Monday, December 09, 2019

Worst Outages in a Decade After Heavy Rains Cause Power Stations to Fail
Jason Burke in Johannesburg
Mon 9 Dec 2019 14.45 EST

Steam rising from Lethabo power station at sunrise

Lethabo power station, a coal-fired plant owned by the state utility Eskom, which has about £23bn of debt and has faced heavy criticism. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
South Africa has been hit by massive power cuts as heavy rains flood power stations and disrupt coal-fired electricity generation.

The state-owned utility Eskom said on Monday that it could only meet 80% of the country’s energy demand and called for a “concerted collective effort” after about a quarter of its generation capacity failed.

The failure to provide adequate power for what has long been seen as Africa’s most developed economy will underline the huge challenges faced by the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, as he attempts to turn round flagging growth rates and bring in much-needed reforms.

South Africa is struggling with soaring unemployment, high rates of violent crime and patchy delivery of basic services. Many blame incompetence and graft under the previous president, Jacob Zuma.

Power cuts earlier this year pushed the country close to recession. The most recent outages, the worst for more than a decade, started five days ago and have intensified over the last 36 hours. They are predicted to continue throughout the week.

Eskom said on Monday morning: “With the incessant rains, we are beginning to experience flooding at some power stations, which have further led to load losses and has impacted supply as the rainy weather persists … Load shedding is a responsible act and highly controlled process, implemented to protect the country from a national blackout.”

Environmentalists and experts have criticised a new energy plan which maintained a central role for coal-fired power generation.

Executives have blamed a failure to maintain the power infrastructure. Two massive new coal power stations have been crippled by a series of technical problems.

The utility owes about 450bn rand (£23bn) and has been described as “the biggest challenge facing the country” by analysts.

“Mess up Eskom, and you mess up the country. And it looks as though key players are doing just that,” wrote Mark Swilling, an expert in sustainable development at Stellenbosch University, on The Conversation website.

Ramaphosa took power last year and pledged to overcome South Africa’s “huge and real” problems. The former labour activist turned tycoon won an election in May but faces entrenched networks of patronage and corruption, some within the ruling African National Congress party, as well as widespread political opposition to his reforms.

In a further blow to public finances and business confidence, South African Airways, the publicly owned national carrier, has been put into “business rescue”.

SAA has been posting losses since 2011 and is deeply in debt. It has received more than 20bn rand in government bailouts over the past three years, which has achieved little more than keeping it barely afloat.

In a statement, Ramaphosa said although many of the state-owned firms such as Eskom and SAA were deeply in debt, they remained valuable state assets with immense capacity.

“We will not allow any of these strategic entities to fail. Rather, we need to take all necessary steps – even drastic ones – to restore them to health,” he said.

Ramaphosa’s description of one troubled power station as a “fitting symbol of the importance of our state-owned enterprises” prompted an angry response from commentators and social media.
U.S. Officials 'Repeatedly Lied About Afghanistan War for 18 Years and Hid the Fact it Was Unwinnable', According to Bombshell Washington Post Report Dubbed 'the Pentagon Papers of Today'
The Washington Post published 2,000 pages of documents obtained via FOIA request on Monday
They contain interviews from senior military personnel between 2014 and 2018
The interviews were part of a government investigation into the Afghanistan war
They paint a picture where officials were 'woefully deficient' in intelligence
Troops did not know 'who the bad guys were and where to find them', it claims
There was also confusion over the point of the war; what began as a fight against terror turned into an effort to democratize Afghanistan, they say
Officials 'routinely distorted data' to make it appear as though the US was winning
At the same time, Presidents Bush and Obama made speeches describing the military's success and progress in the region
The reality, the report claims, was the war was 'unwinnable', senior officials knew it but nearly $1 trillion was spent and 2,400 lives were lost

By JENNIFER SMITH
DAILYMAIL.COM
14:14 EST, 9 December 2019

US officials repeatedly lied to the public about the war in Afghanistan for its 18 year duration by hiding the fact that it was unwinnable and troops were out of their depth, The Washington Post has claimed.

In a lengthy article published on Monday, the Post claims that top officials knew the military's chances were slim but that they routinely hid the grave reality and made 'rosy pronouncements' about it instead.

The cache of documents - dubbed the 'Pentagon Papers of Afghanistan' - includes interviews that the government carried out with senior military personnel which the newspaper obtained through a Freedom of Information request. They took place between 2014 and 2018 and contain the comments of nearly 400 people.

In addition to the interview transcripts, the Post obtained memos dictated by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld between 2001 and 2006, during the first phase of the war.

Together, they paint a picture of a confused military who did not know who the 'bad guys' were, let alone where to find them or how to defeat them.

Among the interviews is a 2015 transcript of one in which Michael Flynn, the disgraced former United States National Security Advisor, said: 'If we are doing such a great job, why does it feel like we are losing?' 

The military personnel also describe how top brass officials distorted data to make it appear as though the US was winning when in fact thousands were being needlessly killed. 

In a lengthy article published on Monday, the Post claims that top officials knew the military's chances were slim but that they routinely hid the grave reality and made 'rosy pronouncements' about it instead. US troops are shown in Afghanistan in August 2018

The alleged failures which troops complained about included not knowing what the point of the war was - whether they were there to fight terror or to make Afghanistan a democratic country - and lacking crucial intelligence which would have helped form their strategies.

John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, whose agency was in charge of the investigation, told the newspaper in light of the unearthed interviews: 'The American people have constantly been lied to.' 

The alleged failures include;

Nearly $1 trillion wasted; troops said they were expected to spend money with no reason in areas that were overwhelmed by the sudden influx of cash and resources
Misguided attempts to build an Afghan army when all their troops were 'incompetent' and some were 'drug addicts' 
'Fatally flawed' fighting strategies which put US lives at risk
Distorting data and figures to make it look like the US was winning
Years of false statements to the American people that progress was being made when it was not 
Confusion over what the mission was; it started as a war on terror but later priorities became building a democracy and improving women's rights 
'Woeful' deficiency in intelligence from the beginning

Among the interviewees is General Douglas Lute, who served under Bush and Obama.

He blamed the 2,400 lives lost in the war to 'bureaucratic breakdowns' and said the problems began because the US lacked a 'fundamental understanding' of Afghanistan.

He told government interviewers in 2015: 'What are we trying to do here? We didn't have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.

'If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction ... 2,400 lives lost...'

Others interviewed by Sopko's teams described how information and research was skewed to make it appear as though the US had a good chance at victory when in fact it was highly unlikely.

Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, said: 'Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible.

'Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.'

He also claimed 'truth was rarely welcome' within the Combined Anti-Armor Team and that 'everyone' on the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force 'just wanted to hear good news.' 

Among the major failures troops described was the exorbitant amount of money spent for little in return.They estimate that close to $938billion was wasted on the war.

'What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?

'After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan,' Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL who also worked in the White House for Bush and Obama,  said in one interview with officials.

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, known as SIGAR, was launched in 2008 to investigate the war effort for waste and fraud.

THE 'LIES' vs WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

A year later, in 2003, Rumsfeld wrote this memo: 'I have no visibility into who the bad guys are. We are woefully deficient in human intelligence.'

Later, one senior member of the military said in an interview: 'The effort was over-funded and lacked data to drive intelligence decision-making. We were burning $400million per month at one point. We lost objectivity. We were given money told to spend it, and we did, without reason.'

In a 2015 interview about the conflict, Michael Flynn reflected on how success had been reported falsely since 2002. He said: 'From ambassadors down to the low level, they all say we are doing a great job. Really? So if we are doing such a great  job, why does it feel like we're losing?'

It had a branch called Lessons Learned which was solely dedicated to identifying decision making failures that could be avoided in later conflicts.

As part of Lessons Learned, 600 interviews were conducted.

It, according to the Post, released reports periodically about its findings but left out the 'harshest' details.

At the beginning of the conflict, the report claims the clear objective of the war was to retaliate against al-Qaeda and prevent a similar atrocity to 9/11 from happening.

However, the military personnel say that as the years wore on, the mission became less clear.

Some officials started focusing on turning it into a democratic country, whereas others wanted to focus on elevating women's rights, the report claims. 

One person interviewed by officials compared the conflict to a Christmas tree which, beneath it, had a 'present for everyone'. 

'With the AfPak strategy there was a present under the Christmas tree for everyone.

'By the time you were finished you had so many priorities and aspirations it was like no strategy at all,' the unidentified interview said.

Others described how military bosses did not know who the good and bad guys were.

TIMELINE OF THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

2001: President George W. Bush announces strikes on Afghanistan in retaliation for harboring al-Qaeda terrorists blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks. By the end of the year, 3,800 US troops are on the ground.

US military death toll: 7

2002: The U.S. ends the year with about 9,700 troops deployed, mostly going after Taliban insurgents.

The Taliban, they say, is largely dismantled. 

US military death toll: 30

2003: By the end of the year, 13,000 US troops are on the ground and efforts have focused to 'restructuring' Afghanistan. Tensions also flare in Iraq and the Defense Secretary says 'major combat' is over.

US military death toll: 33

2004: The number swells to 20,300 as the U.S. builds up forces along the Afghan-Pakistani border and provides security for fledgling reconstruction projects.

The country elects its first president democratically.

US military death toll: 49

2005: US and Afghanistan renew commitment to working together in the war on terror

US military death toll: 93

2006: Suicide bombings erupt as rebels stage an insurgence.

US military death toll: 88

2007: Mullah Dadullah, is killed in a joint operation by Afghan, U.S., and NATO forces

US military death toll: 111

2008: The force in Afghanistan rises to 25,000. Still, Iraq is the priority.

US military death toll:  153

2009: As fighting in Afghanistan becomes more intense, the number of U.S. troops surpasses 50,000.

President Obama is sworn in, renews dedication to the conflict.

US military death toll: 310

2010: The bloodiest year for US troops in Afghanistan as the fighting continues with a resurgence from terrorists.

US military death toll: 496

2011: Osama Bin Laden is killed.

Obama announces his withdrawal plan: Bring home 10,000 troops by the end of 2011, and continue at a steady pace until handing over security responsibilities to the Afghans by 2014.

US military death toll: 412

2012: Troop levels down to 77,000

US military death toll: 301

2013: Down to 46,000 troops, the slow withdrawal continues.

US military death toll: 120

2014: Obama orders the Pentagon to develop options for a complete military withdrawal, because Afghan President Hamid Karzai refuses to sign a security agreement with the United States. Obama announces his plan to pull virtually all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

US military death toll: 54

2015: Obama changes his mind, saying the situation is too fragile for a total withdrawal. 9,800 troops remain

US military death toll: 10

2016: Obama announces that instead of dropping the U.S. troop level to 5,500, he will keep it at about 8,400 through the end of his term on Jan. 20, 2017

US military death toll: 9

2017: Trump deploys more troops to the region

US military death toll: 11

2018: Taliban retaliates with violent attacks

US military death toll: 13

2019: Trump arranges peace talks with the Taliban but calls them off after the death of a US soldier.

US military death toll: 17

They had trouble differentiating to troops if they should focus on fighting al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other foreign jihadists.

Some said they did not know whether to treat Pakistan as an ally or foe. 

One unnamed former adviser to an Army Special Forces team admitted not knowing who the 'bad guys' were, let alone where to find them.

'They thought I was going to come to them with a map to show them where the good guys and bad guys live. It took several conversations for them to understand that I did not have that information in my hands.

'At first, they just kept asking: "But who are the bad guys, where are they?"' he said.

Some of the names of people interviewed were redacted. 

One of the key failures was the US's 'idiotic' attempt to try to establish a government in Kabul modeled after the one in Washington.

'Our policy was to create a strong central government which was idiotic because Afghanistan does not have a history of a strong central government.

'The time-frame for creating a strong central government is 100 years, which we didn’t have,' one unnamed official said.

The US had promised not to try to 'nation build' in public speeches from former presidents Bush and Obama.

However the interviews suggest that is exactly what was being attempted and it was attempted unsuccessfully.

Another failure was an excess of aid which overwhelmed the country and amounted to a huge waste in money.

'Capitol Hill was always asking, "Did you spend the money? What's your burn rate?"

That's all they ever cared about. The effort was overfunded and lacked data to drive intelligence decision-making. We were burning $400million per month at one point.

'We lost objectivity. We were given money told to spend it, and we did, without reason,' one unnamed person said in a 2016 interview.

One contractor said he was told to spend $3million a day in a district that was roughly the size of the average US county.

He said that he once asked a congressman whether he would be able to spend as much in his district.

'When the congressman, who was not named, answered: 'hell no', the contractor told him: 'Well, sir, that's what you just obligated us to spend and I'm doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.'

Another unnamed interviewee shared his complaint.

Our strategy was, "Money expended equals success."

'I'd get the s**t kicked out of me at the height of the surge... "why did we say yes to spending money building a 38km road up... why can't you build this road and you said you could do it..."

'We'd go see it and we'd fly in and get shot at. Why do you expect us to build a road to an area you can't secure.... we were supposed to build roads in an area so dangerous that armed US military helicopters could not even land near it,' he said.

Because so much money was being thrown at the conflict, corruption was inevitable, according to those interviewed, and the US 'looked the other way' while Afghanistan's leaders took advantage of it.

'I like to use a cancer analogy. Petty corruption is like skin cancer; there are ways to deal with it and you’ll probably be just fine.

'Corruption within the ministries, higher level, is like colon cancer; it’s worse, but if you catch it in time, you’re probably OK,'

Christopher Kolenda, who deployed several times, told investigators.

The US troops complained about the 'incompetent' and 'awful' Afghan forces they were tasked with training, claiming many of them were 'drug addicts', members of the Taliban and merely there to 'collect a paycheck'

'Kleptocracy, however, is like brain cancer; it’s fatal,' he said, after describing how President Hamid Karzai and his deputies had 'self-organized into a kleptocracy' within the first five years of the effort. 
THE DEATH TOLL

Some of those interviewed said US officials focused only on the number of American troops killed and that though high, it was not the worst-suffering category.

One official said the true measure of success in the region would have been if the number of Afghan casualties decreased.

US troops: 2,300

US contractors:  3,814

Afghan security forces: 64,124

NATO and coalition troops: 1,145

Taliban: 42,100

Afghan civilians: 43,074

AID workers: 424

Journalists: 67 

As the Afghanistan government became increasingly corrupt, the interviewees claimed, more people turned to the Taliban for order.

'Our biggest single project, sadly and inadvertently, of course, may have been the development of mass corruption. 

'Once it gets to the level I saw, when I was out there, it’s somewhere between unbelievably hard and outright impossible to fix it,' former U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker said in a lengthy 2016 interview with investigators. 

Another of the biggest lies, they said, was that the military was helping establish a strong, Afghan army.

In reality, the troops were disorganized, incompetent and uncommitted, they said.

The US soldiers sent to train them said they 'hated them' and claimed that one third of the Afghan police force they were told to help were 'drug addicts' or 'Taliban'.

'The ALP [Afghan Local Police] members were awful - the bottom of the barrel in the country that is already at the bottom of the barrel.

'Vast majority of ALPs didn't care and were just collecting a paycheck,' an unnamed soldier said in a September 2016 interview with Lessons Learned.

Another failure, they said, was their inability to halt the country's mass production of opium.

Under the nose of the US military, the Afghan drug trade flourished, the interviewees said.

Tackling the country's drug production was never part of the military strategy but the drug lords became more powerful than the government, they claimed.

The first strategy was for Brits to pay Afghan farmers to destroy their poppy crops but it only inspired them to plant more, the interviewees said. When the US went back to the farmers and told them to destroy the crops again, this time without payment, it enraged them.

What compounded this failed strategy, they complained, was a lack of communication between British and US forces.

The Pentagon has not commented on the release of the documents or on the allegations by troops or the Post that it deliberately lied about the situation.

After the Post's report became public on Monday, readers jumped to compare it to the release of the infamous Pentagon Papers of 1971 which revealed how the government lied to the public about the atrocities of the Vietnam war.

The papers were published by The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe in a combined effort of journalism. They had obtained them from Daniel Ellsberg, a former military analyst who had grown tired of having his concerns about the conflict ignored by members of Congress.

The government tried relentlessly to block the papers' publication. It claimed that in sharing them with the public, newspapers were putting national security at risk.

After The New York Times published a series of stories about the information they contained, the government sought an injunction and the case went to the Supreme Court.

The 'papers' were a government report which had been commissioned four years before they were leaked to the press by the then Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, and were intended to remain classified.

They laid bare how the US decided to go to war in Vietnam, why and what happened throughout its bloody, 20-year duration.

By the time they were published, Americans had become increasingly disillusioned with war. Some 500,000 troops had been sent to fight and many were killed.

The papers contained explosive information spanning four presidencies including that the original goal of the war was not to aid South Vietnam but rather to 'contain China', and that President Truman helped France in its colonial war against Viet-Minh which put the US in the center of the conflict in the region.

It revealed how President Eisenhower intervened to prevent North Vietnam from imposing communism on the south of the country, and how President JFK pivoted the US's involvement from one of 'limited risk gamble' to broad commitment. The papers also revealed that President Johnson intended to wage overt war by 1964.

The publication of the papers damaged Nixon's re-election chances. He tried to discredit Ellsberg afterwards and his efforts were revealed as part of the Watergate Scandal, which eventually brought him down.

In July this year,  nearly 50 years since the papers became public, the National Archive published them in full.

It wrote, in its announcement of them, that the original leaks were 'incomplete' and caused unnecessary problems.
First Round of Resurrected US-Taliban Peace Talks Open in Qatar
Renewed negotiations expected to pave the way for direct talks between Taliban and Kabul to end 18 years of war.

7 Dec 2019

The Taliban has until now refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which it considers an illegitimate government [File: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

The United States has resumed talks with the Taliban in Qatar, three months after President Donald Trump abruptly halted diplomatic efforts that could end the US's longest war.

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Saturday held the first official talks since September with the Afghan group in Qatar's capital, Doha, a US State Department spokesperson said.

The renewed talks were expected to pave the way for direct talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul and, ultimately, a possible peace agreement after more than 18 years of war.

The meetings in Doha, where the Taliban maintains a political office, follow several days of talks in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, where Khalilzad met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

The Taliban has so far refused direct talks with Ghani, calling him a "US puppet".

During a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to a US military base in Afghanistan last month, Trump said the Taliban "wants to make a deal".

Even during the stall in talks, Khalilzad has in recent weeks made a whistle-stop tour of nations with a stake in Afghan peace, including Pakistan.

He recently arranged a captive swap in which the Taliban released an American and an Australian academic whom they had held hostage for three years.

Meanwhile, the US military in its daily report said overnight on Saturday that US air attacks killed 37 members of the armed group and operations by the Afghan National Security Forces killed 22 other rebels.

The Taliban, which now holds sway over nearly half of Afghanistan, has continued to carry out near-daily attacks against military outposts throughout the country.

Trump has expressed frustration with the US's longest war, repeatedly saying he wants to bring the estimated 12,000 American soldiers home and calling on Afghanistan's own police and military to step up.

Afghan election standoff

Meanwhile, the Afghan government is embroiled in a fresh election standoff. Presidential polls on September 28 ended in accusations of misconduct and corruption, with no results yet announced.

Repeat leading contender and Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah has challenged the recounting of several hundred thousand ballots, accusing his opponent Ghani of trying to manipulate the tally.

Ghani leads the Afghan government with Abdullah in a power-sharing agreement brokered by the US after the presidential election in 2014 was so deeply mired in corruption that a clear winner could not be determined

To head off a conflict, Washington stepped in and forced the two leading candidates - Ghani and Abdullah - to share power in a so-called Unity Government that has been largely paralysed because of the relentless bickering between the two leaders.

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES
US Lies and Deception Spelled Out in Afghanistan Papers' Shocking Detail
The tranche of documents show that in trying to paint the best pictures, those involved delivered the worst

Peter Beaumont
Mon 9 Dec 2019 15.30 EST
Guardian

During the Vietnam war, the daily US military briefings were known to journalists as the Five O’ Clock Follies, described by one of the AP reporters who attended them as “the longest-playing tragicomedy in south-east Asia’s theatre of the absurd”.

The Pentagon Papers, the Department of Defense’s secret history of that war, leaked by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971, only underlined the level of that deception under subsequent US presidents.

Now the Afghanistan Papers, published by the Washington Post after a three-year court battle, portrays a similar trajectory: of deliberate misinformation, wishful thinking, massaging of figures and cruel waste of lives – civilian and military – and a trillion dollars spent in pursuit of an unwinnable war.

What is important in these hundreds of interviews – given by key US players to a US federal agency without the expectation their words would see the light of day – is the shocking and often granular candour, detailing how politicians, commanders and senior diplomats lied to themselves as they lied to US voters.

And while much confirms what has already been available in memoirs, reporting and testimony to Congress, what is valuable in this collection of documents is the detail – and the depiction of how the biggest lies in conflict are an accumulation of bad faith, groupthink and cowardice.

The documents also underline an important truth. While in conflict the metrics of success will always contested, when they are massaged so often and so cynically that they undermine the ability to see what is going on, as occurred in Vietnam, it is the setting for historic failure.

If one interview stands out, it is with Michael Flynn, the director of intelligence for the International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] in Afghanistan from June 2009 to October 2010, who would later serve briefly as Donald Trump’s national security adviser before leaving the post in disgrace.

Describing a “positivity bias” in reporting back to Washington, Flynn concluded that the “rosy picture” being painted across the board from the conflict was as corrupt as the theft that was also going on, and condemned a “lack of courage in senior government officials to tell the truth”.

“For a while [the operational successes on a daily basis] might have made me feel good, but after 2006, for me, it was actually irrelevant because we were just killing so many people and it wasn’t making any difference at all,” Flynn told his questioners.

But set against that lack of progress, Flynn continued, was an institutional desire to report and to be the recipient of “good news”.

“Commanders and policymakers, on the spectrum of news, they want always to be good news. Operational commanders, state department policymakers and Department of Defense policymakers are going to be inherently rosy in their assessments. They will be unaccepting of hard-hitting intelligence.”

For Flynn, the problem was not reserved to the higher-ups, but individual commanders at battalion and brigade level.

“[This was true for every] commander. They all said, when they left, they accomplished [the] mission. Every single commander. Not one commander is going to leave Afghanistan or Iraq or any place, not one is going to leave and say, ‘You know what, we didn’t accomplish our mission.’

“So the next guy that shows up finds it screwed up … they do their mission analysis once they are on the ground and then they come back and go, ‘Man, this is really bad.’

“From ambassadors down to the low level [they all say] we are doing a great job. Really? So if we are doing a great job, why does it feel like we are losing? There is corruption in reporting and not just corruption in the theft that occurred … That also includes from the state department. There is no way that over the years, to include this year [2015], that we can say things are wonderful.”

Bob Crowley, who served as a senior counter-insurgency adviser to US military commanders in 2013 and 2014, was perhaps even more damning of what he described as the culture of denial in the Counterinsurgency Advise and Assist Teams [CAAT] at the international coalition’s headquarters.

“Truth was rarely welcome on the CAAT. Everyone just wanted to hear good news, so bad news was often stifled … when we tried to air larger strategic concerns about the willingness, capacity or corruption of the Afghan government it was clear it wasn’t welcome and the boss wouldn’t like it.”

“Every data point,” he added, “was altered to present the best picture possible.”

And in painting the best picture, those involved delivered the worst.
'Truth Was Rarely Welcome': US Officials Held Bleak View of War in Afghanistan, Documents Reveal
William Cummings
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Many top U.S. officials held sharply negative views of the U.S. entry into Afghanistan and bleak assessments of the prospects for success – views that were often at odds with public pronouncements – a trove of documents obtained by The Washington Post revealed.

The Post gained access to more than 2,000 pages of interviews on the war in Afghanistan through a Freedom of Information Act request. John Sopko – who heads the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which conducted the interviews – told the newspaper that the documents show "the American people have constantly been lied to" since U.S. troops first arrived there 18 years ago.

"If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction ... 2,400 lives lost. Who will say this was in vain?" retired Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who served as an adviser on Afghanistan under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said in February 2015 in an interview published by the Post. 

"Truth was rarely welcome" by officials at headquarters in Kabul, retired Army Col. Bob Crowley, who served as a counterinsurgency adviser in Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014, told interviewers in August 2016. Crowley said they "just wanted to hear good news, so bad news was often stifled."

"Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible," Crowley said. "Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right, and we became a self-licking ice cream cone."

"Operational commanders, State Department policymakers and Department of Defense policymakers are going to be inherently rosy in their assessments," retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who briefly served as President Donald Trump's national security adviser, said in an interview in November 2015.

"We were basically fighting the wrong way," Flynn said. "We are not really here to win."

Flynn said the "rosy" assessments, which conflicted with "hard-hitting intelligence" reports, were the product of "political bias" and the "lack of courage in senior government officials to tell the truth."

The interviews began in 2014 for "Lessons Learned" reports produced by SIGAR in an effort to avoid repeating the mistakes of Afghanistan in future conflicts. According to the Post, more than 600 people were interviewed for the project, and the newspaper obtained notes and transcripts from 428 of them.

The paper said most of the interview subjects' names were omitted from the files, but 62 of them were identified and the paper was independently able to identify an additional 33 from the information given.

The interviews reveal that officials saw fatal flaws in virtually every aspect of the U.S. approach to Afghanistan, from the initial invasion and decision to topple the Taliban with a light force to the failure to tackle corruption and the drug trade. They decried the unwillingness or inability of U.S. leaders to stop their Pakistani allies from lending support to the Taliban forces.

There was widespread pessimism about the prospects of training Afghan military and police units or finding reliable political partners.

Most of the opinions confirm what retired officials and experts have long said about the bleak prospects for the country's future and the consequences of not having an effective strategy in place to meet clearly established objectives.

"This stuff has been known," said retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who outlined many of the same concerns covered in the SIGAR interviews in a 2012 article for Armed Forces Journal titled, "Truth, lies and Afghanistan: How military leaders let us down."

He said the report made it clear "just how far" pessimism about the war went.

"It was known at all levels," he said. "They have known from the beginning that the war was unwinnable, but they continued to say the exact opposite."

Davis lamented that his report did not lead to any changes on the ground in Afghanistan, but he told USA TODAY, "I hope something happens now."

"How many more men still have to die before we finally do the right thing?" Davis asked.

Retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis, who served as NATO supreme allied commander from 2009 to 2013, disputed the notion that officials withheld the truth about the conflict.

"It sounds quite implausible from my perspective," Stavridis told USA TODAY. "I think the Afghan government is in reasonable shape, it has reasonable control of its borders, Afghan security forces are doing the fighting. I’m not sure what the big secret is that the U.S. would be withholding from the American people."

Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard
Documents Reveal Misleading Public Statements on War in Afghanistan
Documents obtained by The Washington Post paint a stark picture of missteps and failures in the American effort to pacify and rebuild the country.

By Thomas Gibbons-Neff
Dec. 9, 2019
3:06 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Thousands of pages of documents detailing the war in Afghanistan released by The Washington Post on Monday paint a stark picture of missteps and failures — and those assessments were delivered by prominent American officials, many of whom had publicly said the mission was succeeding.

The United States military achieved a quick but short-term victory over the Taliban and Al Qaeda in early 2002, and the Pentagon’s focus then shifted toward Iraq. The Afghan conflict became a secondary effort, a hazy spectacle of nation building, with intermittent troop increases to conduct high-intensity counterinsurgency offensives — but, overall, with a small number of troops carrying out an unclear mission.

Even as the Taliban returned in greater numbers and troops on the ground voiced concerns about the American strategy’s growing shortcomings, senior American officials almost always said that progress was being made.

The documents obtained by The Post show otherwise.

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Douglas Lute, a retired three-star Army general who helped the White House oversee the war in Afghanistan in both the Bush and Obama administrations.

“What are we trying to do here?” he told government interviewers in 2015. “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

The 2,000 pages of interviews were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and years of legal back-and-forth with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, according to The Post. Formed in 2008, the office has served as a government watchdog for the war in Afghanistan, releasing reports quarterly on the conflict’s progress, many of which publicly depicted the shortcomings of the effort.

In one interview obtained by The Post, a person identified only as a senior National Security Council official said that the Obama White House, along with the Pentagon, pushed for data that showed President Barack Obama’s announced surge in 2009 was succeeding.

“It was impossible to create good metrics. We tried using troop numbers trained, violence levels, control of territory, and none of it painted an accurate picture,” the official told interviewers in 2016, according to The Post. “The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

In 2010 this pressure trickled down to troops on the ground, as they answered to commanders eager to show progress to senior leaders, including Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, then the commander of all American troops in Afghanistan. But the facts were that the fledgling Afghan military performed poorly in the field and that the American “clear, hold, build” counterinsurgency strategy had little hope of succeeding.

“Afghans knew we were there temporarily, and that affected what we could do,” Marc Chretien, who served as the senior State Department adviser to the Marines in Helmand Province, said in one interview. “An elder in Helmand once told me as much, saying: ‘Your Marines live in tents. That’s how I know you won’t be here long.’”

The tension between rosy public statements and the reality on the ground has been one of the enduring elements of the war. Now, 18 years in, the American-led mission in Afghanistan has all but cut off outside access to United States troops on the ground in an attempt to execute their mission in near-secrecy.

Jeffrey Eggers, a former Navy SEAL who served as a strategic adviser to General McChrystal, the commander of United States forces in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010, pointed out a failed plan in 2010 to seize control of Marja, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province, after a long battle there.

General McChrystal and a number of senior Pentagon civilians had repeatedly told reporters before the battle that they had “a government in a box” ready to install in Marja to provide public services to civilians. But the plan to pacify the stronghold failed and came to symbolize larger problems with the counterinsurgency strategy, The Post reported.

“One of McChrystal’s hardest lessons was his government-in-a-box program which typified the American wartime machinery, and he thought you could simply wave a magic wand and POOF!” Mr. Eggers told investigators.

When discussing the state of the war in 2009, Barnett Rubin, who served as the senior adviser to the American special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2009 to 2013, described the American strategy in much starker terms. “But we were doing [counterinsurgency] as colonial power,” he said in a 2017 interview. “Afghans knew this influx of funds wouldn’t last, and they wanted to make the best of the windfall without endangering themselves. It was a fantasy that we could do that.”

The Washington Post said the new document trove has a precedent in the Pentagon Papers, but also drew distinctions with that 7,000-page study of the Vietnam War, which was based on internal government documents kept secret until published in 1971 by The New York Times and The Post.

In contrast, The Post describes the new documents as drawn from interviews conducted between 2014 and 2018 that were used by the inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction to write a series of unclassified “Lessons Learned” reports that have been publicly released. “About 30 of the interview records are transcribed, word-for-word accounts,” The Post said. “The rest are typed summaries of conversations: pages of notes and quotes from people with different vantage points in the conflict, from provincial outposts to the highest circles of power.”

Since 2001, more than 2,200 American troops have been killed in Afghanistan, along with hundreds from allied countries that have contributed forces to the war. Since 2014, after the Pentagon officially and euphemistically ended “combat operations,” putting the Afghan military in the lead, more than 50,000 Afghan security forces have died. And the military effort has cost the United States more than $1 trillion.

Of the $133 billion that the United States has spent on reconstruction programs in Afghanistan, about $83 billion went toward training the Afghan Army and police forces, according to the inspector general.

“If you look at the overall amount of money spent in Afghanistan, you see a tiny percentage of it went to help the people of the country,” Robert Finn, the United States ambassador to Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, told investigators. “It almost all went to the military and even most of that money went for local militia and police training.”

Mr. Finn also described how Afghan society has long been dominated by tribal leaders and patronage networks, and engendered its own form of corruption.

“When you are in power, you are expected to take care of your own,” Mr. Finn told investigators. “They come to him because the sister-in-law needs an operation, or want a new car, or want electricity in their house.”

The Washington Post published its report just as talks between the United States and the Taliban have restarted for another round of peace negotiations in Doha, Qatar. In September, President Trump abruptly called off months of the talks after a suicide blast in Kabul that killed an American soldier and 11 others.

During a recent trip to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan over the Thanksgiving holiday, Mr. Trump said the United States would stay in Afghanistan “until such time as we have a deal, or we have total victory, and they want to make a deal very badly.” Mr. Trump also reaffirmed that he wanted to reduce the American military presence in the country to 8,600 troops, down from about 12,000 to 13,000.

In one 2003 memo cited by The Post from Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary at the time, he declared, “I have no visibility into who the bad guys are.” 
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff is a reporter in the Washington bureau and a former Marine infantryman. @tmgneff
Flooding Causes Extreme Destruction in South Sudan: IOM
December 7, 2019 (JUBA) – Unprecedented rains have caused flooding that has affected an estimated one million people in South Sudan, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) revealed.

The agency, in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune, said heavy floods have displaced thousands from homes and destroyed livelihoods.

“The level of destruction caused by the floods is unfathomable. People have nowhere to sleep, children are sick, there is no food to eat,” said IOM South Sudan Chief of Mission, Jean-Philippe Chauzy.

“We have rolled up our sleeves and we will continue to do everything we can to help alleviate the misery caused by these floods,” he added.

According to the agency, in Unity region’s Mankien and Bentiu towns, it provided shelter and non-food such as blankets, mosquito nets and plastic sheeting for temporary shelters to 3,000 households.

The water, sanitation and hygiene team distributed aqua tabs and filter cloths used to treat the water consumed by 3,000 households, IOM noted, adding that 6,000 households received similar relief items in Upper Nile region’s Ulang and Gumruk towns.

“We cannot forget that in crises, vulnerable populations, especially women and children, are more likely to face gender-based-violence and other kinds of abuse,” stressed Chauzy.

“Protection and safeguarding are at the cornerstone of all of our activities and it is important that as we provide immediate emergency relief we also tackle protection issues,” he added.

IOM said it is, in collaboration with partners, ramping up its humanitarian response to affected communities in counties declared to be in a state of emergency.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), more than 908,000 people have been affected by heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding, of whom 620,000 needed humanitarian assistance.

In October, the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir declared a state of emergency in the flood-affected areas of the country.

(ST)

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Djibouti Receives Two Years’ Worth of Rain in a Single Day
The East African country, along with neighbours, Kenya and Somalia might be in store for more flooding in the next few days

By Akshit Sangomla
Monday 02 December 2019

The East African nation of Djibouti has received two years’ worth of rainfall in a day last week, according to a joint press release of the government of Djibouti and the United Nations (UN), causing the deaths of 9 people and the displacement of close to 250,000 people in the capital city of Djibouti alone.

Three hundred families have been affected in the Tadjourah region while 400 families have been affected in the Arta area.

The floods began on November 21, after a heavy spell of rains in many cities. By November 23, the rains had become really heavy. On that day, Djibouti city received 155 mm of rainfall while Tadjourah and Day received 100 mm each, according to the Meteorological Institute of Djibouti.

The entire country’s average annual rainfall is close to 160 mm. The cause for this extremely heavy downpour is an unusually active East African Monsoon season along with moisture-laden winds streaming into the Red Sea region from the Indian Ocean.

The same systems have also brought floods to Kenya and Somalia. In Kenya, 120 people have died in rain-related incidents, as on November 29. Rainfall in the Greater Horn of Africa region has been up by 300 per cent from October to mid-November, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

More flooding might be in store for the region as two low pressure areas have formed off the coast of East Africa in the Indian Ocean, according to data from the United States Global Forecasting System.

In the next three to four days, one of these low pressure areas will slowly move towards the Somalian coast and might bring heavy rainfall in the region. This might make the ongoing relief, rescue and rehabilitation measures even more difficult.

The current floods highlight the fact that Djibouti is one the most climate vulnerable non-island nations in the world, especially to sea level rise and extreme weather events.

The government has already put into action the Disaster Relief Organisation Plan or ORSEC and is working closely with UN and other aid organisations to provide relief to the affected population and take rehabilitation measures wherever necessary.

The World Health Organization has delivered five emergency health kits (for 50,000 persons for three months) for health centres and hospitals. It has also provided 30,000 litres of drinking water and 30,000 mosquito nets, according to the joint press release.

It also added that the United Nations Children’s Fund or UNICEF has delivered 1,900 hygiene kits and 300,000 water treatment tablets in Djibouti City while the United Nations Development Programme “is launching a massive cleaning campaign together with the Ministry of Environment and civil societies with the goal of protecting the marine life from the floating wastes and debris filling water drainage systems.”
Djibouti, Ethiopia, France 1st Business Networking Meeting Commences
Participants of the meeting. Photo credit : MFAE

MFAE
December 5, 2019

The first Djibouti-Ethiopia-France business networking meeting aimed at discussing investment opportunities, technology transfer and know-how among the three countries, held in Djibouti today.

Ethiopian Ambassador to Djibouti Abdulaziz Mohammed commended the Government of Djibouti for hosting the African Free Trade Area business forum as well as the Djibouti, Ethiopia and France Business communities meeting.

The Ambassador underscored that showcasing the engagement of the chamber of commerce of the three countries is expected to boost trade and investment partnerships.

He also noted the forum will serve as a complementary platform for African business communities to meet with industry partners and prospective customers to examine recent market trends and opportunities as well as boost product brands within the continent and oversees.

The President of the Chamber of Commerce of Djibouti and Chairperson of the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Yousouf Moussa Dawaleh remarked the need to put in place mechanisms to share the know-how and technical skills and invigorate the capacity of the Chambers of Commerce.

The French Ambassador to Djibouti Arnoud Guillois said French companies are increasingly becoming interested to invest in the area contributing to the incredible development in facilitating trade at the Ethio-Djibouti corridor.

According to the Ambassador, it was in such light that the next France-Africa meeting would give due emphasis on infrastructural connectivity.

During the Forum, the Ethiopian side explained trade and investment opportunities in the country as well as existing and potential business ties with Djibouti and France.

It was also noted that the Government of Ethiopia having set goals to make the country one of the leading manufacturers in the continent and supplier of raw materials has made tremendous improvement and arrangement to reach this vision.

To this end, the establishment of the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) as an autonomous government institution accountable to the country’s Investment Board, which is chaired by the Prime Minister facilitates the smooth handling of investment establishments in the country.

Currently around 11 Djiboutian and 91 French Businesses have jointly or individually engaged in investment activities in Ethiopia.
Djibouti Ambassador to Ethiopia Confirms Talk About Navy Base
Borkena
December 4, 2019

This week, locally published Ethiopian English Newspaper, Capital, reported that Ethiopia’s Navy base will be in Djibouti with Command Office in Bahir Dar.

As it turns out, it seems that matter has not reached the final stage.

Djibouti Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mohammed Idris Farah, told BBC Amharic service that no formal agreement is reached between the two countries.

However, he confirmed that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his Djiboutian counterpart, president Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, did have a bilateral discussion and the naval base issue was one of the topics discussed.

The agreement to establish a naval base in Djibouti is not something that Ethiopia and Djibouti can conclude bilaterally.

The Ambassador said that France will be part of the agreement as it has pledged support to Ethiopia in its effort to establish its naval force.

It was during his visit to Ethiopia in March 2019 that French President, Emmanuel Macron, pledged France’s support to Ethiopia in its effort to re-establish the force.

Ethiopia’s naval force was disbanded in 1996 following the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is reviving is naval force as part of its reform measure to the Defense Department.
Eritrean President Received Ethiopian Ambassador Credentials
Eritrean President Isayas (right) and Ethiopian Ambassador to Eritrea, Redwan (left).

Borkena
December 4, 2019

Eritrean President Isaias Afeworki, received on Wednesday the credentials of Ethiopian Ambassador to Eritrea, Redwan Hussien.

It was Eritrea’s Minister of Information, Yemane Gebremeskel, disclosed on his twitter page that the Eritrean President has accepted the credentials of Ambassadors from 21 countries, including Ethiopia.

” President Isaias Afwerki received today the credentials of resident Ambassadors of Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Germany, the United Kingdom, India, the European Union, Egypt & South Africa respectively. All in all 29 resident & non-resident Ambassadors are submitting their credentials, ” he said.

