Sunday, December 7, 2014

Video - USA: 'Iran is honouring its nuclear commitments' - Kerry

Syria's Army General Command: Israeli enemy targeted two areas in Damascus Countryside

The General Command of the Army and Armed Forces said in a statement that the Israeli enemy targeted two areas in Damascus Countryside in al-Dimas and Damascus International Airport, which is a civilian airport, on Sunday afternoon, causing material damage to some facilities.
The General Command said this attack proves Israel’s direct involvement in supporting terrorists in Syria against which the Armed Forces achieved significant victories in Deir Ezzor, Aleppo, and other areas.
The statement said that this attack aimed at raising the morale of terrorist organizations, including the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, following the consecutive strikes directed against them by the Syrian Arab Army.
The General Command asserted that such acts of aggression will not dissuade it from continuing its war on terrorism in all its forms across the entirety of Syria.
The National Leadership of Al-Baath Arab Socialist Party issued a statement strongly condemning the Israeli aggression, saying that this attack comes as no surprise for the Syrians who know that the Israeli enemy will rush to aid its terrorist allies in a bid to raise their morale following the defeats they suffered at the hands of the Syrian Arab Army.
The statement said that the attack constitutes further evidence of the alliance between Israel and the terrorists against the Syrians who are committed to combating terrorism and protecting Syria’s independence and dignity, concluding by asserting that this aggression will only make Syrians more determined to persevere until victory is achieved.

Analysis: What’s behind the UK ‘return’ to the Middle East?

Britain is to open a new £15 million naval base in Bahrain, the country’s Foreign Office announced Friday, which will be the first permanent UK military presence in the Middle East in more than 40 years.

Under a deal signed with the Bahraini government, improvements will be made to the Gulf state’s Mina Salman Port, which is already used on an ad-hoc basis by four UK mine-hunter ships, creating a permanent forward operating base.
The base will “enable Britain to send more and larger ships to reinforce stability in the Gulf” said UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. “We will now be based again in the Gulf for the long term,” he said.
The move represents a potentially significant shift in British defence strategy.
The country has not had a permanent military base in the Middle East since it formally withdrew from the region in 1971, a long-term result of the Suez crisis of the 1950s where Britain was forced into a humiliating backdown in the face of international pressure.
The episode gave rise to the expression “east of Suez”, an evocative phrase in British politics to denote the country’s military presence, or lack thereof, in the Middle and Far East in the post-Empire years.
Britain’s return “east of Suez” may suggest to some a return to the country’s imperialistic ambitions of the past despite its decline as a global power.
But with its armed forces the smallest they have been in more than a century, the UK is less well equipped now to police an area as volatile as the Middle East than it was in the 1970s, which raises the question as to why the government has decided to head back there now.
Battling the Islamic State group?
There are, however, obvious reasons for Britain to establish a permanent Middle East military base, not least the security situation in Iraq and Syria and the rise in prominence of the Islamic State group.
Speaking to the Times in September this year, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, a former British ambassador to the United Nations, said deterring the Islamic State from expanding into the Gulf would be a major motivation for setting up a greater UK military presence in the region.
“It will also make it more difficult for some internal cell in Bahrain or UAE [United Arab Emirates] or wherever to think they can have a go at the local government if they see some highly trained and capable people standing alongside the government,” he said.
The UK has also been looking at installing an infantry battalion at al-Minhad in the UAE as well as a training post in Oman, according to Greenstock.
But, military experts believe, a return to a permanent British presence in the Middle East has been on the minds of UK defence strategists for some time, well before the rise of the IS group became a major concern for the global community.
“The UK Maritime Component Command has had a permanent headquarters in Bahrain since 2001 and work on a new UKMCC headquarters began in April 2014”, noted Christian Le Mière, an expert on naval forces and maritime security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
The Bahrain base is therefore simply “the latest development in a wider shift to a more permanent footing in the Gulf in recent years”, Le Mière wrote in an article on the IISS website.
‘Highly politically motivated’
While such a footing will give undoubted strategic advances to Britain’s Middle East operations, the shift also has another aim, according to Peter Roberts, an expert on maritime power at the Royal United Services Institute.
With announcements like the one on Friday, Britain hopes to reassure its allies in the Gulf from whom Britain receives billions of pounds of investments as well as much of its energy supply by showing them it takes the region’s security seriously.
“The announcement today is highly politically motivated, designed to underpin the rhetoric over British resolve to remain in the Middle East,” he told FRANCE 24.
“It’s a message to its allies in the Gulf saying ‘we support you’, that we are hugely reliant on the Middle East both strategically and for resources such as energy.”
Roberts pointed out that the £15 million cost of the base is a relatively small figure and significantly less than the £25 million a year the US spends on catering services for military personnel at its Bahrain naval base.
Although Britain may not have had a permanent Middle East military base in recent years, that does not mean it has not been highly active in the region for some time.
There has been at least one British warship in the Gulf at all times since the 1970s, said Roberts, not to mention military personnel already stationed in Bahrain and the UAE and, until recently, the British military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Above all, Britain’s so-called return “east of Suez” is not really a return at all. “In reality, Britain never really left,” Roberts said.

