President Joe Biden’s top military leaders are expected to face some of the most contentious hearings in memory this week over the chaotic end to the war in Afghanistan, which cost the lives of U.S. troops and civilians and left the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) back in power.
The Senate and House committees overseeing the U.S. military will hold hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, where Republicans are hoping to zero in on mistakes that Biden’s administration made toward the end of the two-decade-old war.
That will follow similar questioning two weeks ago that saw U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken staunchly defending the administration, even as he faced calls for his resignation.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to praise American personnel who helped airlift 124,000 Afghans out of the country, an operation that also cost the lives of 13 U.S. troops and scores of Afghans in a suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport.
Austin is expected to “be frank about the things we could have done better,” a U.S. official told Reuters.
That will also certainly include the U.S. military’s last drone strike before withdrawing, which the Pentagon acknowledges killed 10 civilians, most of them children – and not the Daesh (ISIS-K) militants it thought it was attacking.
Ahead of the hearing, Senator James Inhofe, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, wrote to Austin with a long list of requests for information, including on the August 26 airport bombing, equipment left behind and the administration’s future counter-terrorism plans.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, said lawmakers would also press about “a lack of coordination and a real plan for how we were going to get all the Afghans who helped us out of the country.”
“I don’t know if we’ll get answers. But questions will be raised again about why we got to the point that we did in Afghanistan,” she told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Many of the hardest questions may fall to the two senior U.S. military commanders testifying: Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command.
McKenzie called the drone strike a “tragic mistake,” one that critics say raises hard questions about America’s ability to properly identify counter-terrorism targets in Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal.
But McKenzie and other U.S. officials will be under pressure to defend the Biden administration’s plans to address future counter-terrorism threats from groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State by flying in drones or commandos from overseas.
Republicans have accused the Biden administration of downplaying the risks associated with that so-called “over the horizon” capability.
Separately, Milley could face intense questioning over an account in a new book alleging he bypassed civilian leaders to place secret calls to his Chinese counterpart over concerns about former President Donald Trump.
Milley’s office pushed back against the report in the book, saying the calls he made were coordinated within the Pentagon and across the U.S. government.
Senator Marco Rubio has called for his resignation. Senator Rand Paul said he should be prosecuted if the account in the book was true. But some of the greatest concern has come from lawmakers in the House, where Milley will testify on Wednesday.
Mysterious fires destroy dozens of homes in Jowzjan
More than 50 homes have been destroyed by mysterious fires in a village in Afghanistan’s northern Jowzjan province, officials said this week.
The fires have happened in Bala Mardian village of Faizabad district.
Sirajuddin Ahmadi, police chief of Jowzjan, said that the fires are increasing day by day.
“Yesterday 12 homes caught fire. Today people held Khatm Qur’an ceremony (reading Qur’an) and prayed. Within an hour today, three or four homes caught fire. I hope officials and leaders of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) will pay special attention to the victims,” Ahmadi said.
There are no reports of deaths caused by the fires.
Noorullah Musafir, the provincial director of labor and social affairs, however, said that some people including women and children were hospitalized.
Meanwhile, local residents said that mysterious creatures could be seen during the fires.
“People are suffering from the problem. They initially thought that it was human, but later it was found that only children and women can see it. A creature is seen in the home, but when we enter the home, no one is there,” a Jowzjan resident said.
DAB says technical agreements in place to print new bank notes
The country’s central bank – Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) said Thursday they have reached agreements with a number of foreign countries and money printing facilities to print new bank notes for the country.
“We have collected and burned the old money, we have reached an agreement with the money printing offices and countries and we expect to proceed according to the plan and present you with the results, we are proceeding based on national interests; discussions have been held with countries and banks and they will help Afghanistan,” said Lutful Haq Noor Pasarlay, DAB’s policy deputy head.
Abdulqahar known as Haji Muhammad Edris, the acting head of De Afghanistan Bank, also spoke at the event and mapped out achievements made by the central bank in the past 12 months.
“Maintaining the stability of the value of the Afghani currency, maintaining the sustainability of commercial banks, providing banking services, facilitating cross-border transfers and developing new systems were some of the issues in the attention of Da Afghanistan Bank during the last year,” said Abdulqahar.
According to officials, in order to improve the banking sector and prevent criminal activities, the law to prevent terrorism financing, the regulation of preventive measures against money laundering, the management plan for the liquidity problem of the banking sector, the plan to revive the financial and banking sector, and the crisis management policy, have been drawn up and will soon be adopted.
The officials also said that in order to release Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves, several internal and external meetings have been organized with the relevant parties and discussions have been held on technical matters.
The last meeting of technical representatives of Afghanistan and the United States, for releasing Afghanistan’s frozen assets, was held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Bayat Power ‘looking forward’ to increasing domestic electricity output
Bayat Power, Afghanistan’s first and currently only, natural gas to electricity generation, energy company is looking forward to expand its domestic power output.
In a speech, delivered by a company representative, Lotfullah Stanikzai, Bayat Power informed delegates attending the key energy conference in Kabul that the “team is looking forward to deploying additional state-of-the-art turbines in Afghanistan to continue to develop the domestic gas to electricity sector, contributing to the energy security and building the nation for the long term.”
Stanikzai said the company was committed to working with government to achieve energy security and develop a pathway to energy self-sufficiency in Afghanistan.
The one-day conference, which was attended by senior Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) leaders, representatives of foreign countries and members of the private sector, was convened to attract investment in the energy and water sectors.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the acting Deputy Prime Minister, said in his opening speech the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) is committed to developing the country but urged the people to be patient adding “because we have to build this country ourselves”.
Baradar also pointed out that Afghanistan is potentially a wealthy country that has great investment opportunities.
Abdul Latif Mansour, the acting Minister of Energy and Water, also addressed delegates and said the IEA is committed to managing the country’s water efficiently and to producing enough energy for the people.
Mansour said the conference was being held to map out opportunities available in the water and energy sectors for investors and that the IEA had paved the way for local and international business owners to invest in the sectors.
Shahabuddin Delavar, acting head of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum also addressed delegates and said it is “now time for us to maintain our country’s independence, and utilize our natural resources”.
He singled out Bayat Power, and said at the moment the company produces 40MW electricity but that it hoped to increase this substantially.
“We welcome the company’s decision,” he said.
Stanikzai told delegates that Bayat Power was the direct result of a solid private and public partnership between the company and various Afghanistan government entities, including the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, Afghanistan Gas Enterprise (AGE), and Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat.
However, he stated that Bayat Power calls on the IEA to support the continuation of operations with current investors and attraction of further investment.
He urged the authorities to ensure timely payment of outstanding invoices by DABS was made to various private entities including Bayat Power; to facilitate a favorable investment environment; promote investment through favorable taxation policies and lower operational costs; and promote transparency with government entities to expedite new and the renewal of existing agreements.
He also urged the IEA to ensure that AGE continues to receive full government support so that they can remain operational and provide clean gas.
Stanikzai said it was important for DABS and the ministry of energy and water “to continue the excellent work in keeping the grid stable to take the domestic electricity produced by private sector companies.”
In conclusion, he said: “Bayat Power team is looking forward to deploying additional state-of-the-art turbines in Afghanistan to continue to develop the domestic gas to electricity sector, contributing to the energy security and building the nation for the long term.”
About Bayat Power
Bayat Power supplies electricity to schools, homes, mosques, hospitals, factories, business enterprises and other essential services. Currently the company supplies electricity to over 200,000 end users.
Bayat Group established the Bayat Power Electricity Services Distributor Company in 2013. Using the nation’s abundant natural gas reserves, the goal was to provide the people with a reliable supply of affordable and sustainable electricity.
Site work on Bayat Power-1’s 40MW gas-fired turbine started in 2019 and achieved commercial operation in November of that year. This landmark milestone made Bayat Power the first company in Afghanistan to operate a new gas-fired generation facility in more than 40 years.
Bayat Power-1 uses the most advanced, powerful, and efficient technology to extract the gas without adverse environmental impact.
Using Siemens Mobile Gas Unit “SGT-A45”, with up to 44 MW of electrical output, offers significantly more power and higher efficiency than any other mobile gas turbine worldwide.
The SGT-A45 turbine generates more than 300 million kWh per year of electricity, increasing revenue for the Afghanistan Gas Company through the purchase of gas for the project, as well as significant tax revenue for the Afghan government in the form of BRT, salaries and customs taxes, Bayat Power has been – and continues to be – a considerable PPP (private, public partnership) achievement.
This project has created more than 1,000 direct and indirect job opportunities for Afghans, which has contributed to improving the nation’s economic condition and fostered new technical skill sets amongst the country’s talented citizens.
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