WASHINGTON: The United States is preparing to undertake a review of its strategy in Afghanistan, a year after President Donald Trump begrudgingly agreed to extend America’s involvement in the 17-year-old war.
Officials said Trump had shown signs of frustration over the lack of progress since he unveiled a strategy last August that committed to an open-ended deployment of military advisers, trainers and special forces and increased air support for Afghan security forces. The goal was to force the Taliban to open peace talks with the Kabul government.
Trump was opposed to remaining in America’s longest war, but was convinced by his advisers to give it more time. He authorized last year the deployment an additional 3,000 US troops, bringing the total to around 15,000.
Nearly a year later, the current situation is in a stalemate in which Afghan civilians are paying a heavy toll, the Taliban are expanding in rural areas but are unable to capture major urban centres and the capability of Afghan security forces remains in doubt.
Several current US officials and other former officials and advisers with direct knowledge said the White House had not yet formally ordered the review, but they were preparing for a government-wide appraisal in the next few months.
“We’ve received some indications from the White House that Trump could ask for a review in the next few months. So we’re preparing for what it would look like,” said a senior US official.
The review would examine all facets of the current strategy, including what progress had been made, the US troops presence, and prospect of negotiations with the Taliban. It also would include US relations with Pakistan, which US officials accuse of supporting the insurgents, the senior official said. Islamabad denies the charge.
“We regularly conduct reviews of our strategies examining their effectiveness and making necessary adjustments to ensure US resources are being used in the most efficient ways possible,” a National Security Council spokesperson said in an emailed response to a request for comment. “We are not planning an overarching review of our core strategy, like the one conducted last summer.” The official did not define “an overarching review of our core strategy,” but added as Trump arrived in Brussels for a Nato summit that, “We expect allies and partners to carry their fair share of the burden in Afghanistan by continuing to increase troop and financial contributions.”
Trump formally recognises Israeli control of Golan Heights
Washington: President Donald Trump signed a proclamation recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, reversing more than a half-century of US policy.
Standing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, Trump made formal a move he announced in a tweet last week. The president said it was time for the US to take the step after 52 years of Israeli control of the strategic highlands on the border with Syria.
Netanyahu had pressed for such recognition for months. Trump’s action gives him a political boost weeks before what’s expected to be a close Israeli election.
Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war but its sovereignty over the territory is not recognised by the international community.
“Today, aggressive action by Iran and terrorist groups in southern Syria, including Hezbollah, continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks against Israel very violent attacks,” Trump said.
“This should have been done numerous presidents ago,” he added.
The two leaders met as the Israeli military was striking Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in response to a rocket that hit a house north of Tel Aviv and wounded seven people.
“Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression,” said Netanyahu, who planned to return to Israel to manage the attack following his meeting with Trump and other US officials, including Vice President Mike Pence.
“Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate it,” he added.
In a speech earlier Monday, Pence said the rocket attack “proves that Hamas is not a partner for peace”.
Pence told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that “Hamas is a terrorist organisation that seeks the destruction of Israel, and the United States will never negotiate with terrorist Hamas.”
The rocket destroyed a residential home in the farming community of Mishmeret, north of the city of Kfar Saba. The sounds of air raid sirens jolted residents of the Sharon area, northeast of Tel Aviv, from their sleep shortly after 5am, sending them scurrying to bomb shelters. A strong sound of an explosion followed. The Israeli military quickly mobilised troops and called up reserves, setting the stage for a potential major conflagration shortly before Israel’s upcoming elections.
Netanyahu arrived in Washington on Sunday for what was to have been a three-day visit.
In his remarks, Pence also took issue with comments by Rep Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., that he said were anti-Semitic.
Omar, a first-term lawmaker who is one of two Muslim women in Congress, has alleged that congressional support for Israel reflected “allegiance to a foreign country” and that Israel “has hypnotised the world”.
She also has accused Americans who support Israel of being bought off by campaign donations.