7 ways Saudi Arabia is silencing people online

Raif Badawi was arrested on 17 June 2012 and has been detained since then in a prison in Saudi Arabia.

Raif Badawi was arrested on 17 June 2012 and has been detained since then in a prison in Saudi Arabia.
© Juan Osborne for Amnesty International

There are many cases of bloggers being restricted or banned. Some of them – whom I know – are still being investigated about blogs they wrote in 2008, even though they aren’t involved in blogging anymore. Saudi bloggers can also be fired from their jobs and prevented from making a living. Many face false allegations that they are ‘atheists’or ‘demented’. Restrictions are imposed on almost every aspect of the blogger’s life.
Anonymous blogger from Saudi Arabia.
Badawi is serving a 10-year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia, mainly for setting up a website. We talk to another local blogger – who has to remain anonymous for their own safety – about different tactics the authorities use to silence people online.
1. Gagging anyone with an independent opinion
“Overall, the situation in Saudi Arabia is very bad, particularly from the point of view of people with independent opinions who go against the grain. Recently, there have been investigations, arrests and short-term detentions of journalists, athletes, poets, bloggers, activists and tweeters.”
2. Blaming everything on terrorism
“The authorities are fragile. They seek to gag and stifle dissent using various means, including the shameful Terrorism Law that has become a sword waved in the faces of people with opinions. Courts issue prison sentences of 10 years or more as a result of a single tweet. Atheists and people who contact human rights organizations are attacked as ‘terrorists’.”
3. Personal attacks on bloggers
“I have been harassed in many ways. The authorities approached the internet providers hosting my personal website and asked them to block it and delete all the content. They also dispatched security officers to tell me to stop what I was doing in my own and my family’s best interests. I was later officially banned from blogging and threatened with arrest if I continued. I succumbed and stopped in order to protect my family.”
4. Bans, false accusations and being fired from your job
“There are many cases of bloggers being restricted or banned. Some of them – whom I know – are still being investigated about blogs they wrote in 2008, even though they aren’t involved in blogging anymore. Saudi bloggers can also be fired from their jobs and prevented from making a living. Many face false allegations that they are ‘atheists’or ‘demented’. Restrictions are imposed on almost every aspect of the blogger’s life.”
5. Far-reaching online surveillance and censorship
“Censorship is at its maximum, especially after passing the Terrorism Law. A poet was arrested as a result of a single tweet which indirectly criticized King Abdullah using symbolic language. With millions of web users in Saudi Arabia, this means the authorities are keeping an eye on everything that’s being written. We have also received reports through international newspapers that Saudi Arabia uses surveillance to hack and monitor activists’ accounts.”
6. Deploying an electronic army
“The authorities have powerful cyber armies which give a false impression of the situation in Saudi Arabia to deceive people overseas. They launch websites, YouTube channels and blogs to target activists and opponents, and depict them as atheists, infidels and agents who promote disobedience of the Ruler. By contrast, these websites, channels and blogs often praise the state and its efforts. I have personally been the victim of such state orchestrated campaigns that harmed my reputation.”
7. Brutal punishments
“Raif Badawi’s case further demonstrates the brutality of a state that still rules through punishments from the Middle Ages, like flogging, hefty fines and exaggerated prison terms. The Saudi government needs to know that it doesn’t own the world and that it can’t silence the world’s voice with its money.”