Redwan Hussien, who formerly served as Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Ireland -among other roles, was appointed as Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Eritrea in July of 2018 after the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed introduced a rapprochement policy towards Eritrea which ended decades of no-peace-no-war relation.

Ethiopia and Eritrea have signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in a range of areas but a formal agreement and implementation guidelines are still in the pipeline.

Despite reports that the borders between the two countries is not fully open, Ethiopian Airlines is carrying out scheduled flights to Asmara for over a year now.
Ethiopia Briefly Shut Internet as a Cyber Attack Hits
Borkena
December 5, 2019

Ethiopia Information Network Security Agency (INSA) said on Thursday that a cyber attack directed at financial institutions in the country is foiled.

In the course of doing so, the agency said that it was compelled to shut the internet in the country for up to 20 minutes, as reported by state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation (FBC)

Ethiopian Cyber Emergency Readiness and Response Team (Ethio-CERT), a department within the agency in charge of protecting key infrastructures and financial institutions, said that the attack was foiled before it causes serious damage.

It is unspecified in the report as to which financial institutions were targeted in cyber attack. 
Ethiopia’s Four Possible Scenarios in 20 Years From Now
Borkena
December 6, 2019

Ethiopia is living with a critical political situation the outcome of which is hard to predict. Destiny Ethiopia, an entity described as a local non-government organization founded by nine Ethiopians, initiated a discussion forum under the topic “Where would Ethiopia be in 20 years.”

It was organized this week at the Skylight Hotel in Addis Ababa. It attracted key political figures, artists and business people, among others.

As the details emerge now, Destiny Ethiopia was working on the event discreetly for more than six months. Nigussu Akililu, one of the founders of Destiny Ethiopia and coordinator of the event, says they first approached key actors who took part in the event and had a closed meeting with them. 

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Peace was also present in the event.

Abiy Guday show of Arts Word TV featured three participants, in addition to the coordinator of the event, participants of the discussion at the skylight hotel.

Kejela Merdasa, public relations head of  Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Yeshiwas Assefa (Chairman of Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice) and  Dr, Desalegne Chanie (from National Movement of Amhara) are featured.

What were the four scenarios that were discussed during the event at skylight hotel? Find out from the video below ( the discussion is in Amharic).  
TPLF Mobilizing “Federalist Forces”, Organized Second Forum in Mekelle
Apparently convinced that Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, EPRDF, ceased to exist, TPLF seem to be crafting possible legitimacy tool to resist change in Ethiopia.It called it Federalist Forces

Debrestion Gebremichael at the “Federalist Forum” in Mekelle. Photo credit : TPLF

Borkena
December 03, 2019

Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has organized what it called “National Forum for rescuing the constitution and multi-ethnic Federal System” in Mekelle on Tuesday, the party disclosed on its social media page.

This is the second forum to be organized in Mekelle.

Turn out to the event was not that great. TPLF chairman and acting president of the Tigray region, Debretsion Gebremichael blamed what he called “cowards who fear and despise ideas” for exerting pressure, in various ways, on those who have dissenting views not to attend the Forum in Mekelle.  “For that reason,” he continued,” a considerable number of entities found it difficult to attend the forum.”

On the other hand, he thanked those who made it to the event withstanding “pressure” from the forces he described as “cowards.”

He told participants, “… we are in a time when the constitution is being violated openly; lack of peace and the security of citizens is worsening; internal displacement and destruction of properties of citizens have become common experiences…”

A day earlier, he seized the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s annual celebration of Tsion Mariam in the ancient town of Axum to convey a political message. In the spiritual event which attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from different parts of Ethiopia, he said “Ethiopian nations; nationalities and peoples should carry out a united struggle to do away with ‘supremacy’ “

Coordinator of the second forum, Dr. Mulugeta, is quoted as saying fifty national and ethnic parties as well as over 700 “intellectuals, elders, Abba Gedas [oromo traditional leaders] and religious leaders” took part in the forum. It is expected to end on Wednesday.

In late November of this year, TPLF called party congress after the executive committee and central committee of the organization passed decision against the merger of EPRDF coalition members.

TPLF dominated the ruling coalition that is ceasing to exist, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), for more than 27 years until it lost power in 2018 following years of persistent nationwide protest.

TPLF seems to be in the business of openly organizing “Federalist forces” as the merger of parties in the coalition, TPLF architected it on the eve of a takeover of power in Addis Ababa nearly three decades ago, became a reality leading to the formation of Prosperity Party.

Towards that effect, the organization apparently reached out to ethnic-based political organizations it was once chasing and fighting as an enemy. An unverified letter which is purportedly written to TPLF, by Ogaden National Liberation Front, seem to answer to invitation to attend “Federalist Forum” in Mekelle. In the letter, ONLF said that it is not forgetful of atrocities that TPLF committed for 27 years.

TPLF is believed to have reached out to Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a radical ethnic Oromo organization, but the leader of the organization said this week in an interview with allegedly OLF affiliated local newspaper that it is not in good terms with TPLF.

Political pundits in Ethiopia tend to take TPLF’s cry over “violation of the constitution” as a sort of joke as they argue that TPLF, during the time it dominated government power, never respected the constitution.
Oromo Liberation Front Toiling to Forge Alliance with Other Ethnic Based Fronts
Meetings of the ten political parties at the Elilly Hotel in Addis Ababa. Photo credit : FBC

Borkena
December 6, 2019

With more than 100 opposition political parties, many of which are ethnic nationalist parties, Ethiopia is perhaps the leading country in Africa, if not the world, with a high number of political parties.

In recent times many of them are toiling to craft coalitions in the tradition of dying Ethiopia’s ruling coalition.  Coalition politics is not entirely new to Ethiopia, however.

Two days ago Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) initiated “Federalist Forces” announced the formation of “Federalist Forum” after two days of meeting in Mekelle. It is a new attempt on the part of TPLF after members of the coalition it architected rejected its political ideology, albeit after 28 years.  The new attempt is branded as a political force with a vision “to defend the constitution and the Federal system.”

It seems Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), whose leader vowed a landslide win in the upcoming Ethiopian election, is also trying to forge its coalition.

VOA Amharic service reported on Friday that 10 opposition groups in the country have reached an agreement to “work together.” Most of them are liberation Fronts, ethnic-based ones, and they aspire to form a coalition.

The agreement was signed at Elilly International Hotel in the capital Addis Ababa.

According to VOA Amharic service, the parties reached an agreement to work together are:

Afar People’s Liberation Party
Benishangul People’s Liberation Movement for Peace and Freedom
Gambella People’s Liberation Front
Kaffa Green Party
Qimant Democratic Party
Mocha Democratic Party
Ogaden National Liberation Front (OLF)
Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)
Sidama Liberation Front (SLF)
Agaw National Council

Oromo Liberation Front chairman, Dawud Ibsa, said the agreement is an initial step to work together during the next national election.

“The coalition is based on equality and aims to create unity based on justice,” Woldamanuel Zenebe, representative of the Qimant Democratic Party, is cited as saying.

Not all the parties have attended the signing ceremony of the “agreement.” Gambella Liberation Front, Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), and Agaw National Council did not attend it.  ONLF said that it was unable to attend the meeting due to schedule related reasons. The other two parties did not explain their absence.

Most of the parties on the list were known to have a secessionist agenda in the past. Some, for example, Oromo Liberation Front, have tried to challenge the Ethiopian government through an armed struggle for a long time but their armed struggle did not bear fruit. They entered Ethiopia for a “peaceful struggle” after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration invited armed political groups to return to Ethiopia and struggle peacefully in 2018. 
Amhara National Movement (NaMA) Demands Unconditional Release of Senior Leaders
One of Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic-based party,Amhara National Movement – NaMA, threatens to embark on civil disobedience if government is not unconditionally releasing arrested senior leaders and members of the party

National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) leader during the press conference. Photo credit : NAMA

Borkena
December 4, 2019

National Movement of Amhara (NaMA), one of the largest ethnic-based political parties but a later comer in ethnic politics, has issued a statement on Wednesday, December 3, 2019.

The statement called for the release of top leaders of the movement who are currently arrested by the Federal government. NaMA says the leaders were arrested because of their political views only. Among the leaders arrested is Christian Tadele, an outspoken figure, who was serving the movement in the role of spokesperson.

