Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
The Ministry of Interior (MoI) says the Taliban insurgents carried out 33 different attacks across 16 provinces over the past 24 hours.
So far, the recent surge in violence has reportedly killed six people and wounded 14 others.
Local officials reported five Afghan police died in a single attack in Logar province; it’s unclear if the five police were included in the MoI’s numbers.
“They (Taliban) had 33 terrorist attacks which resulted to the martyrdom of at least six civilians and the injury of fourteen others,” said Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior.
On February 22, a 7-day Reduction in Violence (RIV) plan kicked off that was intended to pave the way for a peace deal negotiated between United States and the Taliban over the past 18 months.
Based on the agreement, the US will fully withdraw its forces over the next 14 months, and that the current force of about 13,000 troops will be reduced to 8,600 within 135 days. Non-US NATO and other coalition forces will also be reduced proportionally over that time.
US Representative Max Rose (D., N.Y.) praised the Trump administration for its “100 percent correct” decision to sign a peace deal with the Taliban and said that ending the Afghanistan war was “deeply personal” for him as a veteran of the nearly two-decade long campaign.
Rose, appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, argued that the war would “continue in perpetuity” without the Trump administration’s decision. The peace deal, singed Saturday by the U.S. and the Taliban, would see all American troops withdrawn from Afghanistan by May 2021.
“This decision by the administration is 100 percent correct,” Rose said. “We have got to focus on politics now in our longest-standing war . . . this war’s got to end.”
Rose also pushed back on claims that a withdrawal could result an ISIS-like rise to fill the power vacuum.
“I do have confidence, albeit cautious optimism, that the Taliban is and can proceed as an entity that does want peace,” he stated. “We have seen 18 years of war. And I think that forcing them to the negotiating table, albeit with conditions going forward, we owe it to our soldiers to do this.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday linked the release of Taliban prisoners with the group first breaking ties with neighboring Pakistan.
Addressing a public gathering in the eastern Nangarhar province, Ghani said Afghan Taliban could not justify their insurgency after inking a peace deal with the U.S.
“You [Taliban leaders] have made peace with the foreigners so what does your jihad mean now … killing of fellow Afghans is a crime,” the Afghan president said, who has expressed reservations over the peace agreement.
“If Taliban have set release of their prisoners as a condition for intra-Afghan talks, we also have conditions; they [Taliban] should tell me when are they going to leave [break ties with] Pakistan.”
The landmark deal signed in Doha, Qatar on Feb. 29 lays out a timetable for a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan within 14 months.
Following Taliban report of resuming military operation in Afghanistan, UN, RS, and EU reacted against it, stressing on continuation of reduced violence.
“The UN calls for continued reduced violence to maintain and enhance an environment conducive to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, which should lead to a permanent ceasefire and a lasting political settlement,” UN assistance mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) twitted.
Resolute Support Mission (RS) in Afghanistan said that US is serious about its obligations and expect Taliban to be serious about their obligations.
“The reduction in violence was a confidence builder. We’re very serious about our obligations and we expect the Taliban will be serious about their obligations. The United States has been very clear about our expectations—the violence must remain low,” said RSM spokesperson Col. Sonny Leggett, citing General Scott Miller.
EU Special envoy for Afghanistan also advised Taliban that this is not the time for posturing, but to build confidence.
“If the announcement of resumption of violence by Taliban is verified, this is against the spirit of the agreement just signed in Doha. This is not the time for posturing, but the phase to build trust & move forward in a constructive manner,” EU special envoy Roland Kobia said.
It is worth mentioning that Taliban on Monday night announced the resumption of military operations in the country after a seven-day reduction of violence and signing an agreement with the US in Doha.
Local officials have confirmed that at least five Afghanistan Public Protection Forces (APPF) have been killed in Taliban’s attacks in Logar province.
The spokesman of Logar governor, Didar Lawang told Reporterly that the Taliban insurgents stormed a security outpost in Mohammad Agha District on Monday night.
According to Lawang, the incident took place in Bato Khail and Hasan Khail areas.
This comes as Taliban on Monday announced about resumption of their operations in Afghanistan.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi has said that peace and stability in the West Asian country should be reached through “an inter-Afghan consensus”.
“The Taliban as a group that exists in Afghanistan and plays a role (in the country’s developments) is an undeniable reality,” Mousavi told reporters during a video conference in Tehran.
“All paths to peace and stability in Afghanistan must be through an inter-Afghan consensus and should be led by the Afghan government,” he added.
“As for the Taliban-US cooperation and negotiations that led to an agreement in Qatar, we support every effort for stability and security in Afghanistan but we have doubts about the US’ intention,” the spokesman went on to say.
US officials and Taliban representatives on Saturday signed an agreement after months of negotiations in Qatar’s capital.
The Trump administration is making available to Congress two secret documents related to the United States’ peace agreement with the Taliban, part of the White House’s effort to build support for ending the longest military conflict in American history.
As per Politico report, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reached out to senior lawmakers on the House and Senate panels that oversee foreign relations to discuss the accord – signed by the U.S. officials and the Taliban in Doha on Saturday – and inform them that the administration will share the “military implementation documents” as early as Tuesday.
“I think we’re taking a big chance, but I think it’s something we have to explore because this war is never-ending, and I don’t really want us to go into perpetual war,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who spoke to Pompeo on Friday. “Like everything else, there are mixed feelings. You don’t want our enemies to feel like they drove us out. On the other hand, you don’t want to never leave. I’m glad we’re working on it at least.”
Both Engel and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) plan to hold hearings to review the agreement, although neither has scheduled any session at this point. Since the agreement is not a formal treaty, Trump does not have to submit it to Congress for approval.
While a number of GOP defense hawks have raised objections to the agreement — which would lead to the removal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan over the next 14 months — other key Republicans are tentatively backing the accord, which is a priority for President Donald Trump.
“There’s a healthy amount of skepticism, but I think we have to give it a chance to work,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “If they [the Taliban] violated the conditions, the deal is off… It’s something they have to give a chance.”
McCaul added: “We knew the Taliban is not a nice organization, they’re pretty ruthless. But what’s the alternative?”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was also cautiously supportive of the agreement, which reduces U.S. troop levels to 8,600 personnel and closes several bases. In return, the Taliban is required to cut all ties to al Qaeda and other terror organizations while entering into power-sharing negotiations with the current U.S.-backed Afghan government.
“After nearly 20 years, two basic principles are clear,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday. “No. 1: We should welcome any serious opportunity to bring greater stability to this land. But number two: We must make certain that the progress won through great sacrifice by Afghans and Americans is not undermined by any precipitous rush for the exits.”
McConnell also said, “I do not trust the Taliban. So I am grateful the linchpin of the agreement is a conditions-based approach that will provide our commanders with leverage to test the will and capacity of the Taliban to abide by this agreement.”
President Ashraf Ghani at a gathering in Nangarhar province has responded to the Taliban’s demand for the release 5,000 prisoners ahead of the intra-Afghan talks, saying that the Afghan government also has its demands.
“There are two sides–they have conditions and we have conditions,” Ghani said. During his speech, he also asked: “When are the Taliban going to leave Pakistan?”
In the meantime, president in response to the Taliban’s resuming attacks on security forces, said: “You have made peace with the foreigners so what does your jihad mean now?”
“Killing Afghans is a crime,” Ghani added.
President Ghani, following Saturday’s formal agreements, balked at a part of the US-Taliban deal mentioning the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government as a “confidence-building” measure for intra-Afghan talks, saying the government has made no such commitment.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said Pakistan has played the role it had to play in the Afghan peace process, now it was up to the people of the country to decide their future.
“Pakistan has always been in favour of peace,” Qureshi told BBC Urdu in an interview. “Now it is up to the people of Afghanistan to decide what they want to do. They need to decide what they want to do about their future and what country do they want.”
The foreign minister also dismissed reports of Pakistan meddling in the country’s affairs. “Pakistan does not want to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal matters. We just want good relations with them,” he said.
When asked what Pakistan think of an inclusive government in Afghanistan, the foreign minister said, “If you want peace, there is no other way other than an inclusive government. The more you take people together, the better it would be. I hope the setup in the future is more inclusive.”
Afghan ambassador to US, Roya Rahmani says Afghan people are looking at US-Taliban treaty as an opportunity to end this war with a political settlement.
“It is due to the fact that our people are very tired and exhausted of this very long-winding war. And we are just looking at it as an opportunity hoping that that would end up to a durable, sustainable peace for the Afghan people,” Rahmani said in an interview with the Military Times.
She added that the peace deal will be something that will be negotiated between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia and Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani have welcomed the recent agreement between the United States and the Taliban aimed to end the almost 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan.
Georgian PM Giorgi Gakharia has called the signing of the deal “an important moment”.
With the deal signed, the next phase is supposed to be a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. In particular, within the first 135 days of the deal the US will reduce its forces to 8,600, while its allies will also draw down their forces proportionately.
Georgian FM David Zalkaliani has tweeted that the full implementation of the deal is of “key” importance for peace and stability on the ground.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance and its partners in the Resolute Support mission will implement “conditions-based adjustments”, including a reduction to their military presence.
President Trump said, despite the US’ “tremendous success” in the killing of terrorists in Afghanistan, “it is time after all these years to go and bring up people back home”.
The top U.S. general said on Monday that it was unlikely that violence in Afghanistan would go down to zero days after the United States and Islamist Taliban signed an accord.