Saudi Arabia extends detention of women arrested for driving, relative says


Two Saudi women detained nearly a week ago for violating the kingdom's female driving ban were ordered held for 25 more days on Sunday, a relative said.
The women, who were arrested Dec. 1 after driving into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, are supporters of a grassroots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban. The two women have a combined Twitter following of more than 355,000.
Organizers behind the Oct. 26 campaign say the ban on women driving underpins wider issues regarding guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia that give men powerful sway over women's lives.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, set out to defy the kingdom's ban on women driving by crossing into her country from the UAE.
The kingdom's hardline interpretation of Islam holds that allowing women to drive encourages licentiousness. No such ban exists in the rest of the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia's conservative Gulf neighbors.
In a video uploaded to YouTube Nov. 30, al-Hathloul filmed herself driving toward the Saudi border in what she said was "an effort to sustain the campaign for women's driving."
"She wanted to highlight the absurdity" of not being allowed to drive into her own country, an activist said on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal.
Saudi border guards confiscated al-Hathloul's passport and kept her at the border for nearly 24 hours.
Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, arrived the next day to deliver food, water and a blanket to al-Hathloul, Maysa's sister Hannah al-Amoudi said.
Human Rights Watch said both women were then detained apparently for driving, though it is not clear if they will face criminal charges.
Hannah said authorities notified the family on Sunday that they were extending her sister's detention for another 25 days. They did not provide the legal reasons for holding her.
Al-Hathloul is in a correctional facility for juveniles, and al-Amoudi is in a prison. The women have been interrogated without the presence of an attorney, but were allowed to see relatives and speak to relatives on the phone.
There was no official Saudi comment on the arrests.
In October, Saudi Arabian women got behind the wheel to protest the country's ban on female drivers; the demonstrations marked the one-year anniversary of last year's campaign, which encouraged women to drive, then share video and photo proof online.
Last month, the Saudi king's advisory council recommended that the government lift its ban on female drivers. Under the recommendations, only women over 30 would be allowed to drive, and they would still need permission from a male relative. Women would also have to be off the road by 8 p.m., and would be prohibited from wearing makeup while driving.

Video - Protests grow across the US after funeral for black man gunned down by police

Obama Says Vigilance Needed to Tackle Racism

Hillary 2.0 Would Be Hillary XX

NOVEMBER 2016 is still a long way off, but it’s hard to imagine that the presidential campaign will provide any bit of advertising as strangely entertaining and revealing as a video put online recently by Stand With Hillary, a new “super PAC.” Haven’t seen it? Oh you must. Right now. I give you leave from this column to go take a look, but hurry back. There’s a lot to talk about. It spotlights a man in a cowboy hat who croons in a country-and-western twang about how darned much he adores that there Hillary Clinton. “Hindsight’s always right,” he sings, a clear dig at Barack Obama, the candidate chosen over her in the Democratic primaries. There are images of construction work, a welder, a pickup truck, a tractor, a big red barn, cows. It’s the unveiling of Hard-Hat Hillary. Rodeo Hillary. Hillary, Patron Saint of the Prairie.

But it positions her first and foremost as all woman. The references are incessant. The chorus goes like this: “Thinking about one great lady like the women in my life. She’s a mother, a daughter and through it all, she’s a loving wife.”
CreditBen Wiseman
A man with a sledgehammer shatters a panel of glass — twice. And the cowboy exhorts his brethren: “Put your boots on and let’s smash this ceiling.” Just in case there was any doubt about what that glass meant.
The video wasn’t produced by Clinton or her aides. But the people who did put it together clearly followed the cues that they felt they were getting, and they read her intentions right. If she runs, she’ll do so with more focus on her gender and a greater emphasis on making history than she did in 2008.
And that’ll be the smart move, because her gender is precisely what offsets certain of her weaknesses as a candidate. To double down on the double X may be her best way to mitigate several otherwise big vulnerabilities.
Back in 2008, “Clinton seemed to develop a tortured approach toward her gender on the campaign trail, sometimes embracing it, sometimes dismissing it, sometimes appearing to overcompensate for it — but rarely appearing at ease with it,” wrote Anne Kornblut of The Washington Post in her 2009 book about that race, “Notes From the Cracked Ceiling.”
She observed that some of Clinton’s key advisers felt that partly because of her gender, she had to routinely assert toughness and be America’s own Iron Lady. There were boxing gloves at her events, along with music from “Rocky.”
Kornblut recalled the time when she was told by a proud Clinton adviser that it was “as though his boss were running with a penis.” And at one campaign event, a labor leader introduced her as “the candidate with ‘testicular fortitude,’ ” Kornblut wrote.
Clinton never gave a gender speech that rivaled Obama’s race speech.
Additionally, “When Obama won the Iowa caucuses, everybody wrote and talked about it as historic,” Kornblut told me last week. “But Jesse Jackson had won primaries. When Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire, it was historic. But the coverage was, ‘Hillary made a comeback. She’s the comeback kid, just like her husband was.’ ”
Kornblut said that, belatedly, a few members of Clinton’s inner circle came to believe that her frequently gender-neutral approach wasn’t just “a big mistake of the campaign. That was the big strategic mistake.”
But with an even longer résumé now, Clinton could emphasize her trailblazing womanhood for 2016 without the worry that many voters would misinterpret it as the main qualification that she’s claiming. And after four years as a secretary of state more hawkish than the president she served, she wouldn’t have to push the image of a dauntless world leader.
Americans’ economic anxieties will almost surely be at the center of the race, and with the right language, Clinton might have “the ability to talk as mom and grandmom about the need to make sure government is on the side of our families,” Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who recently addressed the group Ready for Hillary, told me.
“Being a woman translates into great politics,” he said.
Clinton seemingly agrees. Over the last year she has weighed in strongly on issues like equal pay and child care. She has done women-themed events galore.
In a speech at Georgetown University last week, she said: “We know when women contribute in making and keeping peace, entire societies enjoy better outcomes. Women leaders, it has been found, are good at building coalitions across ethnic and sectarian lines and speaking up for other marginalized groups.”
IT’S possible that Clinton has noticed polls. In one by Gallup early this year, when Americans were asked what about a Clinton presidency would be most exciting, the answer given more than any other was that she would be the first woman in the job.

It’s her “unique selling proposition,” wrote Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief, in an analysis of those results.
And that proposition is potentially an inoculation.
Yes, she’s been around forever and isn’t a fresh face. But she can’t be yesterday’s news when she’s tomorrow’s precedent.
Yes, there’s a whiff of dynasty about her. But maybe she gets some of the“new car smell” that Obama said voters were looking for by promising a new altitude of female accomplishment.
Yes, a contest between her and Jeb Bush would be one of two surnames from the past. But only she can claim to represent an uncharted future, at least in one sense.
Yes, detractors will say that she’s a third term of Obama: business as usual. Her supporters can answer that she’s history’s unfinished business.
Yes, she’s now wealthy and well-connected, and would be starting the race with titanic advantages. But if she’s willing to talk about her experience as a woman, she can talk about what it’s been like to make her way in a man’s world. She’s a leader of the pack who can make some underdog noises, an ultimate insider who can potentially connect with outsiders — thanks to gender.

Lehane called it “a sword and a shield.”
When she ran the last time around, Rush Limbaugh asked, “Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?” It was a sexist question, but this can be a sexist country, and even some Democrats had that concern.
It’s more than six years later, and Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post recently noted Clinton’s “full-on embrace of grandma-hood, tweeting out pictures of her new granddaughter despite the twin pitfalls of gender andage.” For Clinton 2016, gender might not be a pitfall at all.

Obama makes Dec. 26 a holiday

By Joe Davidson

President Obama, a.k.a. the boss-in-chief, decided to give federal employees a holiday present a little early.  He issued an executive orderFriday giving them the day after Christmas off.
“All executive branch departments and agencies of the Federal Government shall be closed and their employees excused from duty on Friday, December 26, 2014, the day after Christmas Day,” the order says. Exceptions may be made “for reasons of national security, defense, or other public need.”
There was no indication if Obama was swayed by an online White House petition urging him to make the day a holiday. The petition said:
“Federal Employees have dealt with pay freezes and furloughs over the past few years. Giving federal employees an extra holiday on Dec. 26th, 2014 would be a good gesture to improve morale of the federal workforce. Some bases are forcing their employees to take leave or LWOP because of base shut-downs on this day. This is also consistent with past practice. President Obama provided a full-day Monday Dec. 24, 2012 and a half-day off on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009. President George W. Bush provided a half-day holiday on Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2002, as well as several full days off the day before or after Christmas: Tuesday, December 24, 2001, Thursday, December 26, 2003, Tuesday, December 24, 2007, and Thursday, December 26, 2008. We urge President Obama to issue an executive order.”
Happy holidays.

U.S. - Masked protesters smash windows, injure 2 officers in Berkeley, California

Protests turned violent in northern California early Sunday when some masked demonstrators smashed windows while others pelted officers with rocks and bottles, authorities said.
Police said about 200 people were on Berkeley streets for another day of protests over a grand jury decision not to indict New York City Officer Daniel Pantaleo for Eric Garner's death on July 17.
But as some broke windows at businesses in the city, other protesters implored them to stop the violence.
Police in riot gear lined the streets while others hovered nearby on motorbikes. They warned crowds to disperse, but some vandalized various businesses, including a Trader Joe's and a Wells Fargo Bank, police said.
Authorities used teargas to break up the crowds, said Jennifer Coats, a spokeswoman for the Berkeley Police Department.
"A small portion of protesters have been violent. They started throwing rocks and other projectiles at our officers," Coats said.
Two officers suffered minor injuries as a result, including one who was treated for a dislocated shoulder.
Nationwide protests
Protesters have taken to the streets nationwide, outraged over the decision not to bring charges against Pantaleo, whose chockhold led to Garner's death.
"What's happening in these cities in these last several days is incredibly important to show we have a unified voice," said Judi Flournoy, who was participating in a New York protest.
Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, has urged demonstrators to "keep on doing it, but do it in peace."
In New York, the victim's widow, Esaw Garner Snipes, has said watching the mass of demonstrators from her Staten Island home brings tears to her eyes. She said she told her son, "Look at all the love your father is getting."
On Saturday, dozens of protesters staged "die ins" -- lying down on the ground in memory of Garner -- at Grand Central Station in Manhattan and Union Station in Washington.
Meanwhile, New York officials said complaints against police officers fell significantly in the second half of the year, compared with July to November 2013.
A report that tallied complaints said 1,813 were made so far since July 1 of this year, 26% fewer than the number of complaints filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board in the same period of the prior year. Excessive force allegations fell by 29%.
The dip followed a slight rise in the first six months of the year, the report said. But overall, allegations have declined in 2014.

