Taliban Visit Moscow, Voice Hope US Will Honor Peace Deal – The Diplomat


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Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanikzai, who led the Taliban delegation to Moscow,  insisted that the Taliban have been abiding by the deal.

After a round of talks in Moscow, the Taliban said Friday they expect the United States to fulfill its pledge to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by May.

Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanikzai, who led the Taliban delegation that met with senior Russian diplomats during two days of talks, insisted that the movement has honored its end of the deal signed last year on Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

White House and U.S. State Department officials have said that Biden’s administration plans to take a new look at the peace agreement signed last February with Donald Trump’s White House.

The Pentagon said on Thursday that the Taliban’s refusal to meet commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan is raising questions about whether all U.S. troops will be able to leave by May as required under the peace deal.

In remarks carried by Russian news agencies, Stanikzai insisted that the Taliban have been abiding by the deal — despite relentless attacks and continued high levels of Taliban violence against Afghan forces.

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“Ever since we signed the agreement with the American side, we haven’t been involved in any aggressive actions,” Stanikzai said. “We hope that the U.S. will continue to honor the agreement reached in Doha, it’s in its interests.”

The peace agreement called for the U.S. to reduce troop levels to 2,500, and then to remove all forces by May. Trump ordered U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan cut to 2,500 just days before he left office, presenting Biden with difficult decisions about how to retain leverage against the Taliban in support of peace talks. 

Stanikzai warned that if the U.S. reneges on the deal, the Taliban will continue their fight against the government in Kabul. The insurgents are now at their strongest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban regime for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and the Taliban control or hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan

“We hope that the U.S. will leave,” Stanikzai said. “But if it doesn’t, we would have no other choice but to defend ourselves and continue our struggle.”

He strongly rejected allegations that Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for killing American soldiers as “an absolute lie.”

U.S. officials have said they were analyzing intelligence about the bounties offered by Russia. Moscow has rejected the claim.

Stanikzai said that the Taliban and Russia “share a common understanding of various issues related to the peace process in Afghanistan,” voicing hope that Moscow will help the settlement. In particular, he added the Taliban expect Russia to support the lifting of the U.N. sanctions on the Taliban leaders. 

Stanikzai also voiced hope that ongoing, stop-and-start peace talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government that began last year will produce results soon.

The peace talks, which are taking place in Qatar, resumed earlier this month but have been marred by the latest spike in violence, with both sides blaming each other.

Moscow, which fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback as a power broker in Afghanistan, mediating between feuding factions as it jockeys with Washington for influence in the country. In 2019, it hosted talks between various Afghan factions.

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By Vladimir Isachenkov for the Associated Press in Moscow, Russia.

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Afghans see US troops ‘home by Christmas’ as a gift to the Taliban


When the United States and the Taliban signed a deal in February, Americans spoke of a conditions-based withdrawal and said the Taliban privately committed to a reduction in violence. Also in the agreement: participation in intra-Afghan talks.

While the U.S. stuck to its incremental pullout schedule, the Taliban has escalated violence across the country, in attacks that have left thousands more Afghans dead and tens of thousands displaced.

With the talks in Doha, Qatar, now stalled, Afghan government negotiators are concerned that President Donald Trump’s decision this week to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. forces could have potentially grave consequences.

“The Americans will not stay forever, but I know in the meantime [withdrawal] has to be done properly, it has to be in a way that will help reduce violence,” says Fawzia Koofi, a women’s rights activist and member of the negotiating team.

She says the U.S. has led to a “wrong perception” among the Taliban that they are in a win-win situation. “It will give the Taliban a position that, ‘No matter if we don’t win at the negotiating table, we will win on the battlefield,’” she says. “So they will try to even further delay achieving something concrete on the negotiation table.”

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An American gift to the Afghan Taliban that portends more war and less peace?

That is how President Donald Trump’s sudden decision this week to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan is seen by Afghan government negotiators at stalled peace talks in Doha, Qatar – even as Taliban insurgents talk peace but continue the fight.

Prior to the presidential election Nov. 3, Mr. Trump tweeted that all American troops, including those in Afghanistan, who are serving as part of a NATO force, should be “home by Christmas!”

Then, a week after the president fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who opposed the drawdown, the Pentagon announced Nov. 17 that the remaining 4,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan would be cut to 2,500 by Jan. 15 – five days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

For Afghans, it’s the latest example of how American political timelines can affect their own battlespace – sometimes with deleterious effects – as the war has ground on since the U.S. toppled the Taliban and its Al Qaeda “guests” in late 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks.

