Who Can be Fired at the VA for Cause? No One

Bipartisan Senate Group Unveils New Bill to Speed Up VA Firing, Bonus Recoupment

The new bill comes just days after a federal appeals court ruled Congress’ previous attempt at hastening VA’s disciplinary process — through the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act — was unconstitutional. The measure stripped Senior Executive Service employees of their right to a second-level appeal before the Merit Systems Protection Board’s presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed panel. VA had already stopped using the new authority after its constitutionality was questioned in court and the Obama administration declined to defend it.

The senators have been working on their new bill for weeks, but they said the court ruling reinforced the need for reform. “This legislation would improve on the law we enacted in 2014,” Rubio said.

The bill would allow the department’s secretary to fire, suspend or demote an employee with only 15 days notice. Affected workers would then have seven days to issue a response before a final decision is made. Any employee facing removal, suspension of at least 14 days or a demotion would have 10 days to appeal the action to the Merit Systems Protection Board. MSPB would then have 180 days to issue a decision, a much longer period than the 45-day timeline set up in the House bill. Employees would maintain the right to appeal an MSPB decision to federal court.

Employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement would also maintain the right to appeal a negative personnel action through the grievance process, though it would have to be resolved within 21 days. Read more here.

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Meanwhile, there is that blasted union problem at the VA:

An estimated 346 employees in the Department of Veterans Affairs do no actual work for taxpayers. Instead, they spend all of their time doing work on behalf of their union while drawing a federal salary, a practice known as “official time.”

That’s according to a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. But exactly what those VA workers are doing and why so many are doing it is not clear. The VA doesn’t track that, and the GAO report offers no clue.

Rep. Jody Arrington, R-Texas, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, thinks the number on 100 percent official time may be much higher. He also notes that the 346 workers don’t include those who spend most, not all, of their time doing union work.

“The lack of accountability at the VA when it comes to monitoring official time suggests it might be worse,” said Arrington, who has introduced legislation that would require the department to track the use of official time, among other reforms.

Pointing to the waiting list scandals at the department, Arrington said the official time situation is reflective of the “broken culture at the heart of the VA” and adds, “I haven’t heard one good, acceptable reason why the practice has continued.”

The VA was not eager to discuss the matter with the Washington Examiner. After several days of inquiries, it responded with the following statement: “VA believes that the appropriate use of official time can be beneficial and in the public interest as stated in the Federal Service Labor-Relations Statute, which governs how executive branch agencies treat official time. VA takes the position that labor and management have a shared responsibility to ensure that official time is authorized and used appropriately. VA practices are in compliance with the Federal Service Labor-Relations Statute.”

Official time is allowed under the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act. The idea behind it is to ensure that a federal employee who is also a union official won’t be penalized for being away from work if he or she is negotiating a contract or addressing a worker grievance, for example. It is essentially a trade-off for the limitations put on federal unions, such as prohibitions on striking.

At least 700 federal workers do nothing but work on official time, according to the GAO and data obtained from various Freedom of Information Act requests. The VA uses official time far more than any other agency.

“Employees spent approximately 1,057,00 hours on official time for union representation activities … In addition, the data show that 346 employees spent 100 percent of their time on official time,” the GAO found in a January report.

It is possible that even those figures are conservative. The GAO said the said the VA’s poor monitoring meant the data was “inconsistent and not reliable.”

The GAO didn’t know what the employees are doing with all of that time. “We just didn’t get into that in that particular study,” said Cindy Barnes, the GAO’s director of education, workforce and income security issues and author of the report.

Part of the explanation is that the VA is one of the largest federal agencies with 373,000 workers, making it second only to the Pentagon in the sheer size of its workforce. About 250,000 VA workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements, according to the GAO, citing 2012 data. Arrington puts the covered figure at 285,000.

By comparison, the Department of Homeland Security has 240,000 workers and the Department of Commerce has just under 44,000 workers. But those departments get by with proportionately far fewer people working exclusively on official time. DHS has 39, while Commerce has just four.

Another factor is that the VA’s workforce is represented by no less than five unions: The American Federation of Government Employees, the National Association of Government Employees, National Nurses United, the National Federation of Federal Employees and the Service Employees International Union.

National Nurses United representative Irma Westmoreland was the only union official willing to talk about the practice with the Washington Examiner. She is one of five nurses union members who work exclusively on union time at the VA. The union has another nine who spent 80 percent of their time at the VA on official time, she said.

Westmoreland said her work was necessary because nurses can’t simply stop taking care of a patient to do something like address a worker grievance. People such as her do the union work and make it possible for the other nurses to focus on providing care.

“I have to travel across the country working with 23 VA facilities in four time zones,” she said. “The management teams want somebody at 100 percent official time so they don’t have to pull somebody out of care.”

But not everyone at the VA is involved in care. So what are the other 341 exclusive official time workers doing? Westmoreland had no insight.

“I don’t know how the other people do it,” she said.

American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox told Arrington’s subcommittee in February that official time involved activities such as “designing and delivering joint training of employees on work-related subjects and introduction of new programs and work methods that are initiated by the agency or by the union.”

He added that “in no way did the [February GAO] report suggest that the use of official time presents problems for the department.” The report sought only to quantify the amount of time used.

Arrington argues that the practice has to change if the VA is ever to be truly reformed. He has sponsored the Veterans, Employees and Taxpayer Protection Act, which would require the VA to track the use of official time. It also would prohibit employees involved with direct patient care from spending more than a quarter of their work hours on union activities and bar any VA employee from spending more than half of their time on official time.

The legislation would effectively put VA employees under right-to-work protection. The VA would be prohibited from agreeing to union contracts that force workers to join or otherwise support a union as a condition of employment.

Westmoreland said she has no trouble with better tracking the use of official time but warns against putting any limitations on its use.

“It makes it very difficult if you cannot have set official time,” she said.

Iraq: Sallyport Global = Sex Trafficking, Alcohol, Lax Security

Sheesh…..typical for a government contractor and in Iraq.

U.S. Firm in Iraq Overlooks Smuggling, Security for F-16s

WASHINGTON (AP) — The two American investigators felt a sense of foreboding that Sunday as they headed to an emergency meeting with their boss on the Iraqi air base. But they didn’t expect to be surrounded by armed guards, disarmed, detained against their will — and fired without explanation.

It was March 12 — less than two months ago. Robert Cole and Kristie King were in Iraq working as investigators for Sallyport Global, a U.S. company that was paid nearly $700 million in federal contracts to secure Balad Air Base, home to a squadron of F-16 fighter jets as part of the U.S.-led coalition to annihilate the Islamic State.

** Click here for video

Cole and King had spent more than a year together in Iraq investigating all manner of misconduct at Balad and beyond.

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They’d uncovered evidence that Sallyport employees were involved in sex trafficking , they said. Staff on base routinely flew in smuggled alcohol in such high volumes that a plane once seesawed on the tarmac under the weight. Rogue militia stole enormous generators off the base using flatbed trucks and a 60-foot crane, driving past Sallyport security guards.

Managers repeatedly shut down Cole and King’s investigations and failed to report their findings to the U.S. government that was footing the bill, the investigators said.

Right before they were fired, Cole and King had opened an investigation into allegations of timesheet fraud among Sallyport employees. In a call with Sallyport lawyers, they said, they were advised to keep two sets of books about potential crimes and contract violations.

“One for the government to see and one for the government not to see,” King told The Associated Press.

The company said that the investigators misinterpreted the instructions.

In a statement to the AP, Sallyport said it follows all contracting rules at the base, home to the F-16s that are a key to the fight against the Islamic State.

“Sallyport has a strong record of providing security and life support services in challenging war zones like Iraq and plays a major but unheralded role in the war against ISIS,” Chief Operating Officer Matt Stuckart wrote. “The company takes any suggestion of wrongdoing at Balad very seriously.”

More than 150 documents obtained by AP, as well as interviews with more than a half-dozen former or current Sallyport employees, show how a contractor ran amok after being hired for lucrative and essential combat support operations. The investigators and other witnesses describe grave security breaches and illegal schemes that went unreported until the government asked about them.

