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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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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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Pak contributed immensely to Taliban’s success: US Senator

Washington: Pakistan has played on both sides of the field in Afghanistan, contributing to the Taliban’s success, a senior US senator said, a day after Washington announced plans to withdraw all troops from the war-torn Asian country by September 11.

Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Jack Reed, on the Senate floor, said: “a crucial factor contributing immensely to the Taliban’s success” has been the inability of the US to “eliminate the sanctuary the Taliban was granted in Pakistan.”

Referring to a recent study, Reed said the Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan and state support from organizations, like Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), have been essential to their war effort and the US’ failure to undermine this safe haven may be Washington’s most significant mistake of the war.

“As the (congressionally mandated) Afghan Study Group noted, these sanctuaries are essential to the viability of the insurgency. Additionally, Pakistan’s ISI aided and abetted the Taliban while opportunistically cooperating with the United States,” Reed said.

A Brookings scholar, Reed said as per the assessment in 2018, Pakistan provided direct military and intelligence aid resulting in the deaths of US soldiers, Afghan security personnel and civilians, plus significant destabilization of Afghanistan.

“This support of the Taliban runs counter to Pakistani cooperation with the United States, including as they have, allowing the use of airspace and other infrastructure for which the United States provided significant funding,” he said.

“As the Afghan Study Group noted, Pakistan has played both sides of the field. These dynamics further play out against the complex environment in Pakistan which has implications for the national security of the United States, its allies and partners,” he said.

Under the US-Taliban pact signed in Doha, Qatar, the US agreed to withdraw all its soldiers from Afghanistan in 14 months.

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Afghan peace talks must resume on Jan 5: Khalilzad

Kabul: US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has said “it is imperative” that the peace talks between the negotiating teams of the Kabul government and the Taliban “must resume on January 5 as agreed”.

Khalilzad’s remarks came after the two sides confirmed to have exchanged their lists about the agenda of the peace talks, which were formally launched on September 12 in the Qatari capital, and that the next phase of the discussions will begin on January 5, 2021, reports TOLO News.

Earlier, the two teams mutually agreed to a three-week break.

Taking to Twitter, the special envoy said: “Unfortunately, the war continues. The need for a political understanding, reduction in violence and a ceasefire remains urgent.

“Due to what is at stake, it is necessary that there be no delay in the resumption of talks and resume on January 5, as agreed.”

He also confirmed the two sides were taking a break to “consult on the agenda items”.

According to TOLO News, in its draft of demands, the Afghan government’s team has added ceasefire, preservation of national sovereignty, media freedom and the prohibition of activity by foreign fighters in the war-torn country.

Meanwhile, the Taliban’s demands include an Islamic government structure, establishment of an Islamic council, and ensuring women’s rights and the rights of all citizens based on Islamic principles.

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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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Khalilzad ‘optimistic’ about start of intra-Afghan talks

Kabul: The US peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said he was “optimistic” about the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul government.

At a recent press conference, Khalilzad said: “We’re optimistic that finally we are moving forward to the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations.”

Khalilzad was also hopeful that the violence will stay low in the war-torn country, reports TOLO News.

“I believe we are in a more hopeful moment that validates our approach,” said Khalilzad, citing the Eid ceasefire called for by the Taliban, which was reciprocated by the government.

“By all accounts violence was down dramatically during Eid,” the US envoy said.

He also said that about 2,500 Taliban prisoners have been released since the US and Taliban signed the agreement in February.

On the political crisis in Afghanistan, Khalilzad said: “The political crisis in Afghanistan that produced two presidential inaugurations, now it’s been resolved, and the two leaders are working together on an agenda for peace.”

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