H.R. McMaster visits Afghanistan, touts ‘reliable’ partner

National security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster talked up the US relationship with the current government of Afghanistan Sunday at a time when the US is considering increasing its military commitment there.

McMaster was speaking from Afghanistan, where he is visiting as the US mulls a full “strategy review” of Afghanistan plans and policy moving forward in consultation with Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of US Force Afghanistan, according to a senior administration official. McMaster is the highest-level member of the Trump administration to visit the country.

US troops have been fighting there for nearly 16 years, and last week, the US military dropped one of its largest non-nuclear bombs on an ISIS target in the country. Asked on ABC’s “This Week” about the continued US military involvement there, McMaster praised the government under Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“In recent years, at a period of our maximum effort, we didn’t have as reliable a partner in the Afghan government as we would’ve liked,” McMaster said. “Now we have a much more reliable Afghan partner and we have reduced considerably the degree and scope of our effort.”

McMaster described the US and Afghanistan fight against the Taliban and ISIS as one “between barbarism and civilization,” casting it as a “threat to all civilized peoples.” He said members of the administration from all over would present Trump with a “range of options” per his request.

“We’ll be prepared to execute whatever decision he makes,” McMaster said.

Ghani met with McMaster at the presidential palace in Kabul, according to a statement from the Afghan president. The statement said Ghani told McMaster he appreciated US assistance and sacrifice there and underscored the threat of terrorism.

“If we do not fight for the repulse of that on time, it will have negative impact on next five generations,” Ghani said.

Ghani’s predecessor, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has struck a much different tone with regard to continued US military involvement in the country.

On Saturday, he took to Twitter to say the recent US bombing was using a weapon of mass destruction and that he viewed the US presence in Afghanistan as against the interests of the people.

In testimony before Congress in February, Nicholson said the US was at a “stalemate” in Afghanistan and requested thousands of more troops.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported civilian deaths and injuries in the country had ticked up in 2016 to their highest point since at least 2009. The report attributed 61% of civilian casualties to “anti-government elements,” mainly the Taliban.

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H.R. McMaster visits Afghanistan, touts ‘reliable’ partner

National security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster talked up the US relationship with the current government of Afghanistan Sunday at a time when the US is considering increasing its military commitment there.

McMaster was speaking from Afghanistan, where he is visiting as the US mulls a full “strategy review” of Afghanistan plans and policy moving forward in consultation with Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of US Force Afghanistan, according to a senior administration official. McMaster is the highest-level member of the Trump administration to visit the country.

US troops have been fighting there for nearly 16 years, and last week, the US military dropped one of its largest non-nuclear bombs on an ISIS target in the country. Asked on ABC’s “This Week” about the continued US military involvement there, McMaster praised the government under Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“In recent years, at a period of our maximum effort, we didn’t have as reliable a partner in the Afghan government as we would’ve liked,” McMaster said. “Now we have a much more reliable Afghan partner and we have reduced considerably the degree and scope of our effort.”

McMaster described the US and Afghanistan fight against the Taliban and ISIS as one “between barbarism and civilization,” casting it as a “threat to all civilized peoples.” He said members of the administration from all over would present Trump with a “range of options” per his request.

“We’ll be prepared to execute whatever decision he makes,” McMaster said.

Ghani met with McMaster at the presidential palace in Kabul, according to a statement from the Afghan president. The statement said Ghani told McMaster he appreciated US assistance and sacrifice there and underscored the threat of terrorism.

“If we do not fight for the repulse of that on time, it will have negative impact on next five generations,” Ghani said.

Ghani’s predecessor, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has struck a much different tone with regard to continued US military involvement in the country.

On Saturday, he took to Twitter to say the recent US bombing was using a weapon of mass destruction and that he viewed the US presence in Afghanistan as against the interests of the people.

In testimony before Congress in February, Nicholson said the US was at a “stalemate” in Afghanistan and requested thousands of more troops.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported civilian deaths and injuries in the country had ticked up in 2016 to their highest point since at least 2009. The report attributed 61% of civilian casualties to “anti-government elements,” mainly the Taliban.

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Bernie Sanders explains opposition to Syria strike

The US must not get involved in “perpetual warfare in the Middle East,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday in explaining why he was one of the few senators to oppose the recent US missile strike on Syria.

In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper, the Vermont independent said the key to ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to forgo unilateral action and instead convince Russia and Iran to withdraw their support for the dictator at the heart of the more than six-year-long war.

“Assad has got to go. ISIS has got to be defeated,” Sanders said. “But I do not want to see the United States get sucked into perpetual warfare in the Middle East, see our men and women get killed, trillions of dollars being spent.”

The senator who ran unsuccessfully in last year’s Democratic presidential primary brought up the US military’s ongoing presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying the US could be “dragged into another war” to the detriment of domestic priorities.

“We have got to start paying attention to the needs back home,” Sanders said. “The war in Iraq was the worst blunder in the modern history of this country — precipitated mass instability. We cannot continue to make those mistakes.”

President Donald Trump greenlit a cruise missile strike earlier this month on an Assad airbase after the US said the Syrian president used chemical weapons to slaughter civilians. Many politicians on both sides of the aisle hailed Trump’s action.

Asked about support for the strike from within the Democratic Party and even former Obama administration officials, Sanders said the Syria strike, as well as the US dropping one of its largest non-nuclear bombs in Afghanistan, were ineffective for problems that required a multilateral, diplomatic solution.

“It’s not a question of one strike or one big bomb in Afghanistan,” Sanders said. “What you need is a strategy. … This will require intensive negotiations to tell Russia that they cannot support a dictator who is destroying his entire country. One strike is not going to do very much in that process.”

Meanwhile, Sanders said he believed Trump understood he needed to work with China to rein in the North Korean nuclear threat.

“The United States must not act impulsively, and we must not act unilaterally,” Sanders said.

Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the US earlier this month and spoke by phone with him last week to discuss North Korea’s progress in missile development and another potential nuclear test.

Both Sanders and Trump have said the focus on the issue must remain on China. In recent days, China has signaled a possible shift on North Korea, including an editorial in Chinese media warning China could support UN sanctions on oil shipments to the isolated nation.

However, Sanders did not credit Trump with the possible progress, saying it was part of a trend.

“I think this policy shift on the part of China has been taking place for quite a while now,” Sanders said.

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McMaster: North Korea ‘coming to a head’

Saying “this problem is coming to a head,” national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said Sunday “all of our options are on the table, undergoing refinement and further development” in reaction to the North Korean nuclear program. But he emphasi…

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US drops largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan

The US military dropped America’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb on ISIS targets in Afghanistan Thursday, the first time this type of weapon has been used in battle, according to US officials.

A GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” was dropped at 7:32 p.m. local time, according to four US military officials with direct knowledge of the mission. A MOAB is a 30-foot-long, 21,600-pound, GPS-guided munition.

President Donald Trump called it “another successful job” later Thursday.

The bomb was dropped by an MC-130 aircraft, stationed in Afghanistan and operated by Air Force Special Operations Command, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump told CNN.

Officials said the target was an ISIS cave and tunnel complex and personnel in the Achin district of the Nangarhar province, a remote area in the country’s east which borders Pakistan.

“The United States takes the fight against ISIS very seriously and in order to defeat the group we must deny them operational space, which we did,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said later Thursday. The strike “targeted a system of tunnels and cave that ISIS fighters use to move around freely.”

Afghanistan’s ambassador to the US, Hamdullah Mohib, told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin that the bomb was dropped after fighting had intensified over the last week between US Special Forces and Afghan troops against ISIS.

The US and Afghan forces were unable to advance because ISIS had mined the area with explosives, so the bomb was dropped to clear the tunnels, Mohib said.

Trump declined to say whether he personally signed off on the strike, but did comment, “Everybody knows exactly what happens. So, what I do is I authorize our military.”

He continued, “We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing.”