The point behind requiring contractors to employ their own investigators was to limit the waste and corruption that has marred federal security contracting going back to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Pentagon’s own auditors, who were frequently on the base 50 miles north of Baghdad, were not told of the serious problems until early this year, a potential violation of law. The Pentagon auditors’ reports, obtained by the AP, detail dozens of more minor infractions. That gap illustrates the limits of U.S. oversight for billions of dollars in contracts run by companies that have cashed in on the fight to protect Americans from extremism.

The Defense Department declined to comment.

The morning of March 12, King had gone to church and was still carrying her Bible when she and Cole walked into the office foyer for the meeting with the boss. To their astonishment, they were immediately surrounded by armed security guards and forced to turn over the 9 mm pistols they both routinely carried on the job.

The boss, David Saffold, informed them they were being fired but wouldn’t say why.

“We knew too much,” King told AP in an interview at her home in Amarillo, Texas. “They want to cover it up and move on because it’s a huge amount of money.”


In 2004, Rob Cole was a retired California police officer and licensed private investigator when he decided to go to Iraq for a series of contracting jobs. Like many U.S. contractors working in hazardous regions, he went because the work paid a lot more than he could make back home.

Americans have been at Balad on and off since 2003. Sallyport’s parent company, Michael Baker International, announced in 2014 its subsidiaries had been awarded $838 million for work on the base.

Cole’s first job at Balad was cut short in June 2014, a month after he arrived, when the Islamic State group began sweeping across Iraq and Syria. The extremists ultimately made it to the gates of Balad, which was evacuated.

When the Americans went back, they found a looted base largely under the control of Iranian-backed Shiite militias that were supporting the Iraqi government, according to former employees. A former senior manager told the AP that Sallyport reached an understanding with the militias that they would not enter the flight and residential areas. He declined to be named because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter and didn’t want to be blacklisted from future jobs.

Cole, now 62, returned to Balad in May 2015, as Sallyport was preparing for the arrival of American F-16s sold to the Iraqi government. Sallyport’s mission, along with its parent company, was to keep the base operating smoothly, train the Iraqis, and most importantly maintain security on the base, where thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of contractors work.

The federal contract required investigations into potential crimes and violations involving the company’s work at Balad. That was Cole and King’s assignment.

“They wanted someone to be competent enough to process an investigation, if there was a crime, or if someone turned up dead,” King said. “The way it was put to me: If someone turned up with a knife in their back, who are you going to call?”

From the start, it was clear that much was awry on the base. Despite the urgency of fighting IS, the delivery of the F-16s had been delayed by months amid security concerns. It would be catastrophic if IS seized the base and its multimillion-dollar jets.

On July 13, 2015, four F-16s flew in from Arizona, the first of 36 fighter jets that the U.S. planned to deliver.

Brett McGurk, then the U.S. deputy envoy for the international coalition against IS, hailed the arrival in a tweet.

“After years of preparation & training in the U.S., Iraqi pilots today landed the 1st squadron of Iraqi F16s in #Iraq,” he wrote.

The first security breach came in less than 24 hours: A long black skid mark on the tarmac was reported. It stopped about 45 yards from the nose of one of the fighter jets. A truck had plowed through a rope barrier in the “no-go” zone, where lethal force is authorized to protect the planes. For more than 10 minutes, no one even responded as the vehicle drove away, according to reports citing surveillance video.

That turned out not to be a terrorist. But Cole says the out-of-control truck was a harbinger. He noted the lax protection for the F-16s in his report and forwarded it to the chief of security, Steve Asher. Under the requirements of the contract, Cole’s report should have then made its way to the Pentagon. But he says Asher kept a lid on the incident.

Three months later, in October 2015, Cole reported another security breach, the theft of a Toyota SUV that Sallyport had assigned to bodyguards to drive VIPs around the base. Cole eventually uncovered a plot by three Iraqi Sallyport staff working with a dangerous Iran-backed militia, known as Kataib Imam Ali.

The Shiite militia was an ongoing headache, politically connected and operating outside the law, with sidelines in theft and gunrunning. It has ties to the leader of the umbrella militia Popular Mobilization Forces, which is on the U.S. list of designated terrorists.

To Cole’s astonishment, the prime suspect threatened to join the militia during his interrogation. He was a Sallyport bodyguard. In fact, the investigators later found a photo of him on his Facebook page, dressed in black militia garb and a patch indicating his allegiance to the group.

He is “viewed by the Investigations Unit as a hard-core recruit to become a terrorist who poses a serious threat to all personnel on this base,” Cole wrote in another report.

The Toyota was recovered within a few days, but Cole was ordered off the case. In an interview with AP, the former senior manager defended the company’s order, saying negotiations with the militias were highly sensitive and had to be handled with Iraqi cooperation. Still, the suspect was supposed to be banned from the base, and Cole later saw the man walking around freely.


The longer Cole was on the base, the more he suspected that management was turning a blind eye to criminal activity.

On the books, Balad is a dry base, where alcohol is restricted. But in reality the booze was everywhere and everyone knew it. Finding out how it got there led to more troubling questions.

A Sallyport employee who worked in the air terminal reported in late 2015 that co-workers were involved in a smuggling scheme. They were bringing in cases and cases of water bottles filled with liquor that they’d sneaked onto planes flying in from Baghdad.

According to investigative documents and people who watched the smuggling in action, three empty suitcases would routinely be loaded onto a flight to Baghdad. Each time, the bags came back with plastic water bottles filled with liquor. When they were unloaded, the bags were not searched but taken directly outside to be picked up — a serious security risk in a war zone.

“You could be putting a bomb in there,” said one former employee who witnessed the smuggling. “You’ve got people just going rogue.” He spoke only on condition of anonymity because he didn’t want to imperil his new job with a different overseas contractor.

Steve Anderson, who worked on flight logistics, says he was pressured to sign off on faked flight manifests that omitted passenger names and falsified the weight of cargo to cover for the alcohol smuggling and other infractions — a violation of international flight regulations. The planes were getting so weighed down he was worried about flight safety.

“They were playing Russian roulette with the passengers’ lives — including mine,” Anderson said.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, Million Dollar Porker

CAGW Names Rep. Steny Hoyer April 2017 Porker of the Month  

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) named House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) its April 2017 Porker of the Month for his ridiculous attack on the most pro-taxpayer budget proposal in decades.

On March 16, 2017, President Donald Trump released his first budget proposal, which recommends the elimination of dozens of wasteful, duplicative, and failing federal programs that CAGW has long felt should be jettisoned.

The same day, Rep. Steny Hoyer appeared on CNBC and uncorked a hefty load of hyperbole and a number of questionable claims about the budget.  He called it “the most irresponsible budget that I’ve seen and the most unrealistic budget that I’ve seen.”  He labeled the budget a “hatchet job” with “irrational” cuts.

By rejecting the budget in such a reckless and melodramatic manner, Rep. Hoyer takes ownership of the wasteful spending he defends, including billions of dollars’ worth of federal programs that have been identified by CAGW in Prime Cuts, the Congressional Pig Book, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Congressional Budget Office, and many other sources as not worthy of taxpayer funding.  The following programs are a tiny fraction of those that the Trump budget consolidates or eliminates, and Rep. Hoyer harbors:

  • $3 billion for Community Development Block Grants, where “outcomes [are] difficult to measure and evaluate,” according to the Obama White House.
  • $293 million for the Economic Development Administration, which the GAO found has no effect on employment.
  • $150 million for the Essential Air Service, which subsidizes often empty flights from remote airports.
  • $16.7 million for the East-West Center, which the State Department has tried to eliminate for decades.
  • $10 million for the Denali Commission, which even former President Obama wanted to terminate.

CAGW President Tom Schatz said, “When it comes to spending the taxpayers’ money, Rep. Hoyer has never seen a government program that he wanted to terminate, even if it means squandering billions of dollars.  Defenders of wasteful spending like Rep. Hoyer will exaggerate and muddy the waters, but he cannot obscure the hard truth that hundreds of federal programs simply do not deserve to be funded by taxpayers.”

For his baseless attack on the most pro-taxpayer budget in decades, CAGW names House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer its April 2017 Porker of the Month.


