The Afghan security problem

The Taliban is now stronger than at any point since the international mission to Afghanistan began 16 years ago. The US and NATO are considering sending more troops to stabilize the security situation.

Afghanistan Königspalast Darul Aman (DW/S. Petersmann)

A quiet side street in Kabul is ringed with trees. The Afghan capital is teeming with heavily armed personnel of all kinds, from military to private security forces, but on this street nothing appears amiss. Three young girls in summery clothing play outside. A white-bearded man sits cross-legged on a red carpet in his bakery. He passes fresh bread out of the window to a customer. The two men joke with each other, laughing.

Springtime in Kabul can be magical, and the little street here suggests nothing of the terrorism and fear that has become a part of daily life. There have been seven major attacks around the city this year, and the abduction industry is booming. Recently, an Afghan guard and a German relief worker were killed in what appears to have been a failed kidnapping. A bombing at the start of May killed eight civilians. The relentless violence defies the city’s wisespread security apparatus.

Afghanistan Abdul Satar (DW/S. Petersmann)Kabul carpenter, Abdul Satar

Deceptive silence

The seemingly peaceful side street is part of a Kabul neighborhood that used to be home to many international aid workers. Many of them left at the same time as the international strike force. Abdul Satar, a 54-year-old carpenter from the neighborhood, earns 200 euros a month. That income needs to support his wife and seven children.

“I am afraid for my wife and children,” he said. “In Kabul, there is always the risk of being in a bombing.” He does not believe that more foreign troops will solve the problem. “Afghanistan must solve its own problems.”

His boss, Nazir Ahmad, nodded in agreement. With most international forces gone, the economy that built up around their presence evaporated, and his business is suffering. “What did NATO bring us?” he asked. “At one stage, there were more than 130,000 foreign troops in the country and the war kept on going, anyway.”

Today, that number is down to about 15,000, mostly from the US, who are responsible for counterterrorism operations. Remaining NATO troops are charged with training the country’s 350,000 own security personnel. The divided training and combat missions have become  intertwined as the security situation has worsened.

Afghanistan Schreinermeister Nazir Ahmad (DW/S. Petersmann)Master carpenter, Nazir Ahmad

Unemployment and discord

Afghanistan is in turmoil, and civilians keep getting killed – nearly 11,500 dead or wounded last year, according to the United Nations. Of the country’s 34 provinces, 31 are under attack. In the first four months of 2017, 90,000 Afghans became internally displaced, adding to the 600,000 in 2016. The situation has further deteriorated this year since Iran and Pakistan have deported up to 200,000 refugees. Many find themselves in Kabul, which the city is unable to cope with.

The Afghan government is to blame, Ahmad said. “They fight over money and power, rather than looking after people.” His neighbor, Nurullah Tarkan, said poverty and unemployment are the greatest threats. “When people can work, they don’t fight.”

Afghanistan Parlament (DW/S. Petersmann)Afghanistan’s parliament building, behind a defensive wall

Country of warlords

Since the American-led invasion in 2001, Afghanistan has become a country of warring factions. Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum left for Turkey to avoid kidnapping, torture and rape charges of his political rivals. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, known as the “Butcher of Kabul”, had been on a UN terrorism list until a peace agreement was reached that will allow him to hold a political office in the future.

Fraud tainted the 2014 presidential election and the 2015 parliamentary elections never took place. The political vacuum has been exploited by the Taliban and as many as 20 international terror groups, including the so-called “Islamic State”, as well as foreign powers such as China and Saudi Arabia.

Security problems

“Foreign troops are not a solution to the situation anymore,” said Maulawi Mohammad Qasim Halimi, a former Taliban official. “Foreign troops have 99 percent of the people against them. Afghan soldiers have far fewer.”

US forces put Halimi in the Bagram prison for a year after the Taliban fell. Today he is a part of the government, serving as spokesman for the Afghanistan Islamic religious council. “Training and advising are ok,” he added. “But foreign combat troops don’t help us. We have had a terrible experience with them. They are always killing civilians.”

Afghanistan Maulawi Mohammad Qasim Halimi (DW/S. Petersmann)Maulawi Mohammad Qasim Halimi, spokesman for the Afghanistan Islamic religious council

Political vision missing

He declined to comment on internal government disagreement regarding dealing with former Taliban members, but he said most would rather negotiate than fight, given what he knows from his own history with the Taliban. However, today the Taliban is itself split, suffering from internal power struggles and external pressure.

Both the Taliban and the Afghan state are dependent on international assistance. A military solution has failed, but a political one has yet to firmly develop. National and international agreement on how the country can reach a peaceful future remains elusive, but for the girls playing outside and residents like Abdul Satar, it is necessary to ensure that terror and violence are not lurking around the corner to destroy the quiet of their small street.

Watch video03:15

People in Kabul live with danger

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Terror attack foiled in France

French police have foiled a terror attack planned for the run-up to Sunday’s presidential election. France has been on high alert for two years since terror attacks starting in January 2015 which killed over 230 people.

Frankreich Verhaftung von Terror-Verdächtigen in Marseille (picture-alliance/AP Photo/C. Paris)

French authorities have found guns and bomb-making materials after the arrest of two men suspected of plotting an “imminent” attack five days before the first round of the presidential election, Interior Minister Matthias Fekl said on Monday.

“A few days ahead of a major election for our country, I wish to recall that everything has been put in place to ensure the security of this important date for our democracy and our republic,” Fekl said.

The items were discovered during searches in the southern city of Marseille after the suspects – French citizens aged 23 and 29 – were taken into custody, sources told the French news agency AFP.

Photos of the two suspects were sent to the security staff of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron last Thursday, AFP reported.

“The photos were passed to my security service from Thursday,” Le Pen told AFP. An aide to Macron also confirmed his campaign team received the pictures, while conservative candidate Francois Fillon was warned about the danger on Friday, an aide said.

President Francois Hollande praised the work of the security forces, saying they had “done a remarkable job enabling us to arrest two people who will be brought before judges and police so that we can find out exactly what they were planning.”

jbh/msh (AFP, dpa)

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Homeland Security secretary stresses keeping US safe

John Kelly, Gary Peters, Christopher PerryThe Associated Press
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly speaks to the media at the Ambassador Bridge border crossing, Monday, March 27, 2017, in Detroit. Sen. Gary Peters D-Mich., center, and Director of Field Operations United States Customs and Border Protection Christopher Perry, left, listen. Kelly observed northern border operations and met with DHS personnel, local immigration stakeholders and Arab American community members. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)more +

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Monday that he told members of the Detroit area’s Arab-American and Latino communities that he is committed to keeping the country safe without targeting anyone based on a person’s ethnicity or religious affiliation.

“Generally speaking, I think they were most interested in hearing from someone who has this job and makes no distinction between race, color, politics. It’s all about protecting America,” the retired Marine general said of the meetings that took place earlier Monday in Detroit’s suburbs.

Kelly spoke with reporters following an afternoon tour of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Detroit just across the river from Canada. The secretary was joined by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat and member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The White House wants to boost border security, but mostly has focused its attention on the southern border, where President Donald Trump has vowed to build a wall to stem illegal immigration.

The Trump administration also wants to restrict immigration from six majority-Muslim countries, but the president’s revised executive order on the topic has been blocked by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland.

Kelly stressed during Monday’s media availability that Trump’s order is not based on a person’s religion, but rather is an attempt to keep the U.S. safe from the “real threat” of terrorism.

Messages left with some people who attended the meeting were not immediately returned.

London honors victims with candlelight vigil

People gathered at London’s Trafalgar Square to commemorate the victims of Wednesday’s attack. Four people were killed by a British-born attacker who ran a car into passers-by and stabbed a policeman at Westminster.

Watch video00:52

Candlelight vigil for London attack victims

Hundreds gathered in downtown London for a candlelight vigil on Thursday, a day after 52-year-old Khalid Masood killed four people near the British parliament before he was gunned down by police.

The fourth victim, a 75-year-old man who was being treated in hospital, died on Thursday evening.

During the vigil, mourners held a minute of silence for the murdered police officer and former solider, Keith Palmer, as well as the other two victims, American tourist Kurt Cochran and British national Aysha Frade. Another man passed away from his injuries later on Thursday.

London mayor Sadiq Khan commended emergency services in the British capital for their swift response, while also praising the city residents for their courage. Their reaction “showed the world what it means to be a Londoner,” he said.

“Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism,” Khan said. “Those evil and twisted individuals who tried to destroy our joint way of life will not succeed and we condemn them.”

DW’s Abigail Frymann-Rouch attended the vigil in London.

Street artists in trafalgar square invite ppl at vigil to write messages of peace and solidarity.

‘No prior intelligence’

On Wednesday, the British-born Masood drove a rented car into pedestrians at Westminster Bridge, killing at least three and injuring dozens, several of whom are still in critical condition. He than ran through the gates of the nearby parliament building and stabbed the unarmed policeman, before other officers shot him dead.

“Masood was not the subject of any current investigations,” police said in a statement after the attack. “However, he was known to police and has a range of previous convictions for assaults, including GBH (grievous bodily harm), possession of offensive weapons and public order offenses.”

Deutschland Anteilnahme in Berlin - nach dem Attentat in London (Reuters/F. Bensch)The Brandenburg Gate was illuminated with the colors of the British flag in solidarity with the victims of the London attack

At one point, the British MI5 intelligence service had investigated the attacker over “concerns about violent extremism,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said earlier on Thursday. However, there was “no prior intelligence of his intent or of the plot” the British leader added, describing Masood as a “peripheral figure.”

The “Islamic State” militia claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the attacker was one of its “soldiers.” This information has not yet been verified by British officials.

Following the attack, British police launched a series of raids and arrested eight people in London and Birmingham.

dj/kms (Reuters, AP)

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Report: Jump in number of jihadis traveling from Germany to Iraq, Syria

A report has found that more than 900 extremists traveled to the Middle East from Germany. The revelation comes amid growing concern from German officials over domestic terrorism.

Syrien Symbolbild Konflikt (Getty Images/AFP/A. Almohibany)

Weekly news magazine “Der Spiegel” reported the increase in the number of homegrown jihadis in their latest issue, not long after Germany’s domestic intelligence service warned that Islamic extremism was spreading in the country.

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) said that 910 suspected jihadis had left Germany to travel to Iraq and Syria, a noticeable increase from the roughly 800 extremists reported about a year ago, “Spiegel” reported.

More than half of the extremists hold German citizenship, and around a fifth of them are women. Some 145 of the extremists are said to have already been killed in Syria and Iraq, the magazine added.

According to the government, a third of the jihadis have since returned to Germany, at least 70 of whom took part in fighting abroad.

However, “Spiegel” also noted that overall the rate of militants traveling from Germany to Iraq and Syria has declined in comparison to previous years – a likely consequence of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) terrorist group losing its foothold in much of the region.

Watch video02:10

German intelligence suspects Islamist in its own ranks – DW political correspondent Thomas Sparrow

Islamic extremism on the rise

In February, the BfV, Germany’s domestic security and intelligence agency, said the radical Islamist scene had grown considerably in Germany, from around 100 people in 2013 to some 1,600 today.

The agency receives “between two and four credible tips about planned terrorist activity in Germany each day,” the BfV said, likely due to the heavy coverage terror plots receive, as well as the increased accessibility to online extremists.

Of those 1,600 extremists, BfV chief Hans-Georg Maassen said that around 570 were “dangerous” – meaning they were thought to be capable of carrying out a terrorist attack.

A terrorist attack carried out at a Berlin Christmas market in December raised awareness within Germany of the growing problem of homegrown terrorism. For example, the government said that many of the 800 people who left Germany in 2015 to travel to Syria and Iraq were connected to so-called “hate preachers” based in Germany.

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NATO moves closer to Trump priority of fighting terrorism

NATO is stepping up its fight against the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) and other violent extremists by launching a new center in Naples. The hub is dedicated to facing challenges from North Africa and the Middle East.

Brüssel NATO Treffen (Reuters/F. Lenoir)

The new command center at its Joint Force Command in Naples will focus on intelligence gathering and defense capacity building in states such as Iraq and Libya.

will set up a hub for the South in Naples to help address terrorism & other challenges on southern borders. @JFC_Naples

The “hub,” as it’s being called, is expected to consist of about 100 people honing in on potential threats in the volatile region, which NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says are “more complex than at any time since the end of the Cold War.”

Another part of the new strategy will see NATO surveillance drones currently based in Sicily feeding back aerial information to hub experts for analysis.

A new NATO approach?

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly demanded NATO make counter-terrorism its highest priority. These moves won’t quite fulfill that requirement, but allies eager to please the US hope it at least scores some White House points.

