Even as the United States finalizes its departure from Afghanistan, it faces a dilemma there as wrenching as any during the 20-year war: how to deal with the new Taliban government.
The question is already manifest in the debate over how deeply to cooperate against a mutual enemy, the Islamic State branch in the region, known as ISIS-K.
Another: Whether to release $9.4 billion in Afghan government currency reserves that are frozen in the United States. Handing the Taliban billions would mean funding the machinery of its ultraconservative rule. But withholding the money would all but ensure a sudden currency crisis and halt on imports, including food and fuel, starving Afghan civilians whom the United States had promised to protect.
These are only the beginning. Washington and the Taliban may spend years, even decades, pulled between cooperation and conflict, compromise and competition, as they manage a relationship in which neither can fully tolerate nor live without the other.
already seeking from the United States.
Washington, for its part, sees Afghanistan as a potential haven for international terrorists, a center of geopolitical competition against its greatest adversaries and the site of two looming catastrophes — Taliban rule and economic collapse — that could each ripple far beyond the country’s borders.
At home, President Biden already faces a backlash over Afghanistan that would be likely to intensify if he were seen as enabling Taliban rule. But he may find that securing even the most modest American aims in the country requires tolerating the group that now controls it.
His administration got a taste of this new reality last week, when American forces evacuating Kabul relied on Taliban fighters to help secure the city’s airport.
testing quiet, mostly tacit coordination.
The United States has a long history of working with unsavory governments against terrorist groups.
But such governments have routinely exploited this to win American acquiescence, and even assistance, in suppressing domestic opponents they have labeled extremists.
This dynamic has long enabled dictators to disregard American demands on human rights and democracy, confident that Washington would tolerate their abuses as long as they delivered on terrorism matters.
less extreme opposition groups.
It may ultimately be a question of whether Washington prefers an Afghanistan divided by civil war — the very conditions that produced the Taliban and now ISIS-K — or one unified under the control of a Taliban that may or may not moderate itself in power.
A Diplomatic Dance
The Taliban, desperate for foreign support, have emphasized a desire to build ties with Washington.
The longer the United States holds out recognition, formal or informal, the more incentive the Taliban have to chase American approval. But if Washington waits too long, other powers may fill the diplomatic vacuum first.
Iran and China, which border Afghanistan, are both signaling that they may embrace the Taliban government in exchange for promises related mostly to terrorism. Both are eager to avoid an economic collapse or return to war on their borders. And they are especially eager to keep American influence from returning.
“Beijing will want to extend recognition to the Taliban government, likely after or at the same time that Pakistan does so but before any Western country does,” Amanda Hsiao, a China analyst for the International Crisis Group, wrote in a recent policy brief.
Iran has already begun referring to the “Islamic Emirate,” the Taliban’s preferred name for its government. Iranian missions remain open.
eased. But the former enemies have drawn much closer over one issue that is not likely to apply in Afghanistan, extensive trade, and another that is — opposition to China.
Many Afghans fear that American recognition, even indirect, could be taken as a blank check for the group to rule however it wants.
Still, some who are fiercely opposed to both the Taliban and the American withdrawal have urged international engagement.
“Everyone with a stake in the stability of Afghanistan needs to come together,” Saad Mohseni, an Afghan-Australian businessmen behind much of the country’s media sector, wrote in a Financial Times essay.
their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.
Neither engagement nor hostility is likely to transform the group’s underlying nature. And even when engagement works, it can be slow and frustrating, with many breakdowns and reversals on a road to rapprochement that might take decades to travel.
The Other Looming Catastrophe
Perhaps the only scenario as dire as a Taliban takeover is one that is all but assured without American intervention: economic collapse, even famine.
Afghanistan imports much of its food and fuel, and most of its electricity. Because it runs a deep trade deficit, it pays for imports mostly through foreign aid, which amounts to nearly half of the country’s economy — and has now been suspended.
The country holds enough currency reserves to finance about 18 months of imports. Or it did, until the U.S. froze the accounts.
As a result, Afghanistan may soon run out of food and fuel with no way to replenish either.
“Acute famines generally result from shortages of food triggering a scramble for necessities, speculation and spikes in food prices, which kill the poorest,” a Columbia University economist, Adam Tooze, wrote last week. “Those are the elements we can already see at work in Afghanistan.”
As the United States learned in 1990s Somalia, flying in food does not solve the problem and may even worsen it by putting local farmers out of business.
according to Save the Children, a charity. The group also surveyed some of the thousands of families displaced from rural areas to Kabul and found that many already lack the means to buy food.
