US Defense Secretary, in Afghanistan, warns of IS threat

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Ashton Carter meets U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan.

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter yesterday acknowledged making a “mistake” when he used his personal email for government business in the early part of his tenure, triggering concerns hackers could access sensitive information. Speaking to CBS News while on a visit to Iraq, Mr Carter said he had used his iPhone to send administrative messages, none of which contained classified information, to his staff. “I have to hold myself to absolutely strict standards in terms of cyber security.

Carter, speaking from an American base in Erbil, northern Iraq, told CBS that he never sent anything classified from his personal account but did occasionally send “administrative” emails to his “immediate staff” from his iPhone. Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived at this remote base in eastern Afghanistan to visit troops and get an update on the situation as Afghan forces square off against an array of threats. Carter met with U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan on Friday, as the United States seeks to help local forces beat back a surge in Taliban attacks and contain an emerging threat from militants linked to the Islamic State. Carter arrived here on Friday to visit American troops and to assess the United States-backed military effort here against the Taliban and other insurgent threats. It follows a controversy surrounding Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who used only a personal email account connected to a private server while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

Carter, on a swing through the region, with stops in Turkey and Iraq, will sit down with Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai, the Afghan minister of defense, and Gen. Carter’s second visit to Afghanistan since he became secretary of defense in February, and his first there since President Obama amended his troop withdrawal plan, to keep 9,800 troops in the country through almost all of 2016. Carter, who said he does not communicate by email very much, told CBS he had been repeatedly warned to be cautious with his communications after taking the Pentagon’s top job in February. The Pentagon is also slowing the pace of troop reductions next year, a recognition of the ongoing reliance of Afghan troops on foreign military power, and of the continued insurgent threat that a 14-year U.S. and NATO operation has been unable to extinguish.

Senator John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the committee has requested copies of the emails and will be reviewing them to ensure that sensitive information was not compromised. This week, the Pentagon chief has been focused on intensifying the fight against Islamic State particularly in Syria and Iraq, but he will also address concerns that the militant group has begun to make inroads here in Jalalabad as well. The group has also mounted sustained attacks in the southern Kandahar and western Helmand provinces, straining morale within Afghan forces that despite a decade of foreign training lack key military capabilities. According to a Pentagon report released this month, insurgents are improving their ability to “find and exploit” Afghan government vulnerabilities.

The increasingly tenuous situation in Afghanistan is a reminder that Obama’s hopes of ending the insurgent wars begun under his predecessor have not played out as planned. Islamic State “is a new dynamic in this insurgency, and given the volatility that we’ve seen emerge from its use of social media and its recruitment elsewhere, it is really important to stay on top of and monitor and deter any kind of threat that actually could emerge from what is a relatively nascent element in the overall insurgency,” the official said. Under current plans, the U.S. military will remain at a major air base in Bagram, outside of Kabul, along with several other facilities throughout Afghanistan. While much of the future effort will focused on training and advising Afghan forces, the Obama administration has also laid plans for a substantial counterterrorism operations focused on al-Qaeda. Since then, the black-clad fighters have gained control of several districts, where they have closed schools, declared the right to take widows and unmarried girls, and meted out regular brutal punishments to enforce Sharia law.

Until now, most Islamic State-affiliated forces in Nangahar have been Afghan Taliban defectors, Pakistan-based militants and Islamist fighters from Uzbekistan. Early next year, the Afghan Air Force will begin to receive from the U.S. a batch of about eight A-29 Super Tucano planes, the military’s first fixed-wing, close air support aircraft. The Taliban remains a capable force in some areas, including in Kunduz, where a fight resulted in the accidental bombing of the hospital of Doctors Without Borders that killed more than 20 people, and in Helmand, where U.S. and British special forces are working with Afghan forces to stabilize that area. Afghan officials have not been able to locate its source, but provincial officials said it was being broadcast from across the border, presumably in the tribal regions of Pakistan. “Nangahar is the region that most distresses us now,” Gen.

But after fleeing to the mountains, he said, the militants “re-emerged” and are now fighting to take three districts again, in some cases in alliance with Taliban fighters and in other cases against them.

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