 

Defense Secretary James Mattis addresses the press during a NATO defence ministers' meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels Defense Secretary James Mattis addresses the press during NATO defense ministers’ meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels

Ahead of a two-day meeting with the new US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg stressed that –  in addition to setting up the new capabilities – the alliance had “stood by the US in the fight against terrorism since the country was attacked in 2001.”

“We have been helping to fight terrorism in Afghanistan for almost 15 years,” Stoltenberg said. “We are training Iraqi officers and supporting the counter-ISIL Coalition with AWACS surveillance planes.”

Best weapon against terrorism is to project stability in our neighborhood by training local forces, says SecGen

Mattis is expected to unveil some additional specific requests over a two-day meeting with the NATO chief. Mattis recently made a blunt warning that defense spending by member states must rise or else transatlantic cooperation could suffer.

A pleasure to welcome back an old friend of , Mattis. Transatlantic bond, fight against terrorism & defence spending on agenda.

Words of caution

German Marshall Fund spokesman Bruno Lete said Trump may be damaging the global anti-terror effort even as he seeks to strengthen it.

“Mr. Trump’s intentions are honorable,” Lete said. “He wants to end civil wars. He want to fight terrorism. So all in all that’s fairly straightforward. The only problem is that until now some of the decisions that we’ve seen have achieved quite the opposite impact and have not brought stability.”  He cites the travel ban against mostly Muslim countries and criticism of Islam as a religion.

Pauline Massart, deputy director for security and geopolitics at Friends of Europe, says the new focus on the south could be a worthwhile effort for the alliance.

“NATO needs to redefine what it’s about today and what it’s going to be about in the next 25 years,” Massart told DW.  While the Russian invasion of Ukraine has provided NATO’s “raison d’être” for some allies, others feel IS is an even bigger threat. Those views need to be accommodated, if not reconciled,” she said.

Massart added that European allies need to consider whether the EU is not a better place to coordinate counter-terrorism strategies.  “That is something we need to revisit,” she suggested.

Infografik NATO-Budget ENG

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Asylum seekers with terror links may be rejected, says Europe’s top court

A ruling by the European Court of Justice has allowed EU nations to reject asylum seekers with links to terrorist groups. The court said recruiting or equipping foreign fighters justifies ‘exclusion from refugee status.’

Deutschland Sonderzug mit Flüchtlingen (picture alliance/dpa/P. Pleul)

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‘Mistakes’ during refugee influx, says Germany’s Schäuble

Wolfgang Schäuble, a veteran ally of Angela Merkel, has admitted the cabinet made “mistakes” during Germany’s large intake of refugees in 2015. He wants lower standardized EU welfare payments for asylum-seekers.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Tuesday ruled that EU nations may reject asylum seekers who have participated in a terrorist group’s activities, even if they did not commit an attack or provide financial support.

The court’s ruling is a response to the case of Moroccan national Mostafa Lounani, who applied for asylum in Belgium on the basis that his country of origin considered him a “radical Islamist and jihadist.”

Belgian authorities denied his request for asylum, citing a 2006 conviction for “active participation in the organization of a network for sending volunteers to Iraq.”

Louhani was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison for forging passports for would-be militants of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which the Belgian court described as “an act of participation in the activities of a cell providing logistical support to a terrorist movement.”

Europe’s top court cited a UN Security Council resolution that expressed “grave concern over the acute and growing threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters” for its ruling.

“His logistical support to the activities of that group has an international dimension in so far as he was involved in the forgery of passports and assisted volunteers who wanted to travel to Iraq,” the ECJ ruled.

“In the opinion of the court, such acts can justify exclusion from refugee status,” it added.

Terrorism: A fine line?

In 2015, the EU allowed more than one million migrants to enter the bloc, many of them fleeing conflict and extreme poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

However, Europe has been hit by a series of terrorist attacks in Berlin, Paris and Brussels since then, prompting a bloc-wide debate on how to deal with asylum seekers suspected of participating in militant activities.

Most notably, Tunisian national Anis Amri, a rejected asylum seeker, launched a deadly attack in Berlin when he drove a truck through a Christmas market, leaving 12 people dead and dozens more injured.

After the attack, questions arose as to why authorities had not detained him for deportation after he told a German intelligence informant more than a year before that he considered perpetrating an attack on German soil.

The ECJ’s ruling provides an EU-wide legal basis for authorities who have or will reject asylum applications on the grounds that the asylum seeker participated in a terrorist group’s activities, and not solely for committing an attack.

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