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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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Latest News USA

‘US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan 30-44% complete’

Washington: The US Central Command has said that an estimated 30 to 44 percent of American troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan until last month.

The US aims for 100 percent removal of its military from the war-torn country by September 11 this year.

The US has also officially handed over six facilities to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in an update.

Since the President Joe Biden’s decision, the Department of Defense has retrograded the equivalent of approximately 300 C-17 loads of material out of Afghanistan and have turned nearly 13,000 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for disposition, CENTCOM said.

The US and the Taliban signed a landmark deal in Doha on February 29, 2020, to bring lasting peace to war-torn Afghanistan and allow US troops to return home from America’s longest war.

Under the US-Taliban pact, the US has agreed to withdraw all its soldiers from Afghanistan in 14 months. There are currently 2,500 American troops left in Afghanistan, the lowest level of American forces in the war-torn country since 2001.

Since the US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than USD 1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan.

About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban insurgents, and Afghan civilians.

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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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International Latest News

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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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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International Latest News

Afghan president proposes three-phase peace roadmap: Report

Kabul: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has drawn up a new proposal for peace with the Taliban ahead of an international conference aimed at jump-starting faltering talks between the two warring sides, official sources said.

It comes after the US — backed by Russia and other stakeholders — said in its own leaked proposal that it wants to see some form of transitional government involving the Taliban, although Ghani has insisted leaders can only be chosen at the ballot box.

According to official sources, Ghani intends to present his three-stage plan at a UN-backed conference in Turkey to be attended by the US, Russia and other key regional countries. A date for the event has not been finalized.

The US is just weeks away from a May 1 deadline to withdraw all foreign troops from Afghanistan as part of a deal agreed with the hardline group last year — a date US President Joe Biden has said will be tough to meet.

Ghani’s three-stage proposal includes reaching a political settlement with the Taliban and announcing an internationally monitored ceasefire.

He then proposes holding an early presidential election in which the Taliban could take part to form a “government of peace”. (The Hindu)

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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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US to review troop deployment to counter China’s threat: Pompeo

New York: Citing China’s recent confrontation with India in Ladakh, US Secretary of State said America would be recalibrating its deployment of forces to counter emerging threats from Beijing.

Mike Pompeo accused China of behaving as a “rogue actor” not just in its own neighborhood, but also in the larger world order.

The threats from China to India and countries in Southeast Asia and the challenges in the South China Sea are going to dictate the allocation of defense resources as US cuts troop levels in Germany, he said at a virtual meeting of the Brussels Forum of the German Marshall Fund.

He said that China’s expansionism is “the challenge of our time” and the US wants to ensure that its resources are in place to meet it.

The force posture review is being done at the direction of President Donald Trump, as part of which the US is reducing the number of its troops in Germany from about 52,000 to 25,000, he said.

Pompeo did not provide specific details of how this defense recaliberation would be done.

His remark came amid ongoing talks between India and China to de-escalate tensions along the Line of Actual Control, after a violent face-off between the armies of the two countries in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley last week.

Earlier, Pompeo had blamed China for the border conflict with India. “The PLA (China’s People’s Liberation Army) has escalated border tensions – we see it today in India… and we watch as it militarizes the South China Sea and illegally claims more territory there,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

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