Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
The U.S. welcomed the release of two professors abducted from Kabul, Afghanistan in 2016, the White House said Tuesday.
American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks were professors at the American University of Afghanistan when they were kidnapped by the Taliban at gunpoint.
The Taliban also freed 10 Afghan soldiers in a an prisoner swap deal.
The Afghan government reportedly released Anas Haqqani, the son of armed Haqqani network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, and the two other Taliban figures: Hafiz Abd Rashid and Mali Khan.
“We thank the Afghan government for its actions, in the spirit of our partnership that enabled the freeing of the hostages,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the professors were recovered Tuesday morning and are in the care of the U.S. military.
Earlier in the day, multiple official sources in Afghanistan confirmed the release of the three key Taliban detainees.
“The Taliban have indicated that the release of the two professors is intended as a goodwill gesture, which the United States welcomes,” said Pompeo in a statement.
“Additionally, we welcome the Taliban’s impending release of 10 Afghan prisoners, and the Afghan government’s release of 3 Taliban prisoners,” he said, calling the releases as “hopeful signs” the Afghan war may soon conclude through a political settlement.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs has organized a training program for the officials of the National Statistics and Information Authority of Afghanistan in New Delhi.
According to Indian officials, the training program covered modules pertaining to immigration, entry requirements of host countries, security features of various travel documents, registration and visa related services, forgery detection techniques, area of convergence between immigration and airlines, flight reconciliation/clearances, futuristic technology intervention programs for expeditious immigration clearances.
“The program also included a visit to arrival and departure wings of an international Airport to understand immigration procedures and safety measures,” the Indian official said.
They added the course gave participants insights into globally adopted enhanced security features in passports and travel documents to curb counterfeiting, forgeries, and impersonations.
In the meantime, the Afghan participants thanked India for conducting the program to build sensitivity and enhance the capacity to handle international operations, in the age of national and global security concerns.
The two Western teachers held by the Taliban are safe with American forces, US officials say, and now three Taliban figures are to be freed.
As per the New York Times report, the Westerners were released to American forces by the Taliban, and included an American, Kevin C. King, 63, and an Australian, Timothy J. Weeks, 50, teachers at the American University in Kabul who were abducted in 2016.
The key figure being returned to the Taliban is Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the Taliban’s military operations leader and a leading fund-raiser and propagandist before he was captured in 2014.
The exchange was brokered, in part, by the American peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, who had earlier negotiated a tentative agreement with the Taliban that would have included terms of an American troop withdrawal.
In announcing that he was willing to free the senior Taliban figures, President Ashraf Ghani said last week that the exchange was intended to “facilitate direct peace negotiations” between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
He is also betting that the exchange could nudge the Taliban toward agreeing to at least a partial cease-fire, which Mr. Ghani has set as a precondition to any talks.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has called the American military justice system effective following President Donald Trump’s decision of pardoning war crimes cases of the US military officers.
In response to a question in a joint press conference with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, Esper said, “I have great faith in the military justice system, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are trained from day one about the laws of armed conflict and how to conduct themselves during wartime.”
Trump has recently pardoned a former U.S. Army commando set to stand trial next year in the killing of a suspected Afghan bomb-maker and a former Army lieutenant convicted of murder for ordering his men to fire upon three Afghans, killing two.
However, Esper and other top military officials have informed Trump that his interference with the military judicial system would partially damage the ability of military larders to ensure discipline.
Last month, US President Donald Trump announced that ISIS leader al-Baghdadi died during a US raid on his hideout in Syria.
The United States Treasury Department in a press release said that US has imposed sanctions on five entities, four individuals in Turkey, Afghanistan and Syria over links to the IS-K terrorist group.
The US Treasury Department said it is acting against the Afghanistan-based Nejaat Social Welfare Organization for using false charitable pretences as a cover to facilitate the transfer of funds and support the activities of IS-K in Afghanistan.
“Treasury also took action against two senior officials affiliated with this organization,” the press release said.
In September, the US also targeted Daesh* with sanctions, as well as other groups including al-Qaeda. Then the targets included 15 leaders, individuals and entities affiliated with those groups.
The Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations has formed a Group of Friends, co-chaired by the United Kingdom and comprised of women representatives to the UN and senior UN officials.
The Afghan Mission to the UN in a press release said that the group will highlight the importance of protecting and enhancing women’s rights and the role that women can play across society and government, including in peace efforts.
“Once isolated and oppressed during the Taliban regime, today Afghan women have emerged as proactive and forceful agents of change in building a more secure, prosperous, and self-reliant Afghanistan. Maintaining and consolidating these gains remain a key focus of the people and Government of Afghanistan, as well as the United Nations and the international community,” the press release said.
