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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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International Latest News

Constructive discussions with Pak on Afghan issue: NSA Sullivan

Washington: The US has had constructive discussions in the military intelligence and diplomatic channels with Pakistan on terrorism emanating from Afghanistan and the Afghan peace process, the White House has said.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also said that the peace process would be an important issue in the upcoming NATO meeting next week.

“We have only had constructive discussions in the military intelligence and diplomatic channels with Pakistan about the future of America’s capabilities to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a base from which Al Qaeda or ISIS or any other terrorist group can attack the United States,” he told a White House news conference.

Sullivan was responding to a question on talks with Pakistan on the Afghan peace process, which would be an important topic of discussion at the NATO summit.

However, he refrained from giving specifics oN the discussions with Pakistan.

“In terms of the specifics of what that will look that will have to remain in those private channels as we work through them. What I will say that we are talking to a wide range of countries about how we build effective over the horizon capability both from an intelligence and from a defense perspective to be able to suppress terrorism threat in Afghanistan on a going-forward basis,” Sullivan said.

 

 

‘Al-Qaeda chief somewhere between Afghanistan, Pakistan’

Kabul: A significant part of the Al-Qaeda leadership resides in Afghanistan and Pakistan region, including the group’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is “probably alive but too frail to be featured in propaganda,” according to a United Nations report.

The findings on the status of Taliban-controlled and contested districts were presented last week by the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.

The group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is believed to be located somewhere in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Previous reports of his death due to ill health have not been confirmed. “One Member State reports that he is probably alive but too frail to be featured in propaganda.”

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Latest News USA

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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International Latest News

‘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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International Latest News

Daniel Pearl killing: Pak court orders mastermind’s release

Islamabad: The Pakistan Supreme Court ordered the immediate release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the key accused in the 2002 kidnap and murder case of American journalist Daniel Pearl, from his death cell and be shifted to a government rest house.

Headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, the three-member bench ordered to shift Sheikh to the general barracks for two days. Following this, Sheikh will then be transferred to a government-run rest house, under tight security, said officials.

Sheikh’s family will be able to visit him in the rest house between 8 AM to 5 PM, the officials added. However, under any circumstances, he will not be allowed to access a mobile phone or the internet. The government shall pay for his family’s accommodation and transport.

Pearl, the 38-year-old South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was abducted and beheaded while he was in Pakistan investigating a story in 2002 on the links between the country’s powerful spy agency ISI and al-Qaeda.

In April 2020, a two-judge Sindh High Court bench commuted the death sentence of Sheikh to seven years imprisonment. The court also acquitted his three aides who were serving life terms in the case — almost two decades after they were found guilty and jailed.

The Sindh government and the family of Pearl filed petitions in the apex court, challenging the high court verdict.

The Supreme Court dismissed their appeals against the acquittal of Sheikh and ordered his release, a judgment denounced by the American journalist’s family as “a complete travesty of justice.”

The US government has asked the Pakistan government to ensure that those involved in murdering Pearl should be punished. (Outlook)

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International Latest News

Afghanistan lets 10 Chinese spies fly back home

Kabul: Days after exposing China’s intelligence network operating in Afghanistan for at least six months, Kabul has allowed the 10 Chinese spies to leave the country.

On December 29, it was reported that the Afghan forces have exposed the Chinese intelligence network under which the spies were in contact with the Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban.

The National Directorate of Security (NDS) officials, in mid-December, carried out a major operation in Kabul, leading to the detention of around 10 Chinese intelligence agents.

Hindustan Times reported that Afghanistan’s pardon was given on the condition that Beijing render an apology for sending the nationals, including at least one woman, likely associated with China’s spy agency, Ministry of State Security.

No info regarding the terms of the release of the 10 Chinese spies is known as yet.

Li Yanyang was one of the Chinese intelligence officers arrested by the NDS. He was taken into custody on December 10 from his Kabul office. Afghan forces had found ammunition, weapons, and explosives from his possession.

The NDS officers had also held another Chinese agent Sha Hong, and recovered drugs and explosives at his residence.

Besides Li Yanyang and Sha Hoon, Afghan counterintelligence officers arrested seven more Chinese intelligence agents (one of them was later found out to be a Thai citizen).

The report suggested that the Chinese spies often met field commanders of various Taliban factions, and recruited sources of information among the Taliban and also reportedly among al Qaeda terrorists.

One of the key tasks of the group was to gather intel about Uyghurs, who fled from China and entered into Afghanistan and neighboring countries. (TIMES NOW)

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International Latest News

Pentagon to cut troop levels to 2,500 in Afghanistan, Iraq

Washington: US President Donald Trump will issue a formal order to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq as soon as this week, according to media reports.