For some at the Doha talks, the decision is a rushed bid to conclude America’s longest-ever war, with potentially grave consequences for the future of Afghanistan.

“When you see in the middle of this that there is a hurry from the American side which will not help the process, it is worrisome,” says Fawzia Koofi, a member of the government negotiating team who was wounded in an assassination attempt in Kabul, four weeks before intra-Afghan talks began on Sept. 12.

“The Americans will not stay forever, but I know in the meantime [withdrawal] has to be done properly, it has to be in a way that will help reduce violence,” says Ms. Koofi, contacted in Doha.

A NATO warning

Deep concerns were voiced quickly by NATO, as well.

“We now face a difficult decision. We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and no NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement the day the withdrawal was announced. “But at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high.”

“Afghanistan risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks on our homelands,” he said.

Ms. Koofi, a former lawmaker and women’s rights activist who has participated in talks with the Taliban since last year, says the new U.S. emphasis on pulling out speedily has led to a “wrong perception” among the Taliban that they are in a win-win situation.

“It will give the Taliban a position that, ‘No matter if we don’t win at the negotiating table, we will win on the battlefield,’” she says. “So they will try to even further delay achieving something concrete on the negotiation table.”

The U.S.-Taliban deal

Last February, after a year of negotiations between the U.S. and Taliban insurgents – who today control or have influence in more than half of the country – the U.S. and Taliban signed a deal.

The text of the agreement trades a complete U.S. and NATO pullout by the end of next April – plus 5,000 Taliban political prisoners released up front – for Taliban promises to prevent Afghan soil from being used for militant attacks abroad, as well as participation in intra-Afghan talks, where a cease-fire is only “an item on the agenda.”

Americans have spoken of a conditions-based withdrawal, and say the Taliban privately committed to an 80% reduction of violence. While the U.S. stuck to its incremental pullout schedule – which has now been sped up – the Taliban has escalated violence across the country, in attacks that have left thousands more Afghans dead and tens of thousands displaced.

U.S. officials have chastised the Taliban for “car bombs, IEDs and targeted killings” against civilians, but not slowed the withdrawal. And, after an especially heavy Taliban offensive last month to seize Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province – which required U.S. airstrikes to push insurgents back – they claimed to have worked out a “re-set” and “strict adherence” of terms with the jihadists.

Members of the Taliban delegation head to attend the opening session of the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020.

Nevertheless, another offensive aimed at Kandahar earlier this month involved 3,500 Taliban attackers and required U.S. airpower to defeat, the Washington Post reported. It quoted an Afghan national police commander as saying the Taliban would not have been stopped were it not for U.S. airstrikes.

Taliban “all like Trump”

“The Taliban were very worried when Trump lost [the election], because they knew Trump just wanted to get out and didn’t care,” says a Western official in Kabul who asked not to be identified further.

“They all like Trump [because] they also felt like they had Trump in their pocket, because he’s so desperate to get out. He didn’t understand the conflict and didn’t bother understanding it,” says the official.

The feeling in Kabul is that 2,500 U.S. troops is “really bare bones.”

“The bottom line is: The more you drill down the numbers, the more you get to people who are not just logistics support, but people who actually have a day job,” says the official. “It will be very difficult for somebody to be a full-time mentor to the [Afghan] Special Forces, at the same time in the evening packing up his equipment.”

Indeed, the sense that the White House drafted a lopsided deal with the Taliban and is speeding the U.S. withdrawal at the expense of the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani – which has little leverage at the negotiating table without U.S. military force backing him up – is causing pushback in Washington.

One reason former Secretary Esper was fired by Mr. Trump was reportedly a classified memo he wrote arguing against a further pullout, given stepped-up Taliban attacks.

“I believe it was political. There was no tactical, operational or strategic merit to doing this,” retired Gen. John Allen, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan until 2013, said at an online security event this week run by the Soufan Center.

Debate inside the Taliban

In Doha, Taliban leaders have routinely expressed their desire for an inclusive, negotiated solution to end the war. They have also publicly claimed that their views have evolved since the late 1990s, when they ruled Afghanistan with an uncompromising, hardline fervor, which forced women indoors and banned girls’ education.

And yet, along the front lines and among insurgent commanders and fighters, the Taliban message has been consistent: that the Doha deal means they achieved “victory” in war.

“The jury is still out,” says Michael Semple, an Afghanistan expert at Queen’s University Belfast who lived and worked for years in the country.

“But as far as the evidence that is readily available – like what’s happening on the battlefield – the Taliban seem prepared to have a go at grabbing [military victory]. They certainly haven’t done anything to prepare their base for political compromise inherent in a deal,” says Mr. Semple.

News of an accelerated U.S. drawdown to 2,500 – and fewer American military capabilities when the next fighting season rolls around – “strengthens the hand and the resolution of those inside the [Taliban] movement who would like to pursue military victory rather than a negotiated settlement,” he says.

One benefit of doing a peace deal is that any interim and new government will include the Taliban, and crucially have support – and sizable funding – from the U.S. and key donors. By contrast, “winning” on the battlefield means the Taliban standing alone, ruling over a population that widely rejects them, and almost certainly sparking another civil war.

“We shouldn’t dismiss this point that there will be counsel within the Taliban saying, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t do it!’” says Mr. Semple. “But those who say, ‘Look, we can wind this up now, we can sweep the board,’ they are going to be louder and more confident.”

So far, he adds, the Taliban have tried to “calibrate their violence, rather than reduce it,” to score gains while avoiding being declared in breach of the deal.

“If the U.S. accelerates its withdrawal, goes beyond that which it is committed to with the Taliban – it is essentially rewarding a breach of conditions, rather than punishing,” says Mr. Semple. “Back in the real world of hardball war and peace diplomacy, if you reward bad behavior, you are encouraging more of it. And hence, it is less likely that you can marshal the Taliban towards a negotiated agreement.”

That result adds to the exasperation in Doha, where peace negotiators like Ms. Koofi watch every day as the death toll climbs and the fighting continues. She recalls the maxim, often repeated in Afghanistan, that the Americans may have the watch, but the Taliban have the time.

“It is frustrating…. People from both sides are being killed for something that we could actually prevent,” says Ms. Koofi. “It’s just the people of Afghanistan who do not have enough time to be a continuous victim, and it’s the Americans who should have time enough to avoid a complete collapse, once again.”  



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Guns and poses – With America on its way out, the Taliban seem more interested in fighting than peace talks | Asia


TO REACH THE front line in Afghanistan’s civil war, you do not need to go far from the capital, Kabul. At a police outpost in Wardak province, about 20km outside the city on the main highway leading south, the Taliban’s encroachment is evident. The outpost is little more than a ring of concrete blast walls perched on a hill overlooking the road. Around a dozen men, dressed mostly not in fatigues but in shalwar kameez and trainers, stand around. Some hold their guns; most do not. A few look like teenagers. Seated by a small vegetable patch, the 25-year-old in charge, Omedullah Khanjar, who commands six outposts along the highway, explains the situation. During the days, things are mostly quiet, he says. But at night the local Taliban shoot at the soldiers from a ridge a few hundred metres away. Unlike the cops, they have night-vision goggles and laser sights.

Not everything goes the insurgents’ way, says Mr Khanjar. Recently they tried to blow up another outpost along the road, but the police got wind of the plan in advance. They retreated and then ambushed the fighters. On his phone, Mr Khanjar shows your correspondent a picture of the unexploded bomb and the phone the Taliban would have used to detonate it. But such victories are rare. The local Taliban live in the villages nearby, which they run as fiefs, unmolested by the troops. Mr Khanjar complains that the locals protect them, but he says he understands why. “There is so much unemployment,” he says. “The government here provides no opportunities.” The Taliban do provide some. As well as jobs shooting at government outposts, by night they also operate checkpoints on the road to extort tolls from passing motorists.

In September negotiations started in Doha, the capital of Qatar, between the Taliban’s political leadership, envoys from the Afghan government and leaders of civil society. The talks have been years in the making. They followed the conclusion in February of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban, under which America was to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan provided the Taliban cut all ties with international terrorists and started a sincere dialogue with the government on a ceasefire and a political settlement. The Afghan government did its part by releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners. The sight of bearded, turbaned insurgents, most of whom only a few years ago would never have shown their faces in front of a camera, at a negotiating table, brings hope that over 40 years of conflict may come to an end.

But progress has been slow. The two sides are still arguing over the agenda and format of the talks. Big questions, such as what form of government Afghanistan should have, have not yet been broached.

Over the past year the number of American soldiers has duly fallen by more than half, from over 9,000 to around 4,500 now. Although the agreement foresaw a complete withdrawal only by June of next year, and only if the Taliban kept its side of the bargain, President Donald Trump is in a hurry. In October he said he wanted all American troops “home by Christmas”. Now the Pentagon has announced plans to reduce the American force to 2,500 by the end of Mr Trump’s term, in mid-January, over the objections of NATO. Air strikes, which in 2019 reached the highest level in the two decades of the American intervention, have since been limited.

Yet instead of stepping back to foster dialogue, the Taliban have seized the opportunity to strengthen their position militarily. On October 26th the United Nations announced that civilian casualties have not fallen since the start of talks. In some parts of the country violence has escalated. In recent weeks the Taliban have launched attacks to try to take control of districts such as Panjwai, near the city of Kandahar. On October 12th insurgents attacked Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, the first big assault on a city in over a year. The Afghan army retreated en masse, and the Taliban were eventually beaten back only by American air strikes—the first in months. Several hundred Afghan soldiers have died just in the past month (and probably a similar number of Taliban). The Taliban have also increased attempts to assassinate government officials, many of them successful.

The sense of siege comes from more than the violence. The Taliban first took power in the 1990s, when Kandahari merchants paid them to provide security on the roads, for which they charged less than the warlords of the day. They seem to be applying that method again. At the edge of Kabul, the boss of a company which imports cooking gas says the security of his tankers has actually improved over the past year, because the Taliban control more roads. They charge 35,000 afghanis ($455) for every lorry travelling from Herat, on the Iranian border, to Kabul. “In the past there were no Taliban taxes,” he says. “But they used to shoot us with RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades]. So we are happy with the taxes.”

In Taliban-held territory there is a shadow government. Per Muhammad, a 38-year-old farmer who lives in Zabul province, in the south-east, says that in his village of 134 families each pays a flat tax of 2,500 Pakistani rupees ($15) to the Taliban annually, as well as zakat, which is proportional to wealth. In exchange, they get access to the Taliban’s brutal but efficient justice. If a dispute arises, the local Taliban leader solves it. Big disputes—over land, say—go to the Taliban’s district chief. He does not have an office, says Mr Muhammad, but he can be reached easily by phone. “He is always with five mullahs and some armed Taliban.” They hear both sides’ claims and make a decision immediately. “Nobody can reject a ruling,” he says, because it is enforced by armed men.

In Taliban-held territory, government-funded schools and clinics often continue to operate, says Ashley Jackson, a researcher at the Overseas Development Institute, a British think-tank, especially if local residents are keen on it. In some areas the Taliban insist that teachers, who are paid by the government, actually turn up to work. Some NGOs operate in Taliban territory quite happily, working with “NGO co-ordinators” appointed by the local commander. “It is the government we are afraid of,” says one employee of an aid agency. “With the Taliban, we can co-ordinate.”

This ambiguous arrangement means that children can still get an education and the sick can receive health care in areas occupied by the Taliban. But it also helps to legitimise the insurgents, who take the credit for providing services paid for by foreign donors. On October 14th Britain’s Foreign and Development Office had to remind NGOs not to pay taxes to the Taliban.

What might happen next? Afghan government officials say that the Taliban think they have defeated America and see the talks in Doha as the negotiation of the government’s surrender. Yet outright military victory is unlikely. The Afghan army is demoralised but not yet defeated. It has a new air force of its own. Trying to conquer big cities would be risky for the Taliban. Indeed, it could well bring America back into the war. The attack on Lashkar Gah, many in Kabul suspect, was not approved by the Taliban’s political leadership in Doha.

Yet the longer talks go on, the weaker the Afghan government gets. Attrition—from deaths, injuries and desertion—is sapping the army. In August Ashraf Ghani, the president, revealed that over the preceding six months over 12,000 soldiers, police and civilians had been killed by the Taliban. The government does not report casualty figures, but American estimates published last month showed they increased by 5% this year in the quarter to August compared with a year earlier. And the siege is only accentuating political divisions within the Afghan state, says Timor Sharan, who served as deputy local-government minister until last year.

That heightens the likelihood that the talks in Doha will produce a deal that favours the Taliban, especially if America’s withdrawal is as precipitous as Mr Trump would like. With their shadow government and growing assertiveness, the Taliban act as, and would like to be seen as, a government in waiting. In Doha they style themselves the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, as they did when in power in the 1990s.