Asked about Trump’s “total authorization” comments, a senior administration official declined to specify whether the President indeed ordered the strike in Afghanistan.

But the official said that in general, “We don’t approve every strike,” adding that, “This administration has moved further away” from dictating military strategy from the White House.

It’s a change both Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis wanted, the official said.

The President has granted military commanders broader latitude to act independently on several battlefields where US forces are involved, which Trump touted as making a “tremendous difference” in the fight against ISIS.

During the campaign, Trump vowed to eradicate ISIS, saying he would “bomb the s**t” out of the terror group, also known as ISIL.

Republican hawks were quick to voice their support for the strike Thursday.

“I hope America’s adversaries are watching & now understand there’s a new sheriff in town,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican. “Pleased Air Force dropped MOAB against ISIL in Afghanistan. Must be more aggressive against ISIL everywhere – including Afghanistan.”

But California Democrat Rep. Jackie Speier voiced concerns about potentially increasing US military involvement in Afghanistan.

“We are escalating in an area I think we should be deescalating in,” she told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “Coupled with what happened in Yemen, what happened in Syria, these are efforts that are made to suggest that we will be engaging in wars in three different countries simultaneously.”

Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, signed off on the use of the bomb, according to the sources. The authority to deploy the weapon was granted to Nicholson by the commander of US Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, Stump said.

This is the first time a MOAB has been used in the battlefield, according to the US officials. This munition was developed during the Iraq war and is an air blast-type warhead that explodes before hitting the ground in order to project a a massive blast to all sides.

During the final stages of testing in 2003, military officials told CNN that the MOAB was mainly conceived as a weapon employed for “psychological operations.” Military officials said they hoped the MOAB would create such a huge blast that it would rattle Iraqi troops and pressure them into surrendering or not even fighting.

As originally conceived, the MOAB was to be used against large formations of troops and equipment or hardened above-ground bunkers. The target set has also been expanded to include targets buried under softer surfaces, like caves or tunnels.

But while the MOAB bomb detonates with the power of 18,000 pounds of tritonal explosives, the size of its explosion pales in comparison to that of a nuclear bomb.

Former Defense Secretary William Perry described the stark difference in power between a MOAB and nuclear bomb.

“The #MOAB explosive yield is 0.011 kilotons, typical nuclear yield is 10-180 kilotons – the US alone possesses over 7000 nuclear weapons,” he tweeted.

“As ISIS-K’s losses have mounted, they are using IEDs, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defense,” Nicholson said in a statement following the strike.

“This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K,” Nicholson added.

“US forces took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties with this strike. US Forces will continue offensive operations until ISIS-K is destroyed in Afghanistan,” read the statement from US Forces Afghanistan.

The extent of the damage and whether anyone was killed is not yet clear. The military is currently conducting an assessment.

The Pentagon is currently reviewing whether to deploy additional trainers to Afghanistan to help bolster US allies there.

The Achin district is the primary center of ISIS activity in Afghanistan. A US Army Special Forces soldier was killed fighting the terror group there Saturday.

There are about 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan and they regularly perform counterterrorism operations against ISIS in the Nangarhar Province.

The US counterterrorism mission is separate from the NATO-led effort to train, advise and assist the Afghan army and police force.

While ISIS is identified primarily with its presence in Iraq and Syria, US and coalition officials have long expressed concern about a growing presence in Afghanistan.

ISIS first emerged in the summer of 2015 in the country’s east, fast gaining ground and support, often among disaffected Taliban or Afghan youth.

US military officials have said the ISIS branch is largely comprised of former members of regional terror groups, including the Pakistani Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

A US official told CNN that the military estimates are that the Afghan affiliate of ISIS has about 600 to 800 fighters, primarily based in two to three districts in southern Nangarhar. There are also a small number of ISIS operatives in Kunar province as well, the official added.

The Afghan offshoot’s link to the organization’s Syria-based leadership has been questioned. Many say in fact the Afghan ISIS fighters came from Pakistan and adopted the group’s branding in order to get financing.

DEVELOPING… MORE TO COME…

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