“It is probably not going to zero… to think it is going to go down to zero immediately, that is probably not going to be the case,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said during a press conference on Monday.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined “Special Report with Bret Baier” Monday to discuss the peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, saying the Trump administration has been able to do what the Obama administration could not.
“What we’ve done is fundamentally different than what the Obama administration did. Indeed, we accomplished what they tried to do, but could not,” Pompeo said. “They never got the Taliban to break with Al Qaeda and they never got a commitment that says, ‘If you execute the following conditions based — That is, if the violence levels come down. That is, if the security posture for the United States of America is reduced, then and only then will we begin to deliver a commensurate footprint inside of your country.'”
The Secretary also responded to conflicting comments and statements by parties in Afghanistan.
“I’ve seen lots of remarks. Just watch what really happens. Pay less attention to statements. Pay less than attention to things people say. Watch what happens on the ground there,” Pompeo said. “There’s been a lot of work done at detailed levels about how this will proceed. So far, so good. We’re just hours into this. I’m sure we’ll have days when we start and say that the problems are big. But we’re determined and the president’s made this commitment.”
The United States must take care not to pull troops out of Afghanistan too quickly after signing a peace deal with the Taliban over the weekend, and to avoid the same mistakes former President Barack Obama made in Iraq, Sen. Lindsey Graham warned Monday.
“I would love to see the war in Afghanistan end,” the South Carolina Republican told Fox News’ “Fox and Friends,” pointing out that the deal does not cover the Islamic State (ISIS) or al-Qaeda.
“We’ll see if they honor the peace deal,” said Graham. “The one thing I want to stress to your viewers is let’s not do in Afghanistan what [former President Barack] Obama did in Iraq, pull the plug on the place and allow radical Islam to come roaring back. Americans were killed as a result of the rise of ISIS, people all over the planet were killed.”
The peace agreement signed on Saturday was done in hopes of bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan, 18 years after the invasion that followed the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The deal calls for a U.S. drawdown from 13,000 troops to 8,600 over the next three to four months, which Graham said is “enough.”
A force will still be needed in Afghanistan “for years” to maintain counterterrorism efforts, said Graham.
U.S. military leaders cautioned Monday that some level of violence is likely to continue in Afghanistan despite a major new agreement with the Taliban, as uncertainty about the terms of the arrangement overshadowed efforts to launch political negotiations next week.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed reports of a bombing in eastern Khost province, two days after U.S. and Taliban leaders signed an agreement intended to lead to the withdrawal of American forces and peace talks among the warring Afghan parties.
“To think that there’s going to be an absolute cessation of violence in Afghanistan, that is probably not going to happen, Milley said at the Pentagon. “It’s probably not going to go to zero.”
Milley said the military did not yet know who was responsible for the bombing in Khost, which came as Taliban officials declared the end of a week-long “reduction in violence” period that paved the way for the signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement.
UNHCR Spokesman Qaisar Afridi has said the process of voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees has restarted after a break of three months and would continue for next nine months.
Talking to media persons, Qaisar Afridi continued that two centres have been established at Nowshera and Quetta for voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees. At these centres, registration of Afghan refugees would be made on the basis of their POR cards following which assistance would be provided to them in repatriation.
He told media that US $200 each would be provided to the Afghan refugees on repatriation to their homeland. He further said that at the time around 1.4 million Afghan refugees were living in different cities of Pakistan.
Ukraine will continue taking part in the NATO mission in Afghanistan, says the country’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko. “Ukraine remains a trusted US and NATO partner and we support the peace and stability settlement in Afghanistan by taking part in NATO’s Resolution Support Mission for as long as the Afghan people need help,” Prystaiko wrote on Twitter. In a separate tweet, the top diplomat noted that Ukraine welcomed the U.S.-Taliban agreements reached in Afghanistan.
“After many years of war the path to a peaceful resolution is now open,” the foreign minister said.
Against a backdrop of growing concern and uncertainty about the US-Taliban deal, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Monday that western powers should ensure the achievements of the past 18 years in Afghanistan aren’t jeopardised.
Worries about the agreement signed by the US and the Taliban in Doha on Saturday have been growing in New Delhi, especially as the deal talks of the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan over the next 14 months without, what experts say, are adequate guarantees from the terror group.
Asked about the deal during an event organised here by the Centre for Policy Research, Jaishankar said: “To the US and to the West, our message has been that the achievements of the last 18 years, it is in the global interest that those achievements are secured and protected, they are not jeopardised in the process of whatever they do.”
He contended recent events hadn’t come as a surprise because “everybody knew something like this was happening”. Only time will tell, he said, how the US goes about reducing its presence and backing the Afghan government and security forces.