KABUL, June 20 – The Afghan parliament approved President Ashraf Ghani’s choices for defense minister and intelligence chief on Monday, ensuring continuity in command at a time when the Taliban insurgency has intensified and more U.S. troops are preparing to go home.
Parliament approved General Abdullah Khan Habibi as new defense minister, to replace Masoom Stanekzai, who will now head Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate for Security (NDS).
Their confirmation comes ahead of a NATO summit next month in Warsaw, where Afghanistan and the future role of international coalition forces are expected to be a major issue.
“There is ongoing fighting in almost 20 provinces of the country and the fighting strategy cannot be administrated by caretakers,” Farhad Sediqi, a member of parliament from Kabul, said as the lawmakers gave their assent to Ghani’s choices .
The president had nominated Habibi and Stanekzai a little over a month ago, and the speed of their confirmation stood in contrast to the factional wrangling that followed Stanekzai’s nomination as defense minister in the wake of the 2014 election.
At that time, lawmakers failed to confirm his appointment for well over a year as rival factions vied for greater influence in the unity government formed Ghani and government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah after the disputed election.
The risky situation in Afghanistan has forced U.S. President Barack Obama to consider altering plans to halve the 9,800-strong U.S. force in the country by the start of next year.
The Taliban, which now controls more territory than at any time since it was driven from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001, has also stepped up its annual spring offensive.
The threat to Afghanistan’s security was underlined on Monday by a series of attacks in Kabul and the northern province of Badakhshan in which more than 20 people were killed.
Afghan security forces have succeeded in pushing the insurgents back from the northern city of Kunduz, which fell briefly last year, but they have faced heavy pressure in southern regions including the strategic province of Helmand.