“Anti-Semitism has no place in the Congress of the United States, and any member who slanders those who support the historic alliance between the United States and Israel with such rhetoric should not have a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” Pence said.
Israeli air strikes hit sites across Gaza Strip, ceasefire reached
Tel Aviv: Israeli air strikes hit sites across the Gaza Strip in retaliation for a rare rocket attack that hit a house near Tel Aviv, before Hamas said a ceasefire was reached.
Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, said Egypt had brokered the ceasefire following the escalation that came just two weeks before Israel’s April 9 elections.
Israel, whose strikes began around the same time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met US President Donald Trump in Washington, has not yet commented on the claim.
“Egyptian efforts succeeded with a ceasefire between the occupation and the resistance factions,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
The ceasefire claim came after Israeli air strikes hit the office of Hamas’s leader and dozens of other targets across the Gaza Strip on Monday evening.
Those strikes were in response to a rocket from the Palestinian enclave that hit a home north of Tel Aviv and wounded seven people early Monday morning.
A barrage of rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel in response to the strikes, causing air raid sirens to ring out in southern Israel.
There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries due to those rockets.
Seven people were wounded in Gaza, the enclave’s health ministry said, as explosions rocked areas of the Gaza Strip and balls of fire rose into the sky.
There was no indication Hamas leader Ismail Haniya was at his office at the time it was hit.
In comments from the White House, Netanyahu said “Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression,” while Trump spoke of Israel’s “right to defend itself”.
Netanyahu said he would return home after meeting Trump, cancelling an address to pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference on Tuesday.
One Israeli strike destroyed a building in Gaza City that Israel alleged was a secret headquarters for Hamas security and intelligence.
Residents of Gaza said the building was known to house the Hamas-linked Multasim insurance company.
Hamas’s interior security office in Gaza City was also hit.
A joint statement from militant groups in Gaza, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, took responsibility for the barrage of rockets fired in response to the Israeli strikes later Monday night.
The rocket from Gaza that hit a house in Israel early Monday was a rare long-distance strike and Israel’s army said it was fired by Hamas.
Pentagon authorises USD 1 billion to build Trump-proposed wall
Washington: The Pentagon notified Congress that it has authorized the transfer of $1 billion to begin new wall construction along the US-Mexico border, drawing immediate objections from Democratic lawmakers.
A Pentagon budget reprogramming notification sent to Capitol Hill and obtained by CNN indicates that up to $1 billion will go toward building 57 miles of fencing, improving roads and other measures on the southern border.
The Department of Defense authorized the Army Corp of Engineers to begin planning and construction for the project Monday night. The department will direct the funds toward 18-foot-high fencing along the Yuma and El Paso sections of the border, according to a letter acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan sent to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
In February, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in order to funnel billions of dollars to wall construction. As part of his announcement, he directed the use of counterdrug monies to partially fund new wall construction. Under the national emergency, other funds can also be dedicated to building the wall and related infrastructure, including military construction funds.
Monday’s announcement was just the first $1 billion the administration is making available for wall funding. The administration said previously it plans to shift an additional $1.5 billion at some point in the future.
These initial counterdrug funds will ultimately flow from the Department of Homeland Security to the Army Corps of Engineers to begin construction.
Senate Democrats immediately objected to the transfer of money to build fencing along the southern border to block drug smuggling.
Every Democratic senator on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittees on Defense and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies signed on to a letter written to Shanahan objecting to moving $1 billion in personnel funds to counter drug funds to go toward the wall. The senators say the Pentagon did not seek permission before notifying the committee of the transfer.
“We strongly object to both the substance of the funding transfer, and to the Department implementing the transfer without seeking the approval of the congressional defense committees and in violation of provisions in the defense appropriation itself,” the senators wrote. “As a result, we have serious concerns that the Department has allowed political interference and pet projects to come ahead of many near-term, critical readiness issues facing our military.”
The letter was signed by Sens. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont; Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois; Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island; Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii; Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana; Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington; Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut; Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin; Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California; and Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico.