Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
The peace deal with the Taliban does not guarantee that all U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan within the next 14 months.
Speaking to a Fox reporter in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Mark Esper called the 14-month timeline in the agreement “aspirational.”
Indeed, for the United States to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban would have to take steps that it has either been unable or unwilling to do in the past, such as breaking with Al Qaeda after more than 20 years and reaching a political accommodation with the Afghan government.
During a speech to troops in Kabul on Saturday, Esper made clear that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is contingent upon the Taliban living up to their agreements under the peace deal.
“All of our decisions moving forward are conditions-based and require the Taliban to maintain the ongoing reduction in violence,” Esper said. “If the Taliban fail to uphold their commitments, they will forfeit their chance to engage in negotiations with the Afghan government, and will not have a say in the future of this country.”
Omar Samad calls the agreement reached this past weekend between the United States and the Taliban a “peace opportunity,” not an actual deal.
Afghanistan’s former ambassador to Canada says the accord marks the closing of a chapter for his country that began on Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida terrorists hijacked four passenger planes and flew three of them into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C.
“It’s not a peace deal yet,” Samad said from Washington, where he is now a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council think-tank. “It’s the beginning of the end of a chapter which started after 9/11 but it’s a very bumpy road ahead,” he said.
The former national security adviser of the United States Susan Rice has called recently signed agreement between Washington and the Taliban as “deeply flawed.”
In opinion published on New York Times on Wednesday, Rice said that the deal has the potential to lead to peace but is very unlikely to achieve it.
She said that the US gave a lot and got relatively little in return.
Rice said that US officials insist that the US withdrawal is “conditions-based,” but no political or military requirements have been specified.
“There are no indications of what ‘conditions’ might slow or halt an American drawdown of troops short of a major attack by Al Qaeda launched with clear Taliban support. Not sustained violence against Afghan forces, or smaller-scale terrorist attacks, or continued Islamic State operations seems likely to prompt the United States to reverse course,” Rice wrote.
She said that intra-Afghan negotiations, if they begin, will strongly favor the Taliban.
“By cutting a deal with the Taliban that excluded (and even failed to mention) the Afghan government, the United States legitimated the Taliban and further weakened the Afghan government,” Rice wrote.
She said that in committing to the Taliban to end the American military presence and drop sanctions, the US also sacrificed its remaining leverage to help the government in intra-Afghan negotiations achieve critical shared objectives, like protecting democratic gains and preserving the rights of women.
“Given that intra-Afghan talks will take many months, if not years, to yield any progress, the United States is likely to withdraw before any deal is done, abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban wolves,” Rice wrote.
She said that after 14 months, the United States will be left without any military or counterterrorism capacity in Afghanistan, effectively subcontracting America’s security to the Taliban.
US Air Force airstrike on the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Helmand province is a gross violation of the Doha peace treaty, which the US and the Taliban signed on February 29 in Qatar’s Doha, says Russian Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan, Director of the Second Asian Department at the Russian Foreign Ministry Zamir Kabulov.
“This is a treaty violation, because both the US and the Taliban entered into legally binding commitments not to attack. The Taliban did not attack the Americans or other foreign forces. If the US did that, they violated the agreement blatantly,” the diplomat pointed out.
According to US officials, US forces conducted airstrike on the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan province of Helmand on Wednesday. The officials claimed that the airstrike was a defensive measure against the Taliban fighters who assaulted a government forces checkpoint.
On February 29, the US and the Taliban signed a peace treaty in Qatar’s Doha. In a bid to create favorable environment, the Taliban agreed on a seven-day “reduced violence period,” which started on February 22. On March 2, the Taliban announced resumption of military activities against the Afghan government forces.
USFOR-A Spokesman Col Sonny Leggett has called on Taliban group to stop needless attacks and uphold their commitments.
“On March 3rd alone, the Taliban conducted 43 attacks on Afghan forces checkpoints in Helmand. The Taliban claim to be fighting to free Afg. from int’l forces, the Feb 29 agreement provides a conditions-based path to withdrawal,” Leggett said.
“As we have demonstrated, we will defend our partners when required,” he asserted.
“To be clear- we are committed to peace, however we have the responsibility to defend our Afghan forces partners. Afghans and US have complied with our agreements; however, Taliban appear intent on squandering this opp. and ignoring the will of the people for peace,” he asserted.
This comes as US forces carried out airstrikes against the militants on Wednesday for the first time since the sides signed an agreement in Doha.
At least 15 Afghan security forces were killed in northern Kunduz province in the latest Taliban attack following the end of a week-long reduction of violence and signing of a US-Taliban peace deal, local officials said.
According a Kunduz provincial councils member, Mawlawi Abdullah two checkpoints were attacked in Taloka area outside the northern city of Kunduz.
He noted that clashes between Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and Taliban militants led to the death of 15 soldiers and wounding of 3 others.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said that more than 10 Taliban insurgents were killed during the clashes.
MoD added that at least seven security forces were killed in the incident.
Afghan local officials have confirmed that at least two army soldiers were killed and one other was wounded in Taliban’s attack in Helmand province.
The spokesman of Helmand governor Omar Zawak told Reporterly that the Taliban insurgents attacked a security outpost in Washir District on Tuesday night.
Zawak added that the Taliban insurgents have launched complex attacks on different parts of Helmand and the exact information is not available yet.
This comes as the Taliban group has restarted their operations after seven days of reduction in violence in the country.
US forces carried out an airstrike against Taliban militants on Wednesday, USFOR-A spokesman Colonel Sonny Leggett announced on Twitter. According to the statement, it was a defensive measure.
“The US conducted an airstrike on March 4 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an ANDSF checkpoint. This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack. This was our 1st strike against the Taliban in 11 days,” Leggett said.
This is the first time US forces have carried out airstrikes against the militants since the sides signed an agreement in Doha.
The news comes after American officials and the Taliban movement signed a peace agreement in the Qatari capital of Doha, stipulating foreign troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
A new demining project worth $508,944 will soon be implemented in four districts of Balkh Province.
An agreement to that effect was signed between Takahashi Yoshiaki, Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Japan to Afghanistan, and an Afghan local NGO at the Embassy of Japan on Tuesday.
The signing ceremony was witnessed by government representatives including Najib Aqa Fahim, State Minister of Disaster Management and Humanitarian Affairs, Mohammad Shafiq Yosufi, Director of Afghanistan Mine Action Coordination (DMAC) and Ali Ahmad Saadat Director of Non-Governmental Organizations at Ministry of Economy.
The project will be implemented in four districts of Balkh Province by Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects (GAGP). Under this project, around 1,501,305 square meters of minefields and battlefield will be cleared.
At least three Taliban insurgents have been killed by their own bomb in Ghazni province, security officials confirmed.
The 203 Thunder Corps in a press release said that the Taliban insurgents killed while they were making handmade bombs in Moqor district of Ghazni.
The press release added that the engineering team of the Corps have detected and defuses two IEDs at the vicinity of Paktia-Maidan Wardak.
Afghan local officials confirmed that at least six Police forces were killed and seven others were wounded in Uruzgan province.
The spokesman of Uruzgan governor Zargai Ebadi told Reporterly that the Taliban insurgents stormed a security outpost in Northern part of the Tarinkot city at around 03:00am.
According to Ebadi, the outpost was first collapsed to Taliban but recaptured after the reinforcements arrived at the area.
He added that at least eight Taliban were killed and four others were wounded in the incident.
An AC-130U Spooky crew provided more than nine hours of air support to special operations forces, enabling the rescue of 15 patients during a mass casualty evacuation as part of an April 2019 mission in Afghanistan.
During a March 2 ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla., the aircrew from the 4th Special Operations Squadron received 14 medals for their role in the mission: two Distinguished Flying Crosses with the “C” device, and 12 Single Event Air Medals with the “C” device. The “C” device denotes the award is for actions in combat.
Responding to the peace deal reached between the Taliban and the US Government, possibly paving a way for a significant reduction in violence, Vicki Aken, Afghanistan Country Director for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said.