Ethiopian government arrested members of NaMA movement on alleged grounds of involvement in the June 22 incident that led to the killings of regional and Federal level government authorities which the government described as an attempted “Coup d’état.”

The statement from NaMA tends to see the arrest of NaMA leaders following the incident rather as a continuity of hate policy towards Amhara.

Citing massive arrests of Amhara, members, and leaders of the organizations in the aftermath of the incident, in Oromo region of Ethiopia, Benishangul region and Addis Ababa, the movement said that those who are arrested have never been asked investigative questions in connections with the killings. It is because, in the eyes of NaMA leadership, they are arrested for being Amhara nationalism leaders, not because they are suspected of a crime.

The incident which the government calls “coup d’état” itself was an attack on the people of Amhara which claimed the lives of “brothers who cared better for Amhara and who had a better relationship with NaMA,” said the statement.

It also recalled that the movement has issued a statement in the aftermath of the June 22 tragedy calling for individuals and groups who took part in the crime to be held accountable, and reiterated that the government has to discharge its responsibility of bringing the real culprits of the tragedy to justice for the sake of the victim’s family and the people of Amhara.

The movement also called upon members and the people of Amhara to stand on the side of the movement in the course of upcoming peaceful resistance if the Ethiopian government is not unconditionally releasing NaMA leaders.

Why the stern demand for the release of leaders came late? The movement said that it refrained from peaceful resistance so far in order not to give a chance for those forces that were looking for unstable situations in the aftermath of the killing to achieve their political objectives. But now it wants Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government to release the prisoners immediately without any conditions.

In a statement issued in late October of this year, Amnesty International has criticized the Ethiopian government for “continued abuse of the country’s anti-terror laws” after 22 critics arrested on trumped up charges of “terrorism” in connection with the June 22 incident that cliamed the lives three Amahra region senior officials and Chief of staff of the Ethiopian Defense Force. 
Ethiopia PM Should Talk to Media When Collecting Peace Prize: Nobel Committee
Gwladys Fouche, Giulia Paravicini

OSLO/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will not talk to the news media when he is in Oslo next week to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, drawing rare criticism from the award committee, which says a free and independent press is vital.

The Ethiopian leader won the prize in October for his peacemaking efforts which ended two decades of hostility with longtime enemy Eritrea.

Nobel Peace Prize laureates traditionally hold a news conference a day before the official ceremony on Dec. 10. But Abiy has told the Norwegian Nobel Committee he will not do so.

Neither will Abiy take questions from reporters after his meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, nor will he participate at an event with children celebrating peace held every year at the Nobel Peace Center, a museum.

That drew rare criticism from the secretive award committee, composed of Norwegian politicians and academics, which tends to refrain from commenting on past laureates.

Asked whether it was problematic that Abiy was not holding a news conference, Olav Njoelstad, Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said: “Yes, we would very much have wanted him to engage with the press during his stay in Oslo.”

“We strongly believe that freedom of expression and a free and independent press are vital components of peace,” he told Reuters.

“Moreover, some former Nobel Peace Prize laureates have received the prize in recognition of their efforts in favor of these very rights and freedoms,” said Njoelstad.

He added that the committee’s position had been made “very clear to the Prime Minister and his staff”.

Nobel Peace Prize laureates who have attended the ceremony but not given a news conference include U.S. President Barack Obama, when he received the award in 2009.

Abiy will still meet Prime Minister Erna Solberg, as well as King Harald V, and visit the Norwegian Parliament.

He will also deliver the Nobel lecture at Oslo City Hall on Dec. 10, the day of the ceremony and the anniversary of the death of the Nobel Prizes founder, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel.

Abiy’s spokeswoman said the PM had to make priorities given the “extensive program” and his responsibilities back home.

“It is quite challenging for a sitting Head of State to dedicate that many days, particularly where domestic issues are pressing and warrant attention,” Billene Seyoum told Reuters.

“Therefore, the Prime Minister will be attending essential and prioritized programs, agreed upon in consultation with the Nobel Institute, to honor and respect the Nobel tradition.”

“At a personal level, the humble disposition of the Prime Minister rooted in our cultural context is not in alignment with the very public nature of the Nobel award,” she added.

Editing by William Maclean
Ethiopian PM Criticized by Nobel Committee
NKH World
Friday, Dec. 6, 5:13

Ethiopian Prime Minister and this year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate Abiy Ahmed Ali has received rare criticism from the prize-awarding body for refusing to hold a news conference before the upcoming award ceremony.

Olav Njolstad, Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told a local broadcaster on Thursday that it is highly problematic that Abiy will not meet the international press ahead of the ceremony.

He said freedom of expression and an independent press are vital for peace.

The award ceremony will take place in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, next Tuesday. It is a custom that a prize winner holds a news conference on the day before the event.

Abiy was awarded the prize for making peace with neighboring Eritrea and for carrying out democratic reforms, including the release of political prisoners.

Ethiopia has seen clashes and riots caused by ethnic rivalries, prompting criticism that Abiy has not adequately responded to the violence.
UMENT: Sidama Statehood Vote Throws a Wrench in Abiy Ahmed’s Plans for Ethiopia
Ethno-regional divisions might tear apart hopes of unifying power at the center.

BY HILARY MATFESS
Foreign Policy
DECEMBER 6, 2019, 11:22 AM

People in Hawassa, Ethiopia, celebrate the results of a referendum on a new federal region for the country's ethnic Sidama area on Nov. 23. MICHAEL TEWELDE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize this year for his efforts to broker peace in the Horn of Africa. But he now faces another tangled problem—the growing demands of numerous Ethiopian ethnic groups for their own statehood at the same time that he is trying to move the governing political party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), toward a unitary party, away from the ethno-regionalism that has governed the country for nearly three decades. In forging a vision for Ethiopia’s future, Prime Minister Abiy must contend with the implications of ethno-federalism for his ideology, known as medemer, meaning “synergetic unity” in the Amharic language.

An overwhelming victory in a referendum for statehood for the Sidama region and similar petitions from a number of other ethnic groups suggest that there is a demand for a greater devolution of power. Despite this pressure for more ethno-federalism, the governing party, a coalition of four ethno-regional parties that has been in power since the early 1990s, is shifting its ruling style away from the states and toward a single, unitary party to be called the Ethiopian Prosperity Party (EPP). These tensions could reshape Ethiopian politics—especially with elections coming up in May.

Ethiopia is officially divided into nine regional states based on ethnicity and language group and two administrative states, including the capital, Addis Ababa. There are more than 90 ethnic groups identified in the Ethiopian census, and none constitutes a majority on its own—the largest of these groups, the Oromo, make up roughly a third of the country’s population. The EPRDF was established as a coalition of four parties representing some of the larger ethno-regional constituencies, including the Oromia, Amhara, Tigray, and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples; the EPRDF’s power was complemented by the influence it exerted over the five other ethno-regional parties.

Ethno-federalism was adopted after the war by the EPRDF as a means of addressing the “question of nationalities” that had motivated decades of student activism and insurrection. This style of rule was also a reaction to a widely held frustration that, under both the imperial regime and the military dictatorship, the country’s political elite were disproportionately Amhara. In the transitional charter and the subsequent constitution, the Ethiopian researcher Ermias Tasfaye writes, “Some ethnic groups (‘nations’) such as Afar, Amhara, Oromo, Somali and Tigray were thus granted regional statehood, while other often smaller groups (‘nationalities’ and ‘peoples’) were lumped together into multi-ethnic regional states—notably the southern NNPs .”

The allocation of statehood to nations, nationalities, and peoples, according to Tasfaye, was structured in a fashion that encourages “potentially for increased autonomy.” In the 1995 constitution, Article 39 asserts that, “Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self- determination, including the right to secession,” suggesting that there were constitutionally enshrined ways for that composition to change.

The Sidama referendum comes more than a year after leaders of the Sidama ethnic group (for which the zone is named) petitioned the government to hold such a referendum, in line with a process for statehood delineated by the country’s 1995 constitution. The referendum was supposed to have been organized by July 17, but the failure of the government to organize the referendum in time resulted in a number of violent clashes that claimed at least 17 lives. Initial reports suggest that Hawassa, the current state capital of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) and a lucrative tourist destination, will be the capital of the new Sidama state.

The Sidama are about 4 percent of Ethiopia’s total population but are the largest ethnic group—though still only about 20 percent—of the makeup of SNNPR. The results of the referendum, released on Nov. 23, showed an overwhelming degree of support for statehood among voters—98.5 percent voted in favor of statehood.

The Sidama referendum may have set a precedent in SNNPR. The region is made up of dozens of ethnic groups, among which at least 10 others have also petitioned for statehood. The uneasiness of the amalgamation of ethnic groups in SNNPR goes back to the transitional period in the early 1990s, after the EPRDF defeated the military government but before the 1995 constitution was adopted. Some fear that the Sidama bid for statehood could lead to a cascade of such requests, fracturing SNNPR and reshaping the country’s political landscape.

Others fear that, though the November Sidama referendum was largely peaceful, the process of establishing the new region will result in ethnic discrimination or violence.Others fear that, though the November Sidama referendum was largely peaceful, the process of establishing the new region will result in ethnic discrimination or violence. One Hawassa resident said, “I’m afraid that the Sidama will come and hurt us … they will take all the jobs and even if you file a complaint it will go unheard as you will be complaining to one of them,” according to Reuters.

Since Abiy took office, violence between ethnic militias has presented a serious challenge to the country. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, 70 instances of inter-communal violence have resulted in more than 500 reported deaths since Abiy was sworn in on April 2, 2018. Over the same time period, there have been nearly 60 instances in which communal militias have targeted civilians, resulting in more than 300 additional reported fatalities. This violence has contributed to the displacement crisis in the country. According to the International Displacement Monitoring Center’s midyear report, in the first half of 2019 violence among ethnic militias resulted in the displacement of 140,000 people in Oromia and 100,000 people in Amhara alone.

Violence along ethnic lines has also affected Ethiopia’s political elites. In June, the president of the Amhara Region and two of his associates were assassinated during what the prime minister said was an attempted coup. The man behind the attack, Brig. Gen. Asaminew Tsige, was the region’s security chief and was affiliated with Amhara ethnic hard-liners. Tsige was killed during a confrontation with security forces. On that same night, in an attack likely connected to the first, Seare Mekonnen, a Tigrayan and the chief of staff for the Army was assassinated by his bodyguard.

Jawar Mohammed, a member of the Oromo ethnic group who has been a public critic of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, addresses supporters outside his home in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Oct. 24, a day after his supporters took to the streets, burning tires and blocking roads following rumors of Jawar's mistreatment by security forces.

Ethiopia Will Explode if It Doesn’t Move Beyond Ethnic-Based Politics

Oromo nationalism helped bring Abiy Ahmed to power, but it could also be his undoing. To hold the country together, the Nobel-winning prime minister needs to convince various ethnic groups that he and his new party represent all Ethiopians.

In the aftermath of these events, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) released a statement criticizing the Amhara Democratic Party, another constituent party in the EPRDF, saying that the party cooperated with “chauvinist forces” and was undermining national security. The TPLF demanded an apology from the Amhara Democratic Party and suggested that EPRDF unity could not survive the status quo.

Abiy’s proposal to unite the EPRDF’s regional constituent and smaller, unaffiliated but partnering “sister” parties into a single party thus implies not only a change in the party conduct and name, but also a shift away from the postwar political system. Ethno-federalism was an important aspect of the “revolutionary democracy” that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a member of the TPLF, designed and implemented in the country. The EPP will be guided by a new ideological program, medemer, which is delineated in a new book by Prime Minister Abiy.

Thus far, three of the four constituent parties, and all five of the auxiliary parties, have signaled that they will join the EPP. The TPLF, however, has voiced its sharp disapproval, going so far as to not attend critical meetings regarding the formation of the EPP. Getachew Reda, a senior member of the TPLF, described the process as “a total sham,” arguing that “the prime minister didn’t follow the right procedures … it was wrong as well as undemocratic.” It is unclear how the EPP will proceed, given the TPLF’s sharp dissent. The TPLF is not the only political heavyweight to express dissatisfaction with the plan—there are reports of unease within Abiy’s Oromo Democratic Party. Lemma Megersa, the deputy chairman of that party and the minister of defense, has publicly denounced the plan. The May 2020 elections represent a formidable test of Abiy’s plan for a unitary party—and of the TPLF’s willingness to break with its former allies.

Though Abiy has been commended by the international community for his efforts to bring peace, he has been less adept at managing threats to stability and security within Ethiopia’s borders. Ethiopia’s future depends on its political class finding a way to manage the simultaneous drive toward a unitary party while coping with subnational demands for autonomy.

Hilary Matfess is a Ph.D. student at Yale University and the author of Women and the War on Boko Haram. Twitter: @HilaryMatfess
Nobel Peace Prize Winner Abiy Ahmed Embroiled in Media Row
Officials say winner’s refusal to face public questioning is ‘highly problematic’

Jason Burke Africa correspondent
Sun 8 Dec 2019 08.45 EST
Guardian

Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia, has come under pressure to appear before the media in Oslo this week when he collects the Nobel peace prize on Tuesday.

Senior officials of the Norwegian Nobel Institute have said the 2019 winner’s refusal to attend any event where he could be asked questions publicly is “highly problematic”.

Olav Njølstad, the secretary of the Nobel committee, said it would “very much have wanted Abiy to engage with the press during his stay in Oslo”.

“We strongly believe that freedom of expression and a free and independent press are vital components of peace … Moreover, some former Nobel peace prize laureates have received the prize in recognition of their efforts in favour of these very rights and freedoms,” he said.

Nobel peace prize laureates traditionally hold a news conference a day before the official ceremony, but Abiy has told the Norwegian Nobel committee he does not intend to do so.

Neither will the 43-year-old leader take questions from reporters after his meeting with the Norwegian prime minister, Erna Solberg, nor participate at a traditional annual event with children celebrating peace at the Nobel Peace Center museum.

Njølstad added that the committee’s concerns had been made “very clear to the prime minister and his staff”.

Abiy was awarded the Nobel prize for the peace deal he concluded with neighbouring Eritrea last year, three months after coming to power in 2018. The agreement resolved nearly two decades of military stalemate following a border war that ended in 2000.

The former military intelligence officer has pushed through reforms at home, dramatically changing the atmosphere in what was regarded as a repressive state. Measures have included the lifting of a ban on political parties, the release of imprisoned journalists and the sacking of previously untouchable officials, some of them accused of torture.

In November, Abiy faced perhaps the most serious crisis of his term in office after the death of scores of people in a wave of violent disorder.

Abiy’s press secretary, Billene Seyoum, said it was “quite challenging” for a head of state to find enough time for the extensive Nobel programme, particularly since “domestic issues are pressing and warrant attention”.

Abiy would attend essential events in consultation with the Nobel Institute “to honour and respect the Nobel tradition”, she said.

At the same time, “the humble disposition of the prime minister, rooted in our cultural context, is not in alignment with the very public nature of the Nobel award”, Billene said. “The prime minister is … grateful for the recognition.”

Norwegian media have raised concerns that the Nobel prize committee have “once again made a problematic choice”.

Other winners have failed to engage with the media. The former US president Barack Obama also declined to speak to reporters when he won the peace prize in 2009 – and Abiy has rarely given interviews since taking office last year.

Analysts say Abiy’s reforms have lifted the lid on long-repressed tensions between Ethiopia’s many ethnic groups and unrest is expected to worsen in the run-up to the country’s election in May.

When announced earlier this year, the Nobel chairwoman, Berit Reiss-Andersen, defended the choice of Abiy, saying that though some people might have considered it too early to give the Ethiopian leader the prize “it is now that Abiy Ahmed’s efforts need recognition and deserve encouragement”.

Abiy is expected to give an acceptance speech on Tuesday at Oslo City Hall before officials, including Norwegian royals, after receiving the 9m kronor (£721,000) cash award, a gold medal and a diploma.

Abiy also is to meet with Solberg and open a Nobel prize exhibition during a private ceremony. Billene said Abiy was “one of the most accessible Ethiopian prime ministers to date in public and media engagements”.