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(He is 77 years old….sheesh…go Steny go)

PBS: Trump, who made improving veterans’ care a prominent issue as he campaigned for office, was to issue the order while visiting the VA. It will create a new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection within the department. The eventual head of the office will report directly to VA Secretary David Shulkin.

The office is a byproduct of a 2014 scandal in which as many as 40 veterans died while waiting months for appointments at the VA medical center in Phoenix.

The House has passed a bill to make it easier for the VA to fire, suspend or demote employees for poor performance or bad conduct, and the Senate continues to work on its version of the measure. Shulkin said Trump’s decision to create the office before Congress sends him a bill speaks to his commitment to accountability at the VA.

As President Trump signed an executive order establishing a VA Accountability Office to protect whistleblowers, back in 2014, Steny Hoyer had a disgusting position with regard to Republicans and the VA.

The House‘s No. 2 Democrat accused Republicans of exploiting the scandal that has enveloped the Veterans Affairs Department for political gain and said he is worried that civil servants could be swept up unfairly in a witch hunt.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it … that is essentially the tactic that Republicans are trying to employ,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters.

Hoyer said that while any wrong-doers within the VA must be held accountable, it’s imperative that accused employees be given due process and that innocent federal workers aren’t needlessly punished as a knee-jerk reaction.

“I don’t think that serving veterans is antithetical to making sure that employees of the federal government have the civil service protections that were adopted as long ago as the Pendleton [Civil Service Reform] Act in the 19th Century,” said Hoyer, whose district includes a large number of federal workers.

“Our civil service system is designed not to be a system where people serve at the will of those who win elections. It’s a professional civil service [that is] protected.” More here.

Just Released Afghanistan MOAB Strike Video

KABUL, Afghanistan (April 13, 2017) – A GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb strikes ISIS-K cave and tunnel systems in the Achin district of the Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan at 7:32 p.m. local time Thursday. The strike was designed to minimize risk to Afghan and U.S. Forces conducting clearing operations in the area while maximizing the destruction of ISIS-K fighters and facilities and eliminate any perceived safe haven for ISIS-K in Afghanistan


So what do those caves and tunnels look like that have been used by al Qaeda, bin Ladin and Islamic State?

Meanwhile, Russia and Iran are in meetings regarding Afghanistan. Russia is bragging too about their weapons that is bigger than the U.S. MOAB.

The 21,600-pound MOAB was developed in 2003 as a weapon to attack against elite Republican Guard units during the invasion of Iraq. But the bomb, which replaced the Vietnam-era 15,000-pound BLU-82 Daisy Cutter, was not used in that conflict because of the rapidity of Saddam Hussein’s army.

Soon after the Pentagon announced the new weapon, Russia began working on a counterpart. In 2007, it successfully tested the massive thermobaric weapon.

The bomber-dropped bomb is designed to explode midair by ignition of a fuel-air mixture that produces massive blast effects comparable to small tactical nuclear weapons.

“All that is alive merely evaporates,” Gen. Alexander Rukshin, deputy chief of the Russian general staff, was quoted as saying at the time.

Thermobaric devices detonate in two stages, with an initial blast dispersing explosive materials in a cloud that is then ignited by a secondary charge. The explosion generates a much bigger pressure wave than conventional explosives, followed by a vacuum effect that compounds damage and injuries caused by the blast.

Russian sources have claimed their weapon has a power equivalent to 44 tons of TNT – or four times that of the MOAB – despite being somewhat lighter than the U.S. munition at 16,650 pounds. Because of its yield and the extremely high temperatures it generates, it is slated to replace smaller battlefield nukes currently in the Russian arsenal.

When the Russian air force began bombing rebel positions in Syria in September 2015, smaller thermobaric bombs were used against Islamic State positions, but the FOAB was never deployed. More here.

MOAB Dropped in Astan, where Green Beret was Killed

U.S. Bombs, Destroys Khorasan Group Stronghold in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan, April 13, 2017 — At 7:32 p.m. local time today, U.S. Forces Afghanistan conducted a strike on an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan tunnel complex in Achin district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, as part of ongoing efforts to defeat ISIS-K in Afghanistan, according to a U.S. Forces Afghanistan news release

ISIS-K, also known as the Korasan group, is based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and is composed primarily of former members of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban.

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The strike used a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb dropped from a U.S. aircraft. The strike was designed to minimize the risk to Afghan and U.S. forces conducting clearing operations in the area while maximizing the destruction of ISIS-K fighters and facilities.

“As ISIS-K’s losses have mounted, they are using [improvised bombs], bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defense,” said Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan. “This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K.”

U.S. forces took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties with this strike and will continue offensive operations until ISIS-K is destroyed in Afghanistan.

*** President Trump did not authorize this strike as several weeks ago, he told the Pentagon he was not going to micromanage Generals in the field, meaning in theater. This was a major complaint by top flag officers and Pentagon officials of Barack Obama and Susan Rice. Rice often negated protocol and directly called military officers at forward operating bases.


‘Wilayat Khurasan’: Islamic State Consolidates Position in AfPak Region

Jamestown: Amid a series of government denials from Pakistan and Afghanistan regarding the presence of the Islamic State militant group in these countries and its ongoing outreach activities there, its expansion was corroborated by none other than the Islamic State’s spokesperson, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, on January 26, 2015 (The Nation [Lahore] September 5, 2014; Dawn [Karachi], November 11, 2014; Pajhwok, February 5). Al-Adnani, who is believed to be in Iraq or Syria, formally announced the establishment of Wilayat Khurasan (literally Khurasan Province, hereafter IS Khurasan), a reference to a historical region broadly centering on Afghanistan and Pakistan. This claim was made, in an audio statement entitled “Say, ‘Die In Your Rage,’” which was released by al-Furqan media foundation, one of the Islamic State’s media arms. [1] He also endorsed a former Taliban commander, Hafiz Saeed Khan, as its governor (wali) in the same speech. Khan had previously pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State, along with a network of other disgruntled Taliban commanders and foot soldiers.

Previously, on January 10, in an indication of their growing extremism, Khan and his followers had released a video pledging allegiance to IS which also featured the beheading of a captive Pakistani soldier (Dunya News TV [Lahore] January 12). This was considered to be the Islamic State’s first violent action against the Pakistani state. Since then, two senior commanders of IS Khurasan have been killed in NATO-led actions in Afghanistan. The first to be eliminated, on February 9 in the Kajaki district of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, was Abdul Rauf Khadim, the “deputy governor” of Khorasan (Express Tribune [Karachi], February 10). Khadim had previously rejected the Afghan Taliban movement under Mullah Omar for being too moderate and had preached Salafism in Afghanistan. A few weeks later, his successor, Hafiz Wahidi, was killed by Afghan national security forces in Helmand, along with nine other fellow Islamic State militants (Khaama Press, March 16).

In response to these setbacks, IS Khurasan’s shura (leadership council), for now dominated by Pakistani Taliban members, quickly issued threats to avenge Khadim, eulogizing the slain leader. The 12-minute long homage video, released by “Khurasan Media” on March 17, featured a statement from Hafiz Saeed Khan entitled “Departure of Shaykh Khadim and Revenge is Coming.” [2] Sooner afterwards, on March 20, a deadly VBIED (vehicle borne improvised explosive device) attack on a Shi’a mosque in Karachi killed at least two people and left many injured. The attack was reportedly claimed by IS Khurasan?. [3]

Afghanistan: Islamic Emirate vs. Caliphate

These developments suggest that the Islamic State has found a conducive social and political environment in which to gain a foothold in the AfPak region, where several Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups, both violent and non-violent, already have similar sectarian and caliphate-centric worldviews. Underlining this, before his death in February’s drone strike, Khadim was reportedly actively engaged in recruiting Afghan fighters for the Islamic State, mostly in the country’s Helmand region (IBTimes, January 14). This recruitment drive and open campaigning for IS apparently led to direct confrontations with the followers of local Taliban warlord Abdul Rahim Akhund, a supporter of Mullah Omar’s self-declared “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” At one point, as a result of these tensions, Khadim was even briefly apprehended for his pro-Islamic State activities along with his 45 followers by supporters of Mullah Omar (Afghan Zariza, February 1).