“The decades-long conflict in Afghanistan has devastated the lives of more than 9 million Afghans who are in need of humanitarian assistance and forced millions to flee their homes and seek refuge. The IRC welcomes all genuine efforts to reduce violence and pave the way toward sustainable peace in Afghanistan,” Aken said.
“However, real peace in the country cannot just be something negotiated in a foreign capital, it must also be worked out in all of Afghanistan’s 394 districts. Lasting peace must meaningfully include the voices of women, youth, and minority groups. Women and girls, in particular, have made remarkable strides towards reclaiming personal agency in the last two decades; any deal negotiated must not come at the expense of their fundamental rights,” he added.
Germany’s Federal Foreign Office in a press release said that the German government is willing to provide substantial support for Afghan Peace negotiations.
“For far too long, people in Afghanistan have suffered war and violence. The current conflict, which has claimed the lives of many civilians and continues to impede the country’s reconstruction and development to this day, began almost 20 years ago,” the press release reads.
“The recent developments in Kabul and Doha are a sign of peace. They create long-awaited prospects for a peace process in Afghanistan,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
The headline of the agreement and joint declaration is “Bringing Peace to Afghanistan”.
The agreement now reached between the US and the Taliban is itself the outcome of lengthy negotiations, which were frequently suspended. It ultimately proved possible to sign the agreement because the prerequisite for doing so, namely a week-long reduction in violence, was largely observed.
“It is now crucial that the Taliban further reduce the violence. All stakeholders must fulfil their obligations and start intra-Afghan talks as soon as possible”, Maas added.
“An inclusive intra-Afghan peace process is the next step needed for peace in Afghanistan. The aim of these talks should be a comprehensive peace agreement for the country based on the achievements of the past years, particularly in the fields of the rule of law and human rights,” the press release said.
The he Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani held a telephone conversation with Afghan President Dr Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday evening, Presidential Palace said.
According to Arg, during the phone call, which the Amir made to the Afghan president, they reviewed the bilateral relations and ways to enhance them.
They also discussed the latest developments in Afghanistan, especially with regard to the peace agreement signed in Doha between the US and the Afghan Taliban movement.
President Ghani praised Qatar’s efforts which contributed to reaching the historic agreement.
The Amir affirmed that Qatar will continue to exert efforts that would help in conducting dialogue between the Afghan government and Taliban to reach another peace agreement between the two parties that would lead to achieving security and stability in Afghanistan.
Russia has reiterated to the Taliban it will never accept any monopoly of power in Afghanistan, Russian President’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Second Asian Department, Zamir Kabulov, said.
“We have told the Taliban straight more than once that we accept no monopoly and [are opposed to] the Taliban’s return to power,” he stated. “We are not the only ones to say it. Afghanistan’s neighbors — Pakistan and Iran — and also the United States and China share this position.”
“Our position is that Afghanistan is to continue as a republic. But it is up to the Afghan people to decide on that and to reach some consensus,” he stressed.
Special envoys of Russia, the US, China and Pakistan for Afghanistan have agreed to meet on the sidelines of the intra-Afghan talks, according to Zamir Kabulov.
Secretary of Iran’s Drug Control Headquarters Brigadier-General Eskandar Momeni has said that Iran is ready to help Afghanistan carry out joint development projects and replace poppy cultivation.
Momeni made the remarks during a meeting with Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister on the sidelines of the 63rd Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna.
“We deeply believe that Iran and Afghanistan are two brothers in a family trapped in the desperate plight of narcotic drugs unwillingly,” he said.
Underlining that Iran attaches special significance to security and stability in Afghanistan, the Iranian official said that Tehran appreciates efforts by Kabul government to control poppy cultivation.
Afghanistan has urged Pakistan to comply with international conventions in its diplomatic relations with Kabul.
The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has summoned the Pakistani envoy over alleged misconduct towards the Afghan ambassador by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) personnel.
According to the ministry’s statement, Kabul has called on Islamabad to fulfil its obligations under international diplomatic conventions.
In a separate development, Pakistan said it had to close the consulate section of its embassy in Kabul amid security concerns. Afghanistan reacted to this announcement by saying that it will investigate the claim and ensure the safety of Pakistani diplomats in the country.