Afghan security ministers survive impeachment vote

KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan defense and interior ministers and the head of the country’s intelligence service survived a vote of confidence called on Monday over the failure to tackle mounting insecurity and the Taliban insurgency.

Defence Minister Abdullah Habibi, Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Jahid and Masson Stanekzai, head of the National Directorate for Security were all summoned before parliament over a string of security failures in recent months.

About 50 people were killed this month when gunmen attacked Afghanistan’s largest military hospital, Kabul’s 400-bed Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital, just across the road from the heavily fortified U.S. embassy.

While all three officials survived, the fact of their summons to parliament, which has the power to sack ministers, underlined mounting frustration with the Western-backed government’s handling of the security situation in Afghanistan.

Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, the speaker of parliament, said the vote had been called over “weakness in management and the worsening security around the country,” notably the hospital attack.

Habibi, in particular, faced widespread ridicule for his alleged tendency to fall asleep at inappropriate moments, with pictures circulating on social media showing him sitting in a variety of meetings, with eyes closed and head leaned forward.

“If we put the minister in a sack and sent him to another country and opened the sack there, he wouldn’t have any idea how he got there,” deputy speaker Humayoun Humayoun told parliament this month.

In his address to parliament on Monday, Habibi denied falling asleep in meetings, saying he sometimes avoided looking up so as not to accidentally stare into the eyes of any women present.

The vote in parliament came just days after security forces abandoned the district of Sangin in the strategically important southern province of Helmand that has been heavily contested by the Taliban.

The loss of Sangin, where British and American forces suffered heavy casualties trying to defeat the insurgents, highlighted the growing control exerted by the Taliban, who are fighting to restore strict Islamic rule after being driven from power by a U.S.-led campaign in 2001.

U.S. officials estimate that government forces control less than 60 percent of Afghanistan, with the rest either contested or under the outright control of militant groups.

Last year, the United Nations reported 3,498 civilians were killed in the conflict and 7,920 were wounded, while at least 6,785 soldiers and police were killed in the first 10 months of the year, according to figures from U.S. authorities.

Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez