO and Afghan government officials to finalise the next tranche of districts and provinces to be handed back to local security forces.

26 March, 2012

Oruzgan province - where the bulk of Australia's 1550-strong military presence is concentrated - will almost certainly be included in the coming third stage of the transition process.

The Australian understands there are differences of opinion between Afghan and NATO officials over whether Afghan forces are ready to take the security lead across the entire province.

More conservative Afghan officials are said to be lobbying for Australian and US forces to retain control over the more trouble-prone districts within the southern province until the fourth tranche of transition, not likely to occur until later this year or even early next year. Such a move would delay Australian troops' exit from the province.

NATO wants the entire province to be handed back to allow it the freedom to shift forces to areas of greater need in the months before some 23,000 US troops, deployed as part of the military surge strategy, are withdrawn after the Afghan summer fighting season late this year.

NATO's Australian-born transition commander Michael Kingsford told The Australian at the International Security Assistance Force's Kabul headquarters at the weekend: "Some areas the Afghans want to include that we don't think are ready and some areas we want to include that the Afghans don't think are ready.

"It's more about how much, than what, is in. There are some concerns about the security situation. It's not just Oruzgan; there are a number of provinces where we may want to put in the entire province, but we have different views on what the security process is."

Colonel Kingsford will see through the entire fourth phase of transition and most of the planning for the fifth and final stage.

He will also plan which provinces may complete transition to Afghan leadership at the military and governance level before the December 31, 2014, NATO withdrawal date.

"That's still very much a discussion topic within embassies and ministries and ISAF headquarters. Plans we come up with for implementation depend on what provinces identify as critical gaps in security; that's usually equipment, manning and completion of roads. They're easy. It's the political decisions that are tougher."

On Saturday, senior NATO and Afghan military commanders met deputy Afghan security ministers to begin debating the final shortlist, although the key meeting - between ISAF leadership, Afghan security ministers, the Australian ambassador and Afghan transition co-ordinator Ashraf Ghani - will be held early next month. All sides must reach agreement by mid-April, when NATO is scheduled to present its recommended list of provinces and districts to President Hamid Karzai. He will likely announce his final decision about late April.

Australian officials in Kabul said they were confident Oruzgan would start transition in tranche three and that "Australia will be fully involved in the decision-making process".

In accordance with Mr Karzai's accelerated transition timetable, NATO now aims to see Afghan National Security Forces take the lead for security across the entire country by the middle of next year. The third tranche of transition will be phased in over four months starting in May, after the key NATO summit in Chicago, where it is hoped more detail will be added to the post-2014 Afghan blueprint.

"Dates will vary based on situations on the ground," Colonel Kingsford said. "Some of the stuff we're doing now may bounce back to tranche four, but we're hoping most of it will be tranche three.

"As (NATO and US commander in Afghanistan) General John Allen said in congressional hearings, we're trying to keep it on track."

The entire transition process, from the time Afghan forces take the security lead in a district to full handover, will take between 12 and 18 months.

Some 32 Australians have been killed in the almost 11-year long Afghan conflict, and opinion polls reveal most people want the troops brought home.

Julia Gillard has committed to retaining a special forces presence in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 withdrawal date.

NATO would also be "looking in detail" at the fate of the more than two dozen Provincial Reconstruction Teams operating across Afghanistan that delivered aid and development programs locally, Colonel Kingsford added.

A civilian NATO official involved in the transition process confirmed PRT teams would cease operating in local provinces and districts after the December 31, 2014 withdrawal date.

"That's all going to have to shift to a different model of delivery by 2015", most likely where civilian aid money was distributed through the Afghan government's budget, the official said.

Australia is the largest non-NATO contributor of military forces with 1550 soldiers in Afghanistan.

Nothing in our print media but there has been quite a lot on Radio New Zealand now that the SAS troops are coming home

More available HERE


26 March, 2012

As the SAS prepares to pull out of Afganistan, there are calls for a public debate over why New Zealand's elite soldiers were there for so long.

The Special Air Service officially finishes its deployment on Saturday. Critics say it has been shrouded in secrecy and now is the time to investigate what it has been involved in.

In 2009, the SAS took over the task of mentoring Afghanistan's Crisis Response Unit in the capital Kabul and is responsible for dealing with attacks by insurgents.

Labour's Foreign Affairs spokesperson Phil Goff says people need to be informed as to why the soldiers were there so long.

Mr Goff told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report on Thursday he understands the need for confidentiality while SAS teams are deployed, but now they are heading home there is no reason to continue the secrecy.

"The arguments around why the troops were sent back there and why they were still there 11 years after we first sent them in, that is part of the public debate - and that's the debate that the Government should engage in."

Mr Goff says the length of time New Zealand troops were in Afghanistan is longer than the country's involvement in the First and Second World Wars combined.

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager says SAS operations have been shrouded in secrecy and says an inquiry is long overdue.

"For years we've been told that we can't debate what they've done and we can't know the detail of their deployment because it would endanger the troops on the ground.

"That changes the second that they come back and they're finally home again. What should be happening from now on is that New Zealand should have its long-delayed parliamentary investigation and serious public inquiry into what they were doing there

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