In urban Afghanistan, their return would be fiercely unpopular. Najia Sadat, a doctor who works at a government clinic in Herat, a thriving city near the Iranian border, says she is deeply concerned that the Taliban might return. She remembers their rule: “We were not allowed to go out of the home.” Their fall made her training and career possible. The clinic where she works is supported by foreign donors, including USAID and International Rescue, a charity. If the Taliban came back, all that could disappear. But it seems increasingly likely.

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Trump Seeks to End War in Afghanistan with Taliban Peace Talks



Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on the way to Doha, Qatar, that the United States is committed to ending the war in Afghanistan once and for all and eventually reducing American forces on the ground there to zero.

Pompeo is, as President Donald Trump announced at a White House press briefing on Thursday, attending talks between the Afghan government and Taliban leadership in Doha to begin the peace process and eventually end America’s longest war. The summit, which will be on Saturday, comes a day after the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Pompeo will arrive in Doha the evening of Sept. 11, and has a series of meetings lined up with Afghan and Taliban leaders on Saturday Sept. 12 in Doha. On his return trip to Washington, DC, Pompeo will stop in Cypress to meet with its president. Breitbart News is accompanying the Secretary on the historic trip to Doha.

“I want to thank you all for joining us on this trip. It’s really historic,” Pompeo said on the plane en route to Doha. “It’s taken us longer than I wish it had to get from Feb. 29 to here. But we expect Saturday morning for the first time in almost two decades that we will have the Afghans sitting at the table again. We’re prepared to have what will be contentious discussions about how to move the country forward, to reduce violence, and to deliver what the Afghan people are demanding: a reconciled Afghanistan – government that reflects the country and that isn’t at war.”

Pompeo said that American “men and women who have been there now since 9/11—almost 20 years now” are ready to come home.

“We’ve spent a lot of American blood and treasure to help the Afghan people be successful, to take down Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and we’ve had tremendous success,” he said. “There’s less than a couple hundred Al Qaeda left. The vast majority of their senior leadership are no longer on the battlefield. We can be proud of what we’ve achieved, but we can be proud of this next step. I’m mindful of how difficult these conversations will be among the Afghans, but it’s theirs for the taking. It’s their country to figure out how to move forward and make a better life for the Afghan people.”

When asked by Breitbart News about this trip occurring on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Pompeo said he believes the American people’s “righteous indignation” in response to the deadly attack that left the Twin Towers in New York City destroyed and thousands of Americans dead was “wholly justified.” But he said that “now is the moment for Afghanistan” to be sent on “the next step in its trajectory” by negotiating peace and ending the war.

“I don’t think there’s any American who doesn’t remember that day anywhere who’s over 25 or 24-years-old – anyone old enough to be watching the TV screen that day or living in New York City that day,” Pompeo said. “I remember I was in Kansas running my small business, I remember getting a call from my wife saying ‘turn on the TV—do you see what’s going on?’ I remember the anger, and I remember the righteous indignation that we all had. America has responded to that in a way that was wholly justified, enormously successful, and appropriate. Now is the moment Afghanistan on the next step in its trajectory. There’s still jihadists in the world. There’s still counterterrorism work that needs to be done, and President Trump is deeply mindful of that. We’ll continue to be sure we protect the homeland and do all the things necessary to reduce risk from terrorist acts not only from Afghanistan but from Syria and Iraq and Asia and from all over—al-Shabaab—all the places where there are terrorists, America will still do its part to make sure that we’re reducing risk to the homeland as well.”

Pompeo said the Taliban have made a “series of commitments” and that the United States has “every expectation that they will follow through on them.” If the Taliban follows through on its word, he said, the United States is committed to removing all American forces from Afghanistan once and for all.

