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US shames Afghan leaders’ obstinance as pandemic looms

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Washington’s unprecedented threat to cut $1 billion in Afghanistan funding — a response to the refusal of rivals in Kabul to work together to advance peace — comes at a time when the impoverished nation risks being overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Today, both President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, blamed one another for failing to resolve the feuding, which prompted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to threaten the massive funding cut.

Pompeo called out the two leaders as he ended a rushed visit to Afghanistan on Monday, defying a near-global travel ban because of the virus. He left Kabul without being able to secure a power-sharing deal.

Ghani told the nation in a televised address that Abdullah’s power-sharing demands were unconstitutional. For his part, Abdullah said Pompeo’s visit was a missed opportunity.

Pompeo said the Trump administration would slash $1 billion in assistance to Afghanistan and reduce all cooperation unless Ghani and Abdullah agree on forming a new government. Speaking to reporters aboard his plane on the return flight home, Pompeo said he was hopeful the two rivals “will get their act together and we won’t have to” cut the assistance. “But we’re prepared to do that,” he said.

Earlier, he said Ghani and Abdullah’s “leadership failure poses a direct threat to U.S. national interests.” Apart from reducing assistance by $1 billion this year, another $1 billion will be cut in 2021 if the bickering continued, Pompeo said.

Ghani seemed unfazed, though his government covers barely 25% of its budget, according to John Sopko, the U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. More than 75% of all expenses, including the running of government ministries, is covered by the international community.

Sopko’s regular reports have also criticized the Afghan government for widespread corruption and Transparency International has ranked Afghanistan among the most corrupt at 173 out of 180 countries. The United States alone pays $4 billion annually toward Afghanistan’s security forces.

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