According to the press release, the Group of Friends aims to safeguard the important shared gains made towards women’s rights since 2001 and to ensure that any prospective outcomes in the peace process recognize, protect and promote the role of women in all spheres of life.
“The initiative will also support the joint commitment of the Afghan Government and the international community towards the full implementation of UNSCR 1325 on Women Peace and Security,” it added.
The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) provided food aid to 1,000 families affected by war in the Takhar and Faryab provinces of Afghanistan, a statement from the agency said.
The statement, which was released by the Mazar-i Sharif branch located in northern Afghanistan, said the aid was distributed in Tahara province’s districts of Yengi Kale, Derkad, Hoca Bahauddin, Chah Ab, Hoca Gar and Baharak and the Kurgan district of Faryab province where people were in need due to recent terrorist incidents and domestic conflicts.
The aid packages included flour, rice, oil, granulated sugar, green tea, tomato paste, salt, and kidney beans, the statement added.
Active in 59 countries with 61 offices, TIKA was founded with the purpose of helping former Soviet nations after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Almost 200 Wisconsin National Guard soldiers have returned to the U.S. after serving as guardian angels providing protection in Afghanistan.
Roughly 400 soldiers from Appleton-based 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry deployed to Afghanistan late last year and about 190 landed at Fort Bliss, Texas, on Sunday.
The rest of the unit remains in Afghanistan.
The soldiers were split into small squads to act as protectors for advisers in the 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade as well as other coalition forces, contractors and Afghan troops.
The 127th was recently joined in Afghanistan by another 32nd Red Arrow Division battalion — 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry. That unit mobilized in July.
Nearly 250 airmen from Madison-based 115th Fighter Wing returned from Afghanistan earlier this month.
The Portugal deputy secretary of state for national defense, Jorge Seguro Sanches, said that the security that exists in Portugal and the European Union is also being built in Afghanistan and in the Portuguese military mission that left for that country.
“The security we have in Portugal and the European Union is also being built in Afghanistan and this mission,” he said, at Lisbon’s Figo Maduro military airport to the 79 soldiers of the Portuguese army who left Sunday night for Afghanistan, where they will stay for the next six months, within the scope of the NATO mission “Resolute Support”.
For the military for whom the trip is a return to Afghanistan, the state secretary spoke of an opportunity to renew the contribution that the Armed Forces have made over the past four years in this NATO-led mission, contributing to the stabilization of Afghanistan by empowering its Armed and Security Forces.
“It should be underlined that progress has been gradual, and all the persistence, determination and professionalism that they are capable of is still needed – qualities that are highly appreciated and recognized by both Afghans and our allies, as well as their high level of preparation,” he said.
The 79 Portuguese army soldiers who left for Afghanistan join the 126 who are already in that country.
According to information available on the official site of the general staff of the Armed Forces, these 205 soldiers will constitute the 4th National Force deployed to integrate the ‘Resolute Support’ mission during the next six months, composing four teams in mission, namely, the Rapid Reaction Force, with the surveillance and protection mission to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, the Advisory and Training Team to the Afghan Army’s School of Artillery and Combat Arms School, the Special Operations advisory team and the national support detachment.
NATO’s mission has 39 countries, with a total of 16,000 people, both military and civilian, with a mission to build a more secure future for Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, 138 soldiers of the 3rd Detached National Force will return to Portugal.
President Ashraf Ghani held talks in two separate phone calls with the senior US officials to review the steps necessary to implement the recent decision to release the Taliban detainees.
President’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqi said, “In two separate phone calls, President Ghani spoke to Secretary Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien on November 18 to review the steps necessary to implement President Ghani’s recent decision to release the three high-level Taliban/Haqqani detainees.”
Sediqi noted that the U.S. officials reiterated their support for President Ghani’s decision and committed to working closely together to respond to any possible Taliban violence in the event the group doesn’t respond in good faith.
“Both sides agreed that a ceasefire and/or a reduction in violence was a necessary pre-condition for kick-starting the intra-Afghan negotiations to reach a political settlement,” he said, adding that “Both the Secretary and Ambassador O’Brien praised the performance of the Afghan security forces including their ongoing efforts in eliminating ISIS-K’s safe havens in Nangharar, and reaffirmed continued American support to these forces so that Afghanistan can never again be used as a platform for international terrorism.”
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani last week announced that the government is intending to release the three senior Haqqani network leaders in exchange for the release of the two American University lecturers.