Rula Ghani, Afghanistan’s Unusually Prominent First Lady

Rula Ghani, wife of recently elected Afghan PresidentAshraf Ghani, has enjoyed a remarkably high profile by the standards of the region. When Ghani delivered his inaugural address he surprised his audience bypublicly addressing his wife, thanking her for her efforts in helping women, children, and the internally displaced persons (IDPs). This was in stark contrast to Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai, whose wife Dr. Zeenat Quraishi Karzai remained virtually invisible during his long term in office.
The fact that Ghani would publicly thank his wife has sparked hope in some quarters that women might be given a more prominent role in Afghanistan, with positive implications for women’s rights generally. But not everybody was happy: Hard-liners have expressed concern that the foreign-born, Christian first lady could pose a threat to Islamic values.
Rula Ghani was born into a Lebanese Christian family, and is a dual citizen of Lebanon and the U.S. She met her future husband when they were both studying at the American University of Beirut, and the couple lived in Afghanistan for a few years after marrying in 1975. In 1978, Rula and her husband moved to the United States, where he pursued a Ph.D. while she raised their children. The family returned to Afghanistan in 2002, when Ashraf Ghani was appointed finance minister of Afghanistan. Rula was reportedly shocked to see the living conditions many Afghan children were enduring, and went to work for an organization called Aschiana, which helps feed and educate street children.
Rula Ghani has often been compared to Soraya Tarzi, known as Queen Soraya, wife of King Amanullah Khan, who ruled Afghanistan from 1919. The queen – who received an honorary degree from the University of Oxford – was a target for criticism because of her perceived modernity. The queen served as minister of education, and sought to improve the lot of women in society. She established Afghanistan’s first school for girls and its first hospital for women. However, her liberal ideas on women’s roles in society as well as her appearance (including a penchant for short-sleeved dresses) incensed the religious right and was a factor in her ending up in exile with her husband in 1929.
For her part, Rula Ghani has not given any indication of plans to upturn social norms in Afghanistan. Rather, she aims to revolutionize women’s roles within the current structure to improve their quality of life. Ghani has set up an office within the Presidential Palace to find ways to improve conditions for IDPs, who number around 750,000 in Afghanistan. Although women in Afghanistan have won more rights since the fall of the Taliban, they are still heavily restricted by objections to girls receiving an education and working outside the home. Theliteracy rate for females aged 15 to 24 is 32 percent, compared to 62 percent for males. Girls in rural parts of the country are less likely to receive an education. Rula Ghani apparently aims to change this, and encourage Afghans to realize the important roles that women play in society.
However, even during her husband’s campaign her religious and educational background drew criticism. Mohammad Mohaqeq, deputy to the rival presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, has commented that Rula was out of touch with Afghan society since she is a foreigner. Her husband was questioned for having a Christian wife. More recently, Rula has been criticized for appearing to side with the French government’s ban on the niqab (face covering). The Presidential Palace of Kabul released a statement insisting that her words were taken out of context.
A first lady who is visible, let alone politically active, is unusual for Afghanistan. Advocating women’s rights backfired for the exiled Queen Soraya. Decades later, Afghanistan is probably still not ready for radical change, but eyes will be on Rula Ghani to see whether she can bring about modest gains in the rights of Afghanistan’s women.