US media quoted officials as saying that the Pentagon had issued a notice to commanders to begin planning to decrease the number of troops to 2,500 level in both Afghanistan and Iraq by mid-January.

The 2,500-troop level in reports was in line with what Trump’s National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said last month that US troops in Afghanistan would be reduced to around 2,500 by early 2021. Currently, there are approximately 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 troops in Iraq.

The reports came after a reshuffle of Pentagon leadership last week. President Trump appointed the director of the National Counterterrorism Center Christopher Miller as acting defense secretary to replace former Pentagon chief Mark Esper, who reportedly had been pushing back on a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that the military organization could pay a heavy price for leaving Afghanistan too early.

“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. But at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.

He said the conflict-ravaged country “risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks on our homelands. And ISIS (Islamic State) could rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq.”

NATO took charge of the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003 and it relies heavily on the US armed forces to operate in Afghanistan.

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International Latest News USA

US cuts troop presence in Afghanistan to 8,600

Kabul/Washington: As part of its agreement with the Taliban in February, the US has cut its troop presence in Afghanistan to 8,600, a top American General said.

“What I would tell you now is we have met our part of the agreement,” General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, told a panel discussion hosted by the Aspen Institute.

“We agreed to go to the mid-8,000 range within 135 days. We are at that number now,” McKenzie said.

He, however, did not provide any indication of when, or at what pace, US forces would be further reduced under the agreement.

Under the February deal reached with the Taliban, the United States agreed to reduce its forces in Afghanistan from 12,000 troops to 8,600 by mid-July.

The agreement calls for all US and foreign troops to quit Afghanistan by mid-2021, almost 20 years after the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda on New York and Washington.

He also said that full withdrawal was an “aspirational” commitment and that “conditions would have to be met in case of further attacks.

“Conditions would have to be met that satisfy us that attacks against our homeland are not going to be generated from Afghanistan,” he said. “That’s not the Taliban. That is, of course, al-Qaida and ISIS (ISIL),” referring to the violent group that used haven in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s previous rule to plan the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, as well as the ISIL group’s Afghanistan affiliate.

The Taliban had already committed in the agreement to cut their ties with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

“What we need to see is what they’re going to do against Al Qaeda. And we need to see that in deeds and not words,” McKenzie said.

President Donald Trump has been eager for a full US withdrawal from Afghanistan, stating that American forces are merely policing a civil conflict and should be brought home.

“We are ending the era of endless wars … we are not the policemen of the world,” Trump told the graduates of the US Military Academy.

The death toll of US service members has surpassed 2,400 since the country invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

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India Latest News

‘6,500 Pak terrorists among foreign fighters in Afghanistan; LeT, JeM play key role’

New Delhi: There are some 6,500 Pakistani nationals among foreign terrorists operating in Afghanistan and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) play a key role in bringing foreign fighters into the war-torn country, according to a UN report.

The report, from the UN Security Council’s analytical support and sanctions monitoring team and issued late last month, indicated Pakistani terrorists formed a significant part of foreign fighters that pose a serious threat to Afghanistan’s security because of their activities and permanent presence in the country.

Lashkar and Jaish, the report said, have approximately 800 and 200 armed fighters, respectively, co-located with Taliban forces in Mohmand Darah, Dur Baba and Sherzad Districts of Nangarhar Province. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) also maintains a presence in Lal Pura District, near the border area of Mohmand Darah, Pakistan, the UNSC team said.

In Kunar Province, the report said, Lashkar retains a further 220 fighters and Jaish has a further 30, all of whom are dispersed within Taliban forces. The UNSC monitoring team said that TTP, Jaish and Lashkar, are present in the eastern provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan, where they operate under the umbrella of the Afghan Taliban.

Even as a number of significant al-Qaeda figures were killed, “the senior leadership of al-Qaeda remains present in Afghanistan, as well as hundreds of armed operatives, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, and groups of foreign terrorist fighters aligned with the Taliban,” the report said.

Relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network, and al-Qaeda remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage, the UNSC monitoring team said.

The Taliban, the UNSC monitoring team said, also appears well prepared for the 2020 fighting season and raising the tempo of its attacks on Afghan government targets while trying to avoid provoking the United States.

India’s External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, “This vindicates India’s long-standing position that Pakistan remains the epicentre of international terrorism. That proscribed terrorist entities and individuals continue to enjoy safe havens and recruit, train, arm, finance and operate with impunity from Pakistan with state support. They inflict violence and spread terrorism in the region and other parts of the world.”

The report also highlighted the presence of Pakistani terrorists in the Islamic State’s Khorasan chapter, such as commander Abdullah Orakzai alias Aslam Farooqi, who was captured with 21 others in Kandahar in March. Twelve Pakistani nationals were captured along with Farooqi.

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