After almost a year of debate and delay by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) have been signed as of yesterday, which will allow American and NATO forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year, and potentially until 2024, essentially ensuring a longer-term American presence in the region. The deal allows some 9,800 American and 2,000 NATO troops beyond the end of the year, with their stated goal being to train and assist the Afghan National Army and police forces to combat the Taliban, although American Special Operations Forces will remain to conduct counterterrorism operations.
A large Taliban offensive over the fighting season this year has put the Afghan National Army on its heels as increasingly urgent questions over the election and political unity plagued the political scene in Kabul. Both candidates had, however, agreed to immediately sign the BSA if and when they were elected president, and with Ghani’s inauguration on Monday, it appears he wasted no time in signing this agreement. At the ceremony for the signing of the agreement, Ghani reminded Western allies that they had promised $16 billion in economic aid – which will be a much needed infusion as overseas contingencies operations for contractors and US government forces have wound down.
The International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, will maintain a training center in Kabul and six other bases throughout the country to ensure maximum coverage. It is unclear how much of a role that ISAF forces will be able to have to turn the tide of the latest Taliban advance.
Follow us on Twitter: @SteppeDispatch
- The United States has allocated $3.2m to the Tajik government in order to strengthen border security and bolster law enforcement practices within the country. The funds will presumably be used to better train personnel in anti-narcotics techniques and supply Tajik border and law enforcement officials with improved equipment. Officials in Dushanbe have long spoke of increasing the capabilities of local law enforcement, making it likely that a significant portion of the funds will be put towards their training.
- Kyrgyz authorities have detained a group of women suspected of being involved in extremist activities in Kyrgyzstan’s southern region of Jalal-Abad. The women were charged with involvement in an illegal Islamic group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, a London-based Sunni organization that “seeks to unite all Muslim countries into an Islamic caliphate.” Seven women, between the ages of 20 to 25, were arrested by Kyrgyz forces during an anti-terror operation in the region.
- Vladimir Putin lauded the stance adopted by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with regards to the Caspian Sea, praising them as “constructive.” The Russian president attended the fourth annual Caspian Sea summit, held in Astrakhan, Russia, and left the meeting optimistic about Caspian initiatives agreed upon during the summit. A joint emergency services force was negotiated and agreed upon, and will likely begin to hold exercises as early as 2016. Putin further stated that an additional meeting between the Iranian and Russian heads of state will likely take place in the near future.
- In meetings held during the same summit, Iran and Azerbaijan called for stronger bilateral ties, principally in the field of energy, though many other areas were emphasized as well. Heads of state in Tehran and Baku both insisted on greater cooperation by means of the Iran-Azerbaijan Economic Commission, a body designed to increase cooperation in tourism and commerce, as well as the energy and environmental spaces. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will soon visit Baku, where deals across a broad range of domains are expected to be negotiated and eventually signed.
- Russian and Kazakh officials came to terms on a new nuclear cooperation agreement. The agreement was reached after officials met in the western Kazakh city of Atyrau in late September, and additional talks were held at the Caspian Sea summit in southeastern Russia. The agreement seems to come at a strategic time for Russia, as it seeks to maintain the trust of Astana following statements made by Putin putting into question Kazakhstan’s ability to carry out a transition of power on its own. The new nuclear deal calls for the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Kurchatov, eastern Kazakhstan.
- London-based Edgo Enery has secured permits to operate in two stretches of Tajik territory near the Afghan border. Both permits will allow the firm to enter into production-sharing agreements in the Qarordon and Surkhsimo blocks of Tajikistan, the latter of which is home to natural gas deposits, and currently supplies Dushanbe. The agreements grant Edgo Energy and its Russian partner Klarenco a space of seven years to operate within Tajikistan.
- Violence broke out in Kharkov, Ukraine following the toppling of a statue to Vladimir Lenin. The story, as told by Russia Today, has the statue being knocked down by a renegade band of extremist, pro-Ukraine youth, and by the Washington Post as the act of a patriotic Ukrainian majority in Kharkov lashing out against Russian influence in the country. It is unclear which version of the events is true.