“Our commitment to reduce our forces to zero is conditioned on them executing their obligations under the agreement,” Pompeo said. “We’ve been very clear about their responsibilities with respect to terrorist activity taking place in Afghanistan that is plotting external operations. It’s very clear that the violence levels have to come down to acceptable levels. We saw just yesterday or the day before there are a lot of spoilers out there. There are people who don’t want this to go forward. They want America mired in this place. They don’t want peace in Afghanistan. Most of the Afghanistan people want that. We’re going to stay focused on it. That’s where our focus—the president said, and I think General McKenzie said yesterday, that by late fall we’ll be down to roughly 4,500 U.S. soldiers. It’ll still be a significant number. I’m mindful too that it’s not just Americans who are there. There’s an enormous number of international forces who have sacrificed as well in this fight for the last 19 plus years. We want everyone to have the chance to reduce the risk and reduce the forces as well, so our movement to the appropriate levels is consistent with the two goals the president laid out when I became Secretary of State. Two goals—one, reduce our forces there. Get as close to zero as quickly as you can get to that number, and we’re intent on doing it. Second, we can’t sacrifice security for the homeland. I believe those objectives are both achievable between what we’ve done and what the Department of Defense has done over the last couple years. We’ve made real progress on both objectives.”

Some of the “conditions” that Pompeo said the United States is considering in its decisions on the timeline of troop withdrawals relate to the Taliban and Afghan government’s ability to ensure that risks to the American homeland do not arise again from Afghanistan.

“These conditions are a risk-based set of conditions,” Pompeo said. “The negotiations are a part of that in a sense, but what we’re really looking at is what’s the security cost, what’s the risk. The risks are Al Qaeda has places to grow, risks are attacking places that are external. Those are the conditions that we’re looking at as we advise the president on how quickly we can get to our objective to have no American forces in Afghanistan.”

That being said, Pompeo added that he nothing is for sure going to happen as the last nearly two decades have demonstrated.

“There are no guarantees in Afghanistan,” Pompeo said. “I think after 19 years, this is what we can see. We can also see that the previous administration had tens of thousands of forces there, and they couldn’t change the core objective at all. We’ve done that. We’ve executed that. I think the Taliban has every incentive to get this right. President Trump has made clear: If they put Americans at risk, then we’re going to come at them hard. We’ve done that over these last three and a half years. We’ve inflicted real costs on the Taliban when they’ve put American lives at risk, and that’s something we will continue to do.”

Pompeo also said that even when the United States does end up fully withdrawing from Afghanistan—a yet-to-be-determined date dependent upon those aforementioned conditions—the United States is prepared to send forces back in, if needed, if the Taliban and Afghan government fail to contain terrorist threats to the United States homeland.

“The president has said that,” Pompeo said. “The president has said whether it’s a year from now or three years from now, if there’s a risk to the United States of America, we’ll go in—I think he used more colorful language than this—but I think he said we’ll go in there and we’ll take care of business. We’ll execute the mission in a way that will protect and preserve American security.”



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‘A very happy day’: Afghan leaders approve release of militant Taliban prisoners

The Afghan authorities and the Taliban are “on the verge” of peace talks, following hundreds of popular Afghans authorized the launch of about 400 contentious militant prisoners.

The resolution was passed at the stop of a three-working day “loya jirga” – a classic Afghan conference of tribal elders and other stakeholders occasionally held to make your mind up on controversial troubles.

“In purchase to take out the hurdles for the start of peace talks, halting bloodshed, and for the excellent of the general public, the jirga approves the release of 400 prisoners as demanded by the Taliban,” jirga member Atefa Tayeb announced.

According to an formal list found by AFP, lots of of the inmates are accused of serious offences, like a lot of associated in attacks that killed scores of Afghans and foreigners, with much more than 150 of them on death row.

“The final decision of the loya jirga has eliminated the past justification and obstructions on the way to peace talks. We are on the verge of peace talks,” claimed Abdullah Abdullah, who has been appointed by the government to direct negotiations with the Taliban.

“This is a really satisfied working day. Based mostly on the facts I have the intra-Afghan talks would start out in two to three times soon after the launch of the 400 Taliban prisoners,” former president Hamid Karzai instructed the collecting.

The collecting encouraged that any foreign nationals amongst the prisoners must be handed about to their respective countries.

The prisoners’ destiny has been a essential hurdle in launching peace talks in between the two warring sides, which have dedicated to finishing a prisoner trade right before the talks can get started.

The Afghan government has released virtually 5,000 Taliban inmates, but authorities baulked at liberating the final prisoners demanded by the Taliban.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed for the launch of the detainees, when recognising the decision would be “unpopular”.

The prisoners contain 44 insurgents of specific worry to the United States and other countries for their part in “superior-profile” assaults.

Five are joined to the 2018 attack on the Intercontinental Resort in Kabul that killed 40 individuals, like 14 foreigners.