Backsliding in Afghanistan

No one has sounded more determined to extricate the United States from Afghanistan than President Obama. It is “time to turn the page,” he said in May when he announced plans to reduce American forces to 9,800 troops by the end of December, with a full withdrawal by the end of 2016. That goal appeared to be on track — until now. Mr. Obama’s recent turnabout and other developments seem to be sucking America back into the Afghan war, a huge mistake.
First, Mr. Obama authorized a more expansive mission for the American military in 2015 than originally planned. His order would put American troops right back into ground combat by allowing them to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militants. He had previously said that the residual force would be engaged only in counterterrorism operations aimed at remnants of Al Qaeda. The new order also permits American jets and drones to support Afghan military missions.
The decision by Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, to lift the ban on night raids imposed by his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, could also push American troops into direct fighting. The Afghan special operations forces, which are to resume night raids in 2015, could bring along American advisers, backed by American air support. While military officials say night raids are an effective tactic, enabling the Taliban to be seized in their homes, such intrusions are offensive to many Afghans and likely to provoke a new wave of anti-American sentiment.
Already, the number of American troops to remain in Afghanistan after December has been increased by 1,000, up to 10,800. NATO allies are supposed to provide 4,000 troops next year, bringing the total of foreign forces to 12,000 to 14,000. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that any additional American troops above 9,800 are temporary and are merely covering for NATO allies that are still trying to decide how many forces to contribute.
But if NATO fails to contribute sufficient troops, then what?
Mr. Obama seems to be having second thoughts about his Afghan strategy after the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the sudden collapse of the Iraqi army. He may be trying to avoid blame if something similar happens in Afghanistan, where Taliban attacks are on the rise.
But he should resist the advice of military commanders, who are again pushing for broader involvement. They were unable to defeat the Taliban when more than 100,000 American troops were in the country; there is no reason to think that a very limited American force will be more effective now.
That is not to say that Mr. Ghani, a former World Bank executive, should not be supported. He shows more promise, energy and purpose in dealing honestly with his country’s staggering challenges — including the insurgency and a weak, corrupt economy — than Mr. Karzai did.
Since Mr. Ghani was declared the winner in September of the disputed election and formed a power-sharing deal with Abdullah Abdullah, the new chief executive, there has been progress, including the signing of a security agreement with the United States, a reopened probe into the corrupt Kabul Bank and an initiative to repair relations with key countries, including Pakistan. Last Thursday, Mr. Ghani laid out a thoughtful, if incomplete, vision for reforming the economy and tackling corruption to a conference in London of Afghanistan’s international donors, including the United States and Britain.
Still, Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah have struggled to make other important decisions, including the appointment of a cabinet, which they promised would be done before the conference and now say will take several weeks more. Given Afghanistan’s perilous security situation, the country’s leaders and political factions might be expected to put aside their differences, but that hasn’t happened yet.
One lesson learned over the last 13 years is this: No amount of foreign assistance — not tens of thousands of troops, billions of dollars or unlimited amounts of military equipment — will make any real difference if the Afghans cannot or will not pull together a functioning, relatively uncorrupt and competent government, and take primary responsibility for themselves and their country.
Administration officials are still insisting “the combat mission ends” by the end of this year, but that’s simply not credible. Mr. Obama should stick to his original plan to have the remaining troops focus on training and advising the Afghan army and going after Al Qaeda. Realistically, that seems the most the American-led military coalition can achieve.

U.S. hands to Pakistan senior militant detained in Afghanistan

The United States has handed to Pakistan three prisoners including a senior Taliban militant held in Afghanistan, as Washington rushes to empty its Afghan prison before losing the legal right to detain people there at the end of the year.
U.S. forces captured Latif Mehsud, a top deputy in Pakistan's faction of the Taliban, in October 2013, in an operation that angered then Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
Mehsud, a Pakistani, and his two guards were secretly flown to Pakistan, two senior Pakistani security officials told Reuters. The U.S. military confirmed it transferred three prisoners to Pakistan's custody on Saturday, but would not reveal their identities.
"TTP senior commander Latif Mehsud who was arrested was handed over to Pakistani authorities along with his guards," one Pakistani security official said. "They reached Islamabad."
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said three prisoners had been held at a detention centre near Bagram airfield, the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan.
The facility is believed to house several dozen foreign prisoners who the United States will no longer be allowed to keep in Afghanistan when the mission for the U.S.-led force there ends later this month.
"We're actually just going through and returning all the third-country nationals detained in Afghanistan to resolve that issue," a U.S. embassy spokeswoman said.
Taliban militants fired two rockets into the Bagram base on Saturday, damaging a building and a road, a spokesman for international coalition forces said.
Recognisable by his curly locks and youthful looks, Mehsud was a senior deputy in the Pakistani faction of the Taliban when U.S. forces snatched him last year, not far from Kabul.
At the time, Karzai's spokesman told the Washington Post Mehsud was travelling with a convoy of Afghan intelligence officials who wanted to recruit him for peace talks, and that the U.S forcibly removed him.
The arrest enraged Karzai, who saw it as a challenge to Afghan sovereignty. In a statement, the U.S. military said Afghanistan "was not involved" in the transfer.
"We are working on gathering information on how this took place," said Nazifullah Salarzai, the spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Relations between the two neighbours were rocky because each suspects the other of harbouring Taliban insurgents. The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are separate but allied and both work alongside al Qaeda.
The strained ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan improved slightly after Ghani got a warm welcome from Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during a state visit last month.