Afghan President Moves Acting Defence Minister to Head Spy Agency

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Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani (above) has appointed a new acting defence minister to replace Masoom Stanekzai. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

KABUL, May 6 – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has appointed a new acting defence minister to replace Masoom Stanekzai, a loyalist ally whom he has shifted to lead the main intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

The changes, announced late on Thursday, underline the uncertainty at the top of Afghanistan’s security apparatus that has hindered the fight against the Taliban and other insurgents since Ghani’s National Unity Government came to power in 2014.

Stanekzai, who was well regarded by NATO commanders but never confirmed in office by parliament, moves to take over the NDS, whose director, Rahmatullah Nabil, resigned in December after disagreeing with Ghani’s moves towards rapprochement with Pakistan.

Stanekzai is replaced as caretaker defence minister by General Abdullah Khan, previously chief of staff at the ministry.

Both appointments will have to be approved by parliament, which failed to confirm Stanekzai as defence minister for well over a year amid wrangling in the government led by Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, the two rivals in a disputed 2014 election.

Last month, parliament approved former army general Taj Mohammad Jahid as interior minister after the previous incumbent, Noor-ul-Haq Olomi, resigned following heavy criticism over deteriorating security.

At the time, the speaker of parliament asked the government to present nominees to lead the defence ministry and the NDS so that the caretaker arrangement could be ended.

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