A Taliban militant associated in the enormous May possibly 2017 truck bombing close to the German embassy in Kabul is also on the list, which consists of a previous Afghan army officer who killed five French troops and wounded 13 in 2012 in an insider attack.

On the initially day of the accumulating, lawmaker Belquis Roshan, a well known women’s legal rights activist, protested against the launch of the prisoners, unfurling a banner that go through: “Redeeming Taliban is national treason.”

 





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U.S. pushes ahead with Taliban peace deal


FILE – In this Feb. 29, 2020 file photo, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group’s top political leader sign a peace agreement between Taliban and U.S. officials in Doha, Qatar. (AP Photo/Hussein Sayed,file)

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UPDATED 2:25 PM PT — Saturday, July 4, 2020

The U.S. envoy to Afghanistan has signaled Washington’s Taliban peace deal, which was signed in February, will now move forward. On Twitter, Zalmay Khalilzad revealed the status of the deal following his week-long tour, which included stops in Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Qatar where Taliban headquarters are located.

According to him, both the U.S. and the terrorist group have “agreed developing plans in support of peace can never start too early.”

Khalilzad added the peace deal will offer many economic benefits. He further suggested joint projects involving Qatar and Pakistan could involve trade and infrastructure.

FILE – In this March 1, 2020 file photo, supporters of Pakistani religious group rally to celebrate the signing agreement between United States and Taliban, in Quetta, Pakistan. (AP Photo/Arshad Butt,file)

The latest push for peace comes amid uncertainty about the Taliban. The New York Times recently reported Russia offered bounties to the group’s militants to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Democrats have called for immediate action to be taken in light of these reports.

“I don’t think there’s anybody on this podium who does not believe that the Russians remain involved in a negative way in Afghanistan,” stated  Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

However, both the White House and GOP lawmakers have denied the report. They have claimed the intelligence it cited has not been corroborated.

“What’s unfortunate is that we are having this discussion because of the New York Times deciding to run with this erroneous information about the president being briefed, which was not true,” stated Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. “The erroneous information that there was a conclusion, when in fact there was not a conclusion.”

FILE – In this April 9, 2019, file photo, Afghans watch a civilian vehicle burnt after being shot by U.S. forces following an attack near the Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

In the meantime, President Trump has stressed he wouldn’t be afraid to pull the Taliban peace agreement if the group breaks its promises.

“If bad things happen, we’ll go back,” he said. “We’ll go back so fast, we’ll go back with a force like nobody’s ever seen.”

Both the Taliban and Russia have denied the alleged bounties plot.

MORE NEWS: U.S., Taliban Say Afghan Peace Effort Discussed In Video Talks





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Taliban claims deadly Afghanistan truck bomb attack two days after maternity ward massacre


A truck packed with explosives has blown up near a court in the eastern Afghan city of Gardez, killing at least five people in an attack claimed by Taliban insurgents.

The explosion comes two days after at least 56 people were killed in attacks elsewhere in the country, including women and newborn babies, dealing a setback to peace plans in the war-ravaged nation.

“A car bomb explosion took place near a military court in Gardez city, which is a populated area. Dozens of civilians are feared to be dead and wounded,” interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement said the rebel group was responsible for the attack.

Emal Khan Momand, a military spokesman in Paktia province where Gardez is located, said the attack was carried out by a truck packed with explosives.

Five people were killed and 14 were wounded, he said.

An Afghan Army soldier at the scene of a truck bomb blast (AAP)

EPA

The blast comes after gunmen attacked a maternity hospital in Kabul, killing 24 people, including new mothers and newborn babies, on Tuesday.

A suicide blast claimed by the Islamic State at a funeral in eastern Nangahar on the same day killed 32.

President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attacks and said he had ordered the military to switch to offensive mode rather than the defensive stance it had adopted as the United States withdraws troops and tries to broker talks with the Taliban.

The Taliban denied any involvement in those attacks, but the government accused the group of fostering an environment in which terrorism thrives or of working with other militant groups who could have been involved.





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Taliban kill 5, claim retaliation for being blamed in Kabul maternity hospital attack


A suicide bombing in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktia province on Thursday that looked to target a military compound but exploded before its destination killed five civilians and wounded at least 29 others, including civilians and military personnel, Afghan officials said.

The Taliban took responsibility for the bombing, calling it retaliation for statements by President Ashraf Ghani blaming the Taliban for an attack earlier this week against a maternity hospital in Kabul that killed 24 people, including two newborns as well as several mothers and nurses.