In addition, Islamic State flags have been seen hoisted in Afghanistan’s Ghazni and Nimroz provinces, following which large numbers of Taliban fighters reportedly switched allegiance from Mullah Omar to al-Baghdadi (Khaama Press, February 1). Dabiq, the official Islamic State publication, further listed a number of alleged strongholds of support, including Nuristan, Kunar, Kandahar, Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, Wardak, Kunduz, Logar and Nangarhar. [4] Furthermore, in January, information about an Islamic State training center in Afghanistan’s Farah province raised speculation about increasing Islamic State activities there (Pajhwok, January 14). Furthermore, other armed confrontations between the Islamic State and the Taliban underscores the increasing clout of IS Khurasan, especially in Charakh in Logar province where IS Khurasan militants killed Abdul Ghani, a senior Taliban commander loyal to Mullah Omar, and wounded his three associates in February (Pajhwok, February 2).

That Islamic State influence is quickly gaining ground in Afghanistan, the current seat of famed Taliban Emirate led by Mullah Omar, is not necessarily surprising. For instance, al-Baghdadi’s public questioning of the spiritual and political credibility of the Taliban’s supreme leader, and description of him as “fool” and “illiterate warlord,” has certainly found some resonance in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda have not been able to decisively consolidate their position after decades of struggle (Khaama Press, January 29).

Footprints in Pakistan

Before its existence was formally announced, IS Khurasan’s presence was felt across Pakistan in the form of occasional unfurling of the black flag, graffiti on the walls supporting the Caliphate and the appearance of Islamic State stickers, mostly in Karachi, Lahore and the Punjab city of Taxila in late 2014 (Dawn [Karachi], November 13, 2014; Dawn [Karachi], November 30, 2014). At around the same time, the provincial government of Balochistan uncovered massive Islamic State recruitment drives in Hangu district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in the Kurram tribal agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It also reportedly discovered secret official communications between long-established Pakistani militant Salafist groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Ahl-e-Sunnat wal Jamat (ASWJ) and the Islamic State, which showed the groups planning attacks on military installations and government buildings in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and on the region’s Shi’a minority (Dawn [Karachi], November 8, 2014). In addition, this January, the Pakistani security services arrested Yousaf al-Salafi, a Syrian of Pakistani origin, and his local associate Hafiz Tayyab in Lahore for allegedly recruiting youths and sending them abroad for jihad. Al-Salafi was reportedly involved in an Islamic State recruitment campaign and was charging the group about $600 for every person he recruited (Express Tribune [Karachi], January 28).

In addition, leaflets and propaganda materials in support of the Islamic State have been distributed in several parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and South Waziristan. There have also been verbal endorsements from pro-Taliban clerics like Maulana Abdul Aziz, chief of Islamabad’s Red Mosque (Lal Masjid), which was the epicenter of anti-government violence in July 2007. However, the most brazen support came from women students and teachers of the Jamia-e-Hafsa madrassa, which is part of the Red Mosque and led by the principal of the seminary, Umme Hassan, who is Abdul Aziz’s wife (Kashmir Observer, December 8, 2014; Express Tribune [Karachi], December 14, 2014). The students of Jamia-e-Hafsa offered an oath of fealty to al-Baghdadi in late November of last year, and invited al-Baghdadi to “avenge” the 2007 Pakistan army raid and loss of life at the then-besieged Red Mosque. However, Umme Hassan maintained that they still considered Mullah Omar of the Afghan Taliban as their supreme leader. It should be noted that the Lal Masjid has been at the forefront in supporting al-Qaeda and Taliban causes in the region for over a decade.

