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US to keep pressure on IS, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: CENTCOM

Washington: Kenneth McKenzie, Commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), has said that Washington will seek to “keep pressure” on the Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda terror groups in Afghanistan, a media report said.

“We will still do everything we can to keep pressure on the IS and Al Qaeda, from our over-the-horizon locations,” TOLO News quoted McKenzie as saying in an interview with Military Times.

Regarding a recent UN report warning that the Taliban appeared poised to take back control of Afghanistan, McKenzie said: “We still intend to support the Afghan military from just over the horizon. We’re still going to support them with funding.

“We’re going to try very hard to support the Afghan air force over the horizon; some things will come out of the country to be worked on.

“I don’t want to minimize this, because I think they’re going to be tested, but we will continue to support them, just not in the way we are supporting them now.”

Asked if the US would provide any combat support to Afghan forces if major cities such as Kabul were at risk of being overrun, McKenzie said: “Those are actually policy decisions, not military decisions. Right now what we’re planning to do after we withdraw is keep pressure on Al Qaeda and IS, and that would be what we’d be doing, going back into Afghanistan.”

The withdrawal of international troops is due to be completed by September 11 at the latest.

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China offers to host Afghan-Taliban peace talks

Beijing: China has offered to host peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the wake of US troops starting their withdrawal from Afghanistan after a nearly two-decades-long stay.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who in the last two days held telephone talks with his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts, has said that China will back the Afghan government headed by Ashraf Ghani in playing a leading role, news reports said.

This is seen as significant given that China’s close ally Pakistan is seen as the main backer of the Taliban which has mounted attacks on Afghan government troops in a bid to secure itself a strong hand in any negotiations.

The offer to facilitate peace talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban was made during Wang’s phone talks with his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Haneef Atmar, according to Afghan news outlets.

China is concerned that the US pullout could lead to the regrouping of Uyghur Muslim militants in Afghanistan. Uyghurs live in Xinjiang province that shares borders with China.

In a comment that may not go down well with the Taliban, Wang expressed his hope that Afghanistan’s future leadership will pursue a moderate Muslim policy, promote a foreign policy of peace, maintain friendship with neighboring countries, and firmly combat all forms of terrorism, Xinhua said.

Wang also said that the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which India and Pakistan are members, should pay more attention to the situation with Afghanistan’s neighbors strengthening communication, speaking in one voice and taking coordinated action.

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Afghan troop withdrawal: Hillary warns of ‘huge consequences’

Washington: Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned of “huge consequences” of President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan.

She told CNN there was a risk the Taliban – the Islamist group ousted in 2001 by the US-led invasion – could retake control.

The US aims to complete the withdrawal by September 11.

However, violence against Afghans has escalated starkly in recent weeks, with more than a hundred Afghan security force personnel killed.

On the eve of the previously agreed withdrawal deadline, a huge blast in eastern Logar killed dozens as they broke their fast during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan. It was not clear who was behind the attack.

“This is what we call a wicked problem,” Clinton told CNN. “There are consequences both foreseen and unintended of staying and of leaving,” she said.

Under the Trump administration’s February 2020 deal with the Taliban, foreign forces were to withdraw from the country by May 1 while the Taliban held off on attacking foreign troops and bases.

But President Biden announced last month after reviewing the situation that forces would stay in the country for months beyond May, withdrawing by Sept. 11.

At least 2,500 US troops are currently deployed as part of the 9,600-strong Nato Afghan mission.

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US to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September 11

Kabul: The US will begin its drawdown of troops in Afghanistan before May 1 and complete the process before September 11, according to a senior US administration official. There are between 2,500 and 3,500 US troops in Afghanistan at present.

“We will begin an orderly draw-down of the remaining forces before May 1st and plan to have all US troops out of the country before the 20th anniversary of 9/11,” the official told reporters. The process could be completed “well in advance” of the September deadline, the official said.

The US and its NATO allies had signed a deal with the Taliban in February last year to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan if the Taliban met certain preconditions, including a cessation of violence (the Taliban has repeatedly attacked on civilians and Afghan security forces since) and not turning the country into a haven for terrorist groups, particularly al-Qaeda.

The US considers the re-emergence of al-Qaeda in the region after the draw-down of troops a “genuine threat” according to the official, who said the threat will be dealt with “directly” and by holding the Taliban accountable.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to arrive at an intra-Afghan settlement are under way. Istanbul will host talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government between April 24 and May 4.


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Taliban not ready to meet Afghan govt in Turkey

Islamabad: The Taliban has said that it won’t attend a peace conference tentatively planned for later this week in Turkey, putting US efforts to get a peace plan anytime soon in jeopardy.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken previously said he wanted to see a peace agreement between Afghanistan’s warring sides finalized at a conference hosted by Turkey and attended by top officials from both the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Afghan government, US and Turkish officials had said they intended to begin the conference on April 16. It was to last 10 days.

No new date for the Turkey conference was set but time is running out on a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan in keeping with a deal the Trump administration made with the Taliban more than a year ago.

President Joe Biden has said he is committed to ending America’s longest war but the US is reportedly looking for a three- to six-month extension.

Until now the Taliban have refused, warning of “consequences” if Washington reneges on the deal and the withdrawal timeline.

Last month, Blinken gave both the Taliban and the Afghan government an eight-page proposed peace plan, which they were to discuss, revise and review and come to Turkey ready to cobble together an agreement.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has grown increasingly isolated in Kabul as his political opponents accuse him of clinging to power, offered an alternative to Blinken’s proposal. Ghani supported an interim government that he would head until elections could be held within months.