It is difficult to imagine a harder sell in Washington than offering diplomatic outreach and billions of dollars to the group that once harbored Al Qaeda, barred women from public life and staged public executions.
Republicans are already seizing on the chaos of the withdrawal to criticize Mr. Biden as soft on adversaries abroad.
He may also face pressure from Afghan émigrés, a number of whom already live in the United States. Diasporas, like those from Vietnam or Cuba, tend to be vocally hawkish toward the governments they fled.
The administration, which is pursuing an ambitious domestic agenda in a narrowly divided Congress, may be hesitant to divert more political capital to a country that it sees as peripheral.
Still, Mr. Biden has seemed to relish rejecting political pressure on Afghanistan. Whether he chooses to privilege geopolitical rivalry, humanitarian welfare or counterterrorism in Afghanistan, he may find himself doing so again.
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Several of the central figures under investigation by the Haitian authorities in connection with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse gathered in the months before the killing to discuss rebuilding the troubled nation once the president was out of power, according to the Haitian police, Colombian intelligence officers and participants in the discussions.
The meetings, conducted in Florida and the Dominican Republic over the last year, appear to connect a seemingly disparate collection of suspects in the investigation, linking a 63-year-old doctor and pastor, a security equipment salesman, and a mortgage and insurance broker in Florida.
All have been identified by the Haitian authorities as prominent players in a sprawling plot to kill the president with the help of more than 20 former Colombian commandos and seize political power in the aftermath. It is unclear how the people under investigation could have accomplished that, or what powerful backers they may have had to make it possible.
But interviews with more than a dozen people involved with the men show that the suspects had been working together for months, portraying themselves in grandiose and often exaggerated terms as well-financed, well-connected power brokers ready to lead a new Haiti with influential American support behind them.
Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a doctor and pastor who divided his time between Florida and Haiti, conspired with the others to take the reins of the country once Mr. Moïse was killed. During a raid of Mr. Sanon’s residence, they say, the police found six holsters, about 20 boxes of bullets and a D.E.A. cap — suggesting that it linked him to the killing because the team of hit men who struck Mr. Moïse’s home posed as agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Mr. Sanon is now in custody.
Haitian officials are investigating whether the president’s own protection force took part in the plot as well, and on Thursday they detained the head of palace security for Mr. Moïse. Colombian officials say the palace security chief made frequent stopovers in Colombia on his way to other countries in the months before the assassination.
The Haitian authorities offered little explanation as to how Mr. Sanon — who did not hold elected office — planned to take over once the president was killed. It was also difficult to understand how he might have financed a team of Colombian mercenaries, some of whom received American military training when they were members of their nation’s armed forces, to carry out such an ambitious assault, given that he filed in Florida for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in 2013.
But the interviews show that several of the key suspects met to discuss Haiti’s future government once Mr. Moïse was no longer in power — with Mr. Sanon becoming the country’s new prime minister.
“The idea was to prepare for that eventuality,” said Parnell Duverger, a retired adjunct economics professor at Broward College in Florida, who attended about 10 meetings on Zoom and in person with Mr. Sanon and other experts to discuss Haiti’s future government.
street protests demanding his removal — would eventually have no choice but to step down. Mr. Duverger, 70, described the meetings as cabinet-style sessions intended to help Mr. Sanon form a potential transition government once that happened.
that hired the former Colombian commandos and brought them to Haiti.
The other was Walter Veintemilla, who leads a small financial services company in Miramar, Fla., called Worldwide Capital Lending Group. On Wednesday, the Haitian authorities accused him of helping to finance the assassination plot.
Mr. Intriago arrived in Haiti, he and Mr. Veintemilla met in the neighboring Dominican Republic with Mr. Sanon.
On Wednesday, Haitian and Colombian officials said that a photograph showed the three men at the meeting with another central suspect in the investigation: James Solages, a Haitian American resident of South Florida who was detained by the Haitian authorities shortly after the assassination.
It is unclear whether any of the discussions crossed into a nefarious plot that led to the death of Mr. Moïse. The Haitian police have provided little concrete evidence, and American and Colombian officials familiar with the investigation said their officers in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, had been unable to interview most of the detained suspects as of Wednesday morning, forcing them to rely on the accounts of the Haitian authorities.
Another participant in one of the meetings with Mr. Sanon also said there was never any hint of a plot to kill the president.
websites, which claim to offer generic financial services such as mortgages and insurance, do not mention any notable deals.
And the owner of the company that hired the Colombian commandos, Mr. Intriago, has a history of debts, evictions and bankruptcies. Several relatives of the Colombian soldiers said they had never received their promised wages.
After the assassination, 18 of the Colombian soldiers were detained by the Haitian authorities and accused of participating in the killing. Another three Colombians, including the recruiter, Mr. Capador, were killed in the hours after the president’s death.
On Thursday, the Colombian police said Mr. Capador and a retired Colombian captain, German Alejandro Rivera, had conspired with the Haitian suspects as early as May to arrest Haiti’s president, providing the first indication of at least some of the veterans’ complicity in the plot.
It remained unclear how the plot turned into murder, but the Colombian authorities said seven Colombian commandos had entered the presidential residence on the night of the attack, while the rest guarded the area.
“What happened there?” said the wife of one of the detained former soldiers, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of concern for her safety. “How does this end?”
Reporting was contributed by Mirelis Morales from Miramar, Fla.; Sofía Villamil from Bogotá, Colombia; Edinson Bolaños from Villavicencio, Colombia; Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington; and Catherine Porter.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Growing American frustration over the war in the Tigray region of Ethiopia spilled over into an open confrontation on Monday when Ethiopian officials lashed out at Washington over new restrictions including aid cuts and a ban on some Ethiopians traveling to the United States.
The restrictions, announced by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Sunday, amount to an unusual step against a key African ally, and a pointed rebuke to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize winner whose troops and allies have been accused of ethnic cleansing, massacres and others atrocities that could amount to war crimes.
Despite “significant diplomatic engagement,” Mr. Blinken said in a statement, “the parties to the conflict in Tigray have taken no meaningful steps to end hostilities or pursue a peaceful resolution of the political crisis.”
American visa restrictions will apply to all actors in the Tigray conflict, Mr. Blinken said, including current and former Ethiopian and Eritrean officials, ethnic Amhara militias and Tigrayan rebels.
a statement on Monday, Ethiopia’s foreign affairs ministry reacted with an expression of regret and what appeared to be thinly veiled threats. It accused the United States of meddling in its internal affairs and trying to overshadow national elections scheduled for June 21.
And it said that Ethiopia could be “forced to reassess its relations with the United States, which might have implications beyond our bilateral relationship.”
gave $923 million, according to USAID, although the vast majority of that money was for humanitarian purposes — health care, food aid, education and democracy support — that will not be hit by the new measures.
The United States had already suspended $23 million in security aid to Ethiopia. Officials say the new measures will preclude any American arms sales to Ethiopia, although much of the country’s weapons come from Russia.
Still, there could be other impacts. Western diplomats say the United States could block international funding to Ethiopia from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund — integral to Mr. Abiy’s economic plans.
dispatched by President Biden in March, and Jeffrey Feltman, the recently appointed Horn of Africa envoy.
American officials worry that the growing chaos in Tigray could destabilize the entire Horn of Africa region, or jeopardize efforts to mediate a high-stakes dispute with Egypt over the massive hydroelectric dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile.
The growing humanitarian crisis, including the threat of a famine within months, is also driving the sense of urgency.
Those responsible for the Tigray crisis “should anticipate further actions from the United States and the international community,” Mr. Blinken said. “We call on other governments to join is taking these measures.”
As inoculations help a sense of normalcy return in the lives of many Americans, much of the world remains gripped by the pandemic, with little hope that a significant number of vaccine doses will be made available soon.
The effort to vaccinate enough of the world’s population to get the virus under control — already a huge struggle, experts said — was set back again this week after the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, signaled that it would not be able to export doses until the end of the year.
The Serum Institute’s manufacturing capacity is at the heart of Covax, a global effort to vaccinate the populations of low- and middle-income countries. The program is already more than 140 million doses behind schedule, and the Serum Institute announcement suggested that its goal of two billion doses by the end of the year would be all but impossible to meet.
Dr. Arthur Reingold, chief of the epidemiology division at the University of California, Berkeley, said that the delay was “not surprising, given the drastic situation” in India, which has been pummeled by the virus in recent weeks.
devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, the institute has diverted all its manufacturing powers to domestic needs, falling behind on commitments to the Covax partnership as well as on bilateral commercial deals with many countries.
