Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Kabul: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has been holding rally meetings on the Afghanistan peace process even as a peace summit is scheduled to be held in Istanbul with various stakeholders.
In a telephonic conversation on Friday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Cavusoglu discussed the importance of the US and Turkey’s continuing cooperation on global matters, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a press release.
Çavuşoğlu also met NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday to discuss the preparations for the upcoming June 14 NATO summit, the 2030 document that will play a role in determining the alliance’s course for the next decade, as well as developments in Afghanistan. NATO forces too are withdrawing from the war-ravaged country.
Most recently, United States Central Command last week stated that the effort to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by September is up to 20% complete. President Joe Biden set a September 11 deadline for all forces to be withdrawn from Afghanistan, where about 10,000 were stationed to advise and train Afghan security as part of the Resolute Support Mission.
Meanwhile, the as foreign soldiers leave the country, many Afghans who provided support to the US and its allies will remain behind. These individuals and their families may face the threat of retribution for having provided support to the Americans. The US Defense Department believes it’s important those individuals and their families are taken care of.
“We have a moral obligation to help those that have helped us over the past 20 years of our presence and work in Afghanistan,” David Helvey, the acting assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Some of the measures include the Special Immigrant Visa Program, as a solution to help partners in Afghanistan who won’t be retrograded out of the country along with soldiers, helicopters and weapons systems. But the program is limited in its ability, Helvey said. Others are humanitarian or significant public benefit parole, which US Citizenship and Immigration Services can use to let some classes of individuals who are currently outside the United States into the country.
“We’d like to be able to work with Congress to be able to increase the quotas and the resources for special immigrant visas. But there are certain categories of our Afghan partners that wouldn’t meet the thresholds for special immigrant visas, so we need to look at other tools and other mechanisms to help those that have helped us,” Helvey said.
Also, NATO will continue to train Afghan soldiers even after the alliance ends its 18-year mission in Afghanistan this year, announced Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Speaking about the three pillars of support to Afghanistan, he said, “As we end our military presence, we are opening a new chapter. Nato’s future support will have three main pillars. First, we plan to provide advice and capacity support to Afghan security institutions, as well as continued financial support to the Afghan security forces. Second, we are planning to provide military education and training outside Afghanistan, focusing on Special Operations Forces. We also planned “to fund the provision of services, including support for the functioning of Kabul airport”.
Meanwhile, in the latest update from the retrograde mission, Georgian forces have started the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan. The Georgian contingent operated under the German command in Mazar-i-Sharif and its main task was to carry out rapid response tasks. The return of Georgian peacekeepers from the international mission was marked by a ceremony at the Vaziani military complex near Tbilisi, attended by the Minister of Defense of Georgia, Juansher Burchuladze and the Commander of the Defense Forces, Major General Giorgi Matiashvili. They congratulated the personnel on the dignified and successful performance of their mission.
Kabul: The composition and functioning of the High Council of the State, which will have 15-25 members, will be announced soon, said Mohammad Amiri, the deputy spokesperson for the presidency, on Saturday.
“The Afghan government has consulted with influential national and political leaders and figures to strengthen the political consensus and to consult on decisions on major national issues,” Amiri said.
Amiri added that the composition of the council has not been finalized yet and talks are underway and currently, four women have been agreed on who will join the council.
Amiri clarified that on a technical level, a separate council consisting of 50-60 people from different walks of life, including women, civil society, the media, scholars and guilds, will be formed. Both councils will work closely together, he said. He added that the two councils will not interfere in the functioning of government bodies and will not have any conflict with the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR).
The formation of the High Council of the State is part of a political agreement between President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and President Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of HCNR, in order to create political consensus. Its job is to advise the president on matters of “national importance”.
Although these efforts have started with a delay of almost a year, the efforts of both sides are expected to bear fruit in the near future. The Council should be a reflection of all political groups and currents and a stabilizing factor in the country.
Kabul: As per a top Pentagon official, Pakistan has allowed the US military to have overflight access to be able to support its presence in Afghanistan. This statement comes after Pakistan last week had announced that they will not allow US troops to use Pakistani soil for bases.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Affairs David F Helvey on Friday also told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the US will continue its conversation with Pakistan due to the important role it has played to support the Afghan peace process.
“We will continue our conversations with Pakistan because their support and their contribution to the future of Afghanistan, the future of peace in Afghanistan is going to be critical,” the Pentagon official said.
Senator Jack Reed, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had said last week that the president’s decision should be seen as a transition, not closure. “It should not mean an end to our counterterrorism effort. We must ensure that Afghanistan will not be a source of planning, plotting or projecting of terrorist attacks around the globe, including particularly against our homeland. Despite great progress over the last 20 years, the threats from al-Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist groups still remain,” he said.
There is a risk of severe chaos and violence, and instability in Afghanistan as the Taliban uses American withdrawal to escalate its attacks around the country and in Kabul.
Kabul: Talking about the foreign troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, former US President George W. Bush in an interview with Fox News said that he is “deeply concerned” about the drawdown as it could create a “vacuum” for terrorist groups.
Bush’s remarks come even as the retrograde mission is almost 20 percent complete. “I’ve always warned that no US presence in Afghanistan will create a vacuum, and into that vacuum, there is a likely chance that people might come who treat women as second-class citizens,” Bush said.
About 7,000 troops from NATO countries, as well as all US contractors, are also leaving and there are growing concerns of a civil war in the country. Bush added that he didn’t think that the withdrawal was necessary. “But the decision has been made, and we now need to pray and hope that it is the right decision,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign welcomed NATO’s emphasis on continuing its support after leaving Afghanistan.