The Taliban have made it clear they would not accept a government headed by Ghani, but they have yet to offer an alternative to Binken’s proposal.

Blinken announced the Turkey meeting in a sharply worded letter to Ghani and other Afghan leaders. In that letter Blinken warned that a US withdrawal without a political settlement would leave Ghani’s government vulnerable to Taliban gains. (News 95.7)

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Taliban threaten attacks if foreign troops stay past May 1

Kabul: Taliban militants have warned that they will resume attacks against foreign forces if they do not withdraw from Afghanistan by the May 1 deadline, in response to US President Joe Biden offering an unclear timetable on when American troops would be pulled back.

“All responsibility for the prolongation of war, death and destruction will be on the shoulders of those whom committed this violation,” DPA news agency quoted the insurgent group as saying in a statement.

The May 1 deadline is part of an agreement the US administration under former President Donald Trump signed with the Taliban in February 2020 in Doha.

It is now under review by the Biden administration.

Under the deal, the US promised to withdraw all US and international forces from Afghanistan.

In return, the Taliban vowed to cut ties with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Since the signing of the deal, there have been no attacks on US-led NATO forces in the country.

However, there is no tangible progress in ongoing peace talks between the representatives of the Taliban and the government that started in September 2020.

Recently, Biden said that he “can’t picture” US troops still being in Afghanistan next year, but he did not offer a precise timetable.

The Taliban called Biden’s remarks “vague” and emphasized that the Doha agreement is the best option to end the past 20 years of war.

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‘Security remains enduring high-risk area for Afghanistan’

Kabul: The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko, at the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security has said that the Taliban have not significantly changed their high levels of violence, or military and political objectives.

“Security remains the most crucial and enduring high-risk area for Afghanistan,” Sopko said, adding that “Terrorist groups in Afghanistan like Daesh and al-Qaeda, although reduced, remain in the country.”

He said that the ongoing peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban raise questions and concerns about whether the fragile gains made by women and girls will be preserved in a future peace agreement, Tolo news reported.

“Discrimination persists, and possible policy changes by whatever form of government might follow an Afghan peace agreement could undermine women’s gains,” he said.

Spoko also mentioned that the civilian casualties also remain high—the numbers of civilian casualties violently killed and wounded in the last quarter of 2020 were the third highest in the last two years.

He said that Afghanistan remains exceptionally reliant upon foreign assistance, creating both an opportunity for donors to influence events there as foreign troops depart, adding that “and risks to a potential peace if they reduce assistance too much, too fast, or insist on conditions that cannot be achieved by the parties to the conflict.”

Sopko added that the UN Development Programme estimates that poverty in Afghanistan, defined as income of 2,064 afghanis per person per month (around $1 a day), has increased to 68 per cent from its pre-pandemic level of 55 per cent.

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Biden admin presents draft peace pact for warring Afghan sides

New Delhi: A draft peace agreement proposed by the US to “jump-start” the peace talks in Afghanistan envisages the formation of a transitional government with the Taliban and includes provisions to prevent terror-related activities on Afghan soil.

The draft “Afghanistan Peace Agreement” is the second key document related to the Biden administration’s efforts to push the peace process in Afghanistan that has leaked in recent days, following US secretary of state Antony Blinken’s letter to President Ashraf Ghani on the next steps envisaged by Washington.

The draft agreement includes three elements – guiding principles for a new constitution and a new state structure; terms for a transitional government involving the Taliban; and terms for a permanent ceasefire. It includes “options for power-sharing” to facilitate a settlement.

Blinken’s letter to Ghani included four elements – asking the UN to convene a meeting of India, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and the US to discuss a unified approach on Afghanistan, asking Turkey to convene a meeting of the Afghan side and the Taliban, getting the Afghan side and the Taliban to agree on ways to speed up discussions on a settlement, and encouraging Afghan leaders to consider a “new, inclusive government”.

There was no official word from the Indian side, but people familiar with developments said New Delhi will stick to its position on backing an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled process. India wants any eventual outcome to ensure that Afghan soil isn’t used for terror activities, the people said.

The US proposal states that a “transitional peace government of Afghanistan” will be formed once the peace agreement is signed and this formation will exist until it “transfers power to a permanent government following the adoption of a new constitution and national elections”.

Sameer Patil, fellow for international security studies at Gateway House, said, “It is a fraught process, but it is also the best possible solution in the available circumstances. There is no real possibility of taking weapons away from the Taliban, and one can look at buying their loyalty to bring them into the mainstream. Variations of this solution have been paraded by other US administrations, but there really is no other solution without economic development,” Patil said. (Hindustan Times)

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Talks ‘waste of time’ unless Taliban implements truce: Ahmadzai

Kabul: The peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are a “waste of time” as long as the radical movement fails to implement its commitment to reduce violence and implement a ceasefire, Haji Nazir Ahmadzai, a senior adviser to the Afghan president on the Reconciliation of Political Parties and Tribes, told Sputnik in an interview.

“Until the ceasefire is reached, the talks don’t work, it’s just a waste of time,” Ahmadzai said.

Commenting on why the second round of talks was delayed, the presidential aide said that Kabul’s delegation has been in Doha, Qatar’s capital which hosts the negotiation, “for a long time,” ready to continue the talks.

“But unfortunately the Taliban have been on foreign trips and have delayed talks,” he added.

“You see, the Taliban did not implement to their promise of a ceasefire, the Taliban escalated the violence, blew up the cities, and escalated the fighting, which is unacceptable [both] to the international community and to the Afghan nation,” Ahmadzai said.

According to the official, the Afghan delegation will ask US Special Representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, to “call a ceasefire in the peace process.”

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