These developments suggest that similar oaths of allegiance from sectarian militant groups like Ansar ul-Khilafa wal Jihad (formerly, Tehrik-e-Khilafat Jihad) and Jundullah in support of the Islamic State and al-Baghdadi have made it relatively easy for the Islamic State to find traction and a foothold in Pakistan. These militant groups also remain active. For instance, in January, Ansar ul-Khilafa wal Jihad claimed responsibility for killing security personnel in Karachi, Multan and Hyderabad (ARY News, January 22). Jundullah meanwhile claimed responsibility for targeting Shi’a mosques across the country, including the deadly Shikarpur imambargah blast on January 30 (Dawn [Karachi], January 31). This indicates that it would likely be relatively easy for the Islamic State members working with these groups to begin conducting attacks of their own in Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, as with Afghanistan, Dabiq, has claimed that the Islamic State has influence in a number of places in Pakistan, including in Peshawar, Swat, Marwat, Kuki Khel, Tor Dara, Dir, Hangu, Bajaur, Orakzai, Kurram and Waziristan, although some of these claims should probably be seen as propaganda. [5]


The Islamic State’s formation of “Wilayat Khurasan” and its endorsement by the organization’s central leadership reveals at least two changing aspects of militant Islamism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Firstly, it shows militants rejecting al-Qaeda and Taliban, and secondly, for the first time in decades, it involves militants clearly rejecting Mullah Omar himself, the spiritual leader of most of the Deobandi-inspired militant groups in the region, and even openly challenging of him over his (alleged) lack of authority and lack of visible achievements in comparison to al Baghdadi and the Islamic State in the Middle East region. On the other hand, the emergence of IS Khurasan, combined with Pakistan’s ongoing anti-militant Operation Zarb-e-Azb, have encouraged fragmented Taliban units to unite once again under the Pakistani Taliban’s umbrella group, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This was evidenced in mid-March when the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat ul-Ahrar (TTP-JA), a powerful splinter group of TTP, and independent militant group Tehrik-e-Lashkar-e-Islam (TLeI), led by Mangal Bagh, called for a united Taliban conglomerate to fight the Pakistani state, including the army and the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence. [6] Even though such a scenario seems distant at present, these anti-state objectives, which are partly shared by both the IS Khurasan and TTP groups, suggest a potential merging point between these two powerful jihadist movements in due course.


Florida-based Green Beret identified as US soldier killed in Afghanistan

  WASHINGTON — Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar has been identified by the Pentagon as the Green Beret killed Saturday fighting Islamic State in eastern Afghanistan.

The Florida-based soldier died in Nangarhar Province when his unit was attacked by enemy small arms fire during combat operations against ISIS, according to a Pentagon statement Monday. The 37-year-old was assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group at Eglin Air Force Base. De Alencar was from Edgewood, Maryland.

American forces in Afghanistan are primarily charged with advising and assisting Afghan security forces as part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission, but the U.S. military also conducts counterterrorism combat operations against groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida under its unilateral Freedom’s Sentinel operation. Pentagon officials have said destroying the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan is among the top goals for the United States in the country for 2017.

De Alencar recently joined Special Forces as a weapons sergeant after completing the Qualification Course in September 2016, according to Army Special Operations Command. He joined the Army in 2009 and had served previously as an infantryman, including deployments to Iraq.

His awards and decorations included the Ranger Tab, Special Forces Tab, the Purple Heart, Six Army Commendation Medals, Combat Infantryman Badge and Expert Infantryman Badge.

The soldier was a 1998 graduate of Joppatowne High School in Joppa, Maryland. He and his wife Natasha had five children, according to a Facebook page for the high school’s alumni. Several alumni on the page offered condolences to De Alencar’s family and some of them noted he had long sought to join Special Forces.

De Alencar came from a military family, according to Army Special Operations Command. He was born in a military hospital in Germany where his father was stationed. He later lived in Texas before moving to Maryland.

De Alencar was the first American killed in action in Afghanistan in 2017. Ten U.S. servicemembers were killed in hostile situations in Afghanistan in 2016, according to the website icasualties.org, which tracks those numbers. Since U.S. troops first invaded Afghanistan in 2001, 2,217 American have been killed there and some 20,000 more have been wounded in action, according to the Pentagon.

“On behalf of all of U.S. Force -Afghanistan, I offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of our fallen comrade,” Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said Saturday in a statement. “We will always remember our fallen comrades and commit ourselves to deliver on their sacrifice.”

The United States and Afghan special forces are battling ISIS in the small portion of Nangarhar Province that the terrorist group still controls. Pentagon officials said ISIS is confined to only a few district centers and has lost nearly half its fighters in Afghanistan in the last year.