“It simply means that poor countries of the world, the low- and middle-income countries of the world,” Dr. Reingold said, “are going to have to wait longer to come anywhere close to the kind of vaccination coverage that we’ve achieved in some of the wealthier countries.”
About 48 percent of people in the United States have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to federal data on Wednesday. In the United Kingdom, the figure is 54 percent, and in Germany, nearly 38 percent, according to the Our World in Data project at Oxford University.
But only 10 percent of people in India have received a dose of the vaccine. Just over 1 percent of people in Honduras have received a shot, and less than 1 percent have been at least partially vaccinated in Somalia.
100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine were now on hold as regulators checked them for possible contamination.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been viewed by public health officials as an important tool to vaccinate populations that are more difficult to reach, because it requires only one dose and does not need the special low-temperature storage required by the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.
The rate of vaccinations in the United States has slowed considerably in recent weeks, though about 1.8 million doses are being administered to Americans each day on average, according to a New York Times database.
President Biden announced on Monday that the United States would send 20 million doses of the three vaccines abroad. The 100 million Johnson & Johnson doses under inspection could pad the American stockpile, or be sent to help meet the dire need abroad.
Still, Dr. Reingold said that it was “time well spent” to “very carefully look at those doses and ensure that they’re safe and effective.”
NAIROBI, Kenya — Days after Somalia’s president relented on plans to extend his term in office following street battles and international condemnation, his government announced Thursday that it would restore diplomatic relations with Kenya, ending a monthslong standoff that had injected an additional note of instability into an already-volatile region.
The Somali deputy minister of information said that Qatar had played a role in mediating between the two nations, and that the two sides would hold further talks in the near future on issues including trade and the movement of people.
The announcement, six months after Mogadishu severed relations with Nairobi, accusing it of “blatant interference” in its internal political affairs, came just days after tensions also ratcheted down on the domestic front.
On Saturday, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, facing huge domestic and international pressure, as well as infighting among rival security forces in the streets of the capital, backed down on a bid to extend his term and called for the resumption of election planning.
a statement, “The two governments agree to keep friendly relations between the two countries on the basis of principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, noninterference in each other’s internal affairs, equality, cooperation and peaceful coexistence.”
Kenya’s government said Thursday that it welcomed efforts to normalize relations between the two countries.
The severance of diplomatic relations in December was provoked by a number of tensions, some new and some longstanding.
Most recently, in December, Kenya hosted the president of Somaliland, a breakaway region in the northwest that has yet to gain international recognition. Mogadishu also accused Nairobi of interfering in the electoral process in Jubaland, a region in southern Somalia where Kenyan troops are stationed as part of the African Union peacekeeping mission.
For years, the two countries have also tussled over a sizable area in the Indian Ocean, leading to a high-profile court case at the International Court of Justice that Kenya has boycotted.
a onetime state official in Buffalo, N.Y., who returned to his homeland and began stoking nationalist passions, was accused of trying to hold onto power at whatever cost.
extended his term in office by two years — a move his opponents said he had orchestrated. That set off fierce fighting in the streets of Mogadishu that displaced between 60,000 and 100,000 people, according to the United Nations.
But last Saturday, Mr. Mohamed relented, asking the country’s prime minister to lead preparations for an election as lawmakers nullified his term extension.
On Tuesday, Mr. Mohamed spoke with the leader of Qatar, whose government he has depended on for financial and logistical backing. He also met with Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, Qatar’s special envoy for counterterrorism and mediation of conflict resolution. Mr. al-Qahtani, who spent three days in the country, also met with other major political leaders.
met with President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday, said it was “not in the interest of Somalia and Kenya to have a less stable region.”
“We hope this step will bring prosperity to the two neighboring countries, their people, and the region,” he said.
NAIROBI, Kenya — During his years as an administrator at the Department of Transportation in upstate New York, the Somali refugee turned American citizen took classes in political science, imbibing democratic values he hoped to one day export back to his homeland.
That dream came true for Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in 2017, when he returned to Somalia and was elected president in a surprise victory that evinced high hopes he might reform — even transform — his dysfunctional, war-weary country.
But those aspirations have crumbled since Mr. Mohamed failed to hold elections when his four-year term ended in February, then moved to extend his rule by two years — a step many Somalis viewed as a naked power grab.
A furious political dispute turned violent on Sunday when a series of gunfights broke out between rival military factions in the capital, Mogadishu, evoking fears that Somalia, after years of modest yet gradual progress, could descend into the kind of clan-based bloodshed that ripped it apart in the 1990s.
young Somalis determined to find a better future and progress in the fight against insurgents with Al Shabab, one of the world’s best organized and funded Al Qaeda affiliates.