The Taliban was quick to deny responsibility and condemn that attack on Tuesday. The U.S. special peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, also noted the Taliban’s denial and urged the Afghan government and the Taliban to work together to battle the scourge of terrorism, specifically from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliate operating in Afghanistan.

The Taliban and ISIS are rivals. Afghan and American officials say the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan has been weakened in recent months as a result of U.S. bombing raids in the group’s stronghold, as well as military operations by Afghan security forces and attacks by Taliban insurgents.

An Afghan woman looks for her relative at a hospital that came under attack Tuesday in Kabul. (Omar Sobhanié/Reuters)

ISIS has not taken responsibility for the maternity ward attack but the hospital is located in the Shia-dominated Dasht-e-Barschi area of the Afghan capital, where ISIS has carried out several bloody attacks including one in 2018 that killed dozens of young students taking university entrance exams.

The ISIS affiliate declared war on Afghanistan’s minority Shias several years ago. It did take responsibility for another bombing on Tuesday in the eastern Nangarhar province that targeted the funeral of a pro-government warlord that killed 32 people.

President targets Taliban, doesn’t mention ISIS

In his speech following Tuesday’s dual attacks, Ghani did not mention ISIS but said he was ordering an all-out offensive against the Taliban.

Khalilzad brokered a peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban in February to allow U.S. and NATO troops to leave Afghanistan. It was seen at the time as Afghanistan’s best chance at peace after decades of war but the government has since been consumed with political turmoil. Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah have both declared themselves winners of last year’s presidential polls and both declared themselves president of the country.

Meanwhile, Khalilzad has been pressing the Taliban to agree to a reduction in violence. Since the deal, they have continued attacking government security forces but since refrained from attacking U.S. or NATO troops, who often come to the aid of embattled Afghans.

WATCH | Deadly attack on Afghanistan hospital damages hope for peace: 

A horrific attack on a hospital maternity ward in Kabul that killed at least two dozen people has prompted outrage around the world, and decimated hopes for the peace process in Afghanistan.  2:02

The U.S. has been trying to get the Taliban and the Afghan government to start negotiations, which have been held up as both sides squabble over a promised release of each other’s prisoners.

Last week, Khalilzad met with the Taliban at their political office in Qatar. He also travelled to Pakistan and neighbouring India seeking their support for the peace deal and a quick start to negotiations.

Khalilzad has not been to the Afghan capital since U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to break the political deadlock between Ghani and Abdullah during a surprise visit in March amid the coronavirus pandemic, which kept most airports closed.

Frustrated by the political infighting, Pompeo cut $1 billion US in aid to the Afghan administration.

The United Nations and the U.S. have said the pandemic gives added urgency to the effort to end the fighting and quickly start talks. Afghanistan has reported 5,639 positive COVID-19 cases and 136 deaths but the figures are believed to be much higher.



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Taliban not living up to commitments, U.S. Defense Secretary says



FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper takes questions during a news conference at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., April 14, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

May 6, 2020

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday that the Taliban were not living up to their commitments under an agreement signed this year, amid signs the fragile deal is under strain by a political deadlock and increasing Taliban violence.

After lengthy talks behind closed doors, the Taliban and Washington signed an agreement in February for reduced violence and a move toward talks with the Afghan government, but attacks by the group have increased since then.

“I don’t think they are,” Esper told reporters when asked if the Taliban were living up to their commitment.

He added that he believed the Afghan government was also not living up to its commitment. The Afghan government was not part of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban.

Esper said the Afghan government and the Taliban “both need to come together and make progress on the terms that (are) laid out.”

Progress on moving to negotiations between the militant group and the Afghan government has been delayed, in part by the political feud between President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who both claimed to be Afghanistan’s rightful leader following September’s disputed election.

The political deadlock comes as the Taliban has increased the pace of violence.

The Taliban have mounted more than 4,500 attacks in Afghanistan in the 45 days since signing a deal with the United States that paves the way for a U.S. troop drawdown, according to data seen by Reuters.

The United States is continuing it’s drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, which are expected to reach about 8,600 troops in this summer.

Senior Western, Afghan and independent officials tracking the ground situation say that the increase in attacks shows the insurgent group’s wilful disregard of a pledge to reduce violence made as part of the accord signed in late February.

The violence in the war-damaged nation has coincided with the rapid spread of the coronavirus infection.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by David Gregorio)





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