Mr. Mohamed did not respond to a request for an interview or to questions sent to his aides.
Popularly known as “Farmaajo” — a derivation of the Italian word for cheese and purportedly his father’s favorite food — Mr. Mohamed was once the bearer of many Somalis’ hopes.
Mr. Mohamed was widely seen as less corrupt, more reform-oriented and less manipulated by foreign interests than the other 24 candidates.
“This is the beginning of unity for the Somali nation,” Mr. Mohamed told supporters shortly after winning the election.
Mr. Mohamed came to the United States in 1985 as a junior diplomat at the Somali Embassy and, as his country tumbled into conflict, decided to stay. A family friend said he first applied for political asylum in Canada, where his mother and siblings lived, and later obtained a Canadian passport.
But in the early 1990s, Mr. Mohamed, newly married, moved back to the United States where his family eventually settled in Grand Island, next to Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
back at his desk at the Department of Transportation in Buffalo, where he enforced nondiscrimination and affirmative action policies.
The great hopes many Somalis invested in Mr. Mohamed in 2017, when he won the presidency against all expectations, stemmed partly from his public image as a calm and bespectacled, if somewhat uncharismatic, technocrat. But disappointment soon set in.
human rights groups, United Nations and Western officials.
Mr. Yasin, a former journalist with Al Jazeera, had become a conduit for unofficial Qatari funds that were used to help get Mr. Mohamed elected, and which he used to solidify his political base while in power, the officials said — part of a wider proxy battle for influence between rival oil-wealthy Persian Gulf states in the strategically located country.
Some in Mr. Mohamed’s inner circle, including Colonel Sheikh, grew disillusioned and quit. “I said to myself: ‘These people are bad news,’” he said.
In 2019, Mr. Mohamed gave up his American citizenship. He didn’t explain the decision, but officials familiar with the matter pointed to one possible factor.
At the time Mr. Mohamed surrendered his passport, his finances had come under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service in the United States, said three Western officials familiar with the matter, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter about a foreign head of state.
cutting ties with neighboring Kenya in December as part of a long-running diplomatic dispute.
allying with the autocratic president of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, whose military has trained thousands of Somali troops, Western and Somali officials say.
“It comes as cash and it’s uncounted,” Abdirizak Mohamed, a former interior minister and now opposition lawmaker, said of the Qatari funds. “It’s an open secret.”
Now Mr. Mohamed is confined to Villa Somalia, the presidential compound in central Mogadishu, as military units loyal to his most powerful opponents — a coalition of presidential candidates and the leaders of two of Somalia’s five regional states — camp on a major junction a few hundred yards away.
Worried residents say they don’t know whether the president’s latest concession will offer a genuine opportunity for new talks, or a pause before rival fighters open fire again.
“I feel a lot of fear,” said Zahra Qorane Omar, a community organizer, by phone from Mogadishu. “We’ve gone through enough suffering. The bullet is not what this city or its people deserve.”
Hussein Mohamed contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Gunfire erupted across the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on Sunday as security forces loyal to the president clashed with units that appeared to have sided with his rivals, stoking fears that Somalia’s simmering political crisis is spilling over into violence.
The fighting, some of the worst in the Somali capital for years, followed months of tense talks between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and opponents who accuse him of making an unconstitutional power grab.
The talks collapsed after Mr. Mohamed failed to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by February, as scheduled, and then two months later signed a law extending his term in office by two years. His actions have drawn criticism from the United States and other Western allies.
The moves effectively ended United Nations-mediated negotiations backed by the United States and added fuel to an already combustible political situation.
appealed on Twitter for “maximum restraint” on all sides. “Violence is unacceptable,” he said. “Those responsible will be held accountable.”
The fighting also raised the possibility of dangerous fissures along clan lines inside the Somali military, and the worry that powerful foreign-trained units, including an elite American-funded commando squad, could get sucked in.
posted online by Somali reporters and news outlets Sunday night depicted long bursts of gunfire around Kilometer 4, a major junction in the city. Some of fighting occurred near Villa Somalia, as the presidential palace is known.
Foreigners living in the highly protected zone around Mogadishu’s international airport said they had retreated into bunkers to avoid being hit by stray gunfire.
The main clashes occurred outside the homes of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a former president of Somalia, and Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, the leader of a major opposition party. In statements, both men laid blame for the attacks on President Mohamed, who is popularly known by the nickname “Formaajo.”
At a hastily convened news conference, Hassan Hundubey Jimale, Somalia’s minister of internal security, denied that the government had attacked the former president’s home and blamed unspecified foreign countries for the clashes.
Mr. Jimale gave no details about how many people had been killed or injured.
Critics said Mr. Mohamed was making a high-stakes bid to stay in power.
“It seems Formaajo has decided his final suicidal attack by attacking every opposition figure in town,” said Hussein Sheikh Ali, a former national security adviser who once worked under Mr. Mohamed.
silenced critics, expelled the top U.N. official and, last year, dragged its feet over scheduled elections.
The opposition has refused to recognize Mr. Mohamed’s authority since his four-year term expired on Feb. 8 without planned presidential and parliamentary elections taking place.
Talks between the two sides over the terms of any elections have been deadlocked since the fall. Opponents accused Mr. Mohamed and his powerful spy chief, Fahad Yasin, of attempting to rig the system by stuffing regional electoral boards with their supporters.
Mr. Mohamed claimed his enemies were trying to shy away from an election, and now says he needs two years to bring forward plans for universal suffrage in Somalia. Under the current system, the president is chosen through an indirect, clan-based vote.
Mr. Mohamed’s move to extend his term by two years on April 14, which some analysts called a “constitutional coup,” met with fierce criticism from the United States and other Western allies.
In Mogadishu, the move caused some opposition leaders to retreat into their clan strongholds.
Among those embroiled in the fighting on Sunday was Sadek John, a former police chief of Mogadishu who was dismissed in mid-April after he opposed Mr. Mohamed, according to a Somali police official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
Declan Walsh reported from Nairobi, Kenya and Hussein Mohamed from Mogadishu, Somalia.
Daunting challenges face the American-backed Afghan security forces. Over the past year, they have lost territory from repeated assaults by the Taliban and have relied on U.S. air power to push back the insurgents.
With the Afghan government’s credibility waning, militias — once the main power holders during the days of the Afghan civil war in the 1990s — have rearmed and reappeared, even challenging Afghan security forces in some areas.
“If the president authorizes it, we will still be able to provide some level of military support to the Afghan national security forces after we depart the country,” William H. McRaven, the retired Navy admiral who directed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, said in an interview on Wednesday.
For the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies, a key issue now is how readily counterterrorism operations can be carried out from beyond Afghanistan. The history of such operations has a decidedly mixed record. Cruise missile strikes launched from distant ships against terrorist targets in Afghanistan have had a low rate of success.
The United States maintains a string of air bases in the Persian Gulf region, as well as in Jordan, and the Pentagon operates a major regional air headquarters in Qatar. But the farther that Special Operations forces have to travel to strike a target, the more likely the operations are to fail, either by missing their mark or resulting in a catastrophic failure that could kill American service members or civilians on the ground, according to officials who have studied the record.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, meeting with allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels on Wednesday, cited the military’s ability to strike terrorist targets in far-flung hot spots “in Africa and other places” where few, if any, troops are stationed, apparently referring to drone strikes and commando raids in Somalia, Yemen and Libya in recent years.
“There’s probably not a space on the globe that the United States and its allies can’t reach,” Mr. Austin told reporters.
NAIROBI, Kenya — In a highly contentious move, Somalia’s president has extended his own term in office by two years, drawing condemnation from the United States and other allies who viewed the move as a naked power grab and feared it could upend faltering efforts to establish a functioning state and defeat the insurgency by the extremist group Al Shabab.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a one-time American citizen popularly known as Farmaajo, announced that he signed the law extending his mandate early Wednesday, two days after it was approved by a majority of Somalia’s Parliament amid accusations that the president’s office had engineered the vote.
The move represented a worst-case scenario for United Nations and Western officials, who had been shuttling for months between Mr. Mohamed and Somali regional leaders locked in a bitter dispute over when and how to hold parliamentary and presidential elections that were scheduled to take place by early February.
The United States, which has given billions of dollars in aid to Somalia and conducted numerous airstrikes and military raids against Al Shabab, had privately threatened Mr. Mohamed and his top officials with sanctions and visa restrictions if he disregarded the election time table.
according to Somali investigators, was influenced by at least $20 million in bribes.
But critics say that Mr. Mohamed is now using the one-person, one-vote goal as an excuse to delay elections that he risks losing, and that he is taking his cues from Mr. Afwerki.