A statement issued by the MoFA on Saturday said that the start of a new chapter in cooperation between Afghanistan and NATO is an effective step towards enhancing the capabilities of the security and defense forces to jointly fight terrorism and ensuring peace and stability in the country and the region.
On Friday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met with French President Emmanuel Macron and said that with the end of the military presence in Afghanistan, a new chapter will open.
Earlier, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, had said that Afghan security and defense forces were capable of protecting their country’s territory, but these forces and the Afghan government need the financial support of foreign countries, especially the United States and NATO.
The withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan began on May 1 and is scheduled to be completed by September 11 this year.
Kabul: At least seven residents of Jaghori district in Qarabagh district of the Ghazni province have been abducted by the Taliban, said Aref Bahonar, Jaghori district governor, on Saturday.
Bahonar added that the abductees were all civilians and the abduction took place on Tuesday when they were traveling from Jaghori district to Ghazni and Kabul cities. He added that there are students among the abductees.
According to Jaghori district governor, the Taliban insurgents also fled with a passenger car from Zardalu area. The fate of the abductees is still unknown. The Taliban have not yet commented on the matter.
Meanwhile, an explosion took place on Saturday in the city of Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan province. The explosion injured seven people, including Monira Alamyar, a member of the Badakhshan provincial council.
The explosion took place at 1:30pm in Hamam Roshan alley in Faizabad. Badakhshan spokesperson Nik Mohammad Nazari said that provincial council member Monira Alamyar, along with the council chairman’s driver and five others, were injured in the blast.
Nazari added that the blast was caused by a motorcycle bomb. The injured were taken to the hospital for treatment and are in good condition. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense on Saturday stated that at least 92 Taliban militants were killed and 48 others were wounded in eight provinces over the past 24 hours. Deputy spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense Fawad Aman said that Afghan National Defense and Security launched offensive operations in Laghman, Maidan Wardak, Sar-e-Pul, Logar, Balkh, Helmand, Baghlan, and Takhar provinces.
According to Aman, the Taliban faced massive retaliation from the government forces. MoD also stated that ANDSF discovered and defused 34 various types of IEDs during the operations.
Kabul: The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) on Saturday reported 242 new positive cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in the last 24 hours.
The ministry also reported 10 deaths and 96 recoveries from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours.
The total number of cases now stand at 65,728, while the number of reported deaths is 2,802 and the total number of recoveries is 55,886.
This comes as, the third wave of the coronavirus has also spread to Afghanistan. According to the Ministry of Public Health, the coronavirus new type is also circulating throughout Afghanistan and has infected about 300 people so far.
Kabul: In a grilling session with the US Congress, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, on Friday said that the criticism regarding the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is justified.
“We’ll have to see what the Taliban does. We have to be prepared for the decisions that they make with regard to those choices that they face. We can’t be driven by wishful thinking that they will make the right choice that we would like, but at the same time we shouldn’t close the door to that possibility,” Khalilzad said.
Khalilzad was questioned by Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, during a hearing to examine President Biden’s decision to withdraw all remaining US military forces by September 2021 and the implications of the withdrawal on US national security and future engagement in Afghanistan.
Lynch stated that even though he wants to see an end to the war in Afghanistan, the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan still comes with significant consequences to national security and there are questions about the long-term viability of the Afghan state, and the future stability of the region—especially in the absence of an intra-Afghan peace agreement. “As Members of the Oversight Committee, it is our job to ensure that those consequences are recognized and those risks are minimized to the greatest extent possible, while continuing to promote the responsible stewardship of US taxpayer resources,” he said.
On whether US has a “Plan B” should the Taliban overtake the Afghan government, Khalilzad said that “the plan is not finished.” He further testified that the Biden administration is “working very hard to think about alternative futures for Afghanistan and what could happen, and how we would operate, carry out the mission that the President and Congress decides for Afghanistan and how the mission could be carried out and how we can spend the resources of the taxpayers as intended.”
In fact, Khalilzad also said that US’ ability to monitor terrorist threats in Afghanistan will “diminish” following the withdrawal, however, he added, “Our monitoring capability will diminish, our strike capability will also be affected, but given the lower level of terrorist threat, we would be in a position to monitor and respond adequately when our forces are out of Afghanistan.”
In response to questioning by Rep. Hank Johnson, Khalilzad testified that he has discussed with Afghanistan’s neighbors “the need for enhanced cooperation for monitoring the situation in Afghanistan, but added that agreements to enable US “over the horizon” counterterrorism capabilities are “a work in progress.”
He also testified that the United States “will do our best in terms of oversight” and intends to “maintain a robust embassy and to protect that embassy security so that we can perform that responsibility, oversight of money spent as intended, going forward.”
Lynch also referenced to reports from officials and women’s groups on the ground in Afghanistan and said that opportunities for Afghan women were “extremely fragile.” He added there was “great fear” in many communities about what the country’s future. “I’m trying to get reassurance that we’re thinking about—at least acknowledging—the dilemma we face and that we’re taking every reasonable precaution to prevent the worst of outcomes from occurring,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has also expressed concern over the continuing violence, in particular the loss of civilian lives in the country, and called for an immediate end to the “killing of civilians”.
According to the commission, in the last two days alone, 16 civilians have been killed and six others wounded in landmine and shelling in Helmand and Ghor provinces.
The commission said women and children were among the victims and stated, “The killing of civilians must stop. How long will the Afghan people pay for the war with their lives, property and vital interests? The people are the main owners of this land and always call for an end to violence and the establishment of a permanent ceasefire.”
The commission also blamed Taliban bombings on civilian casualties, adding that they had repeatedly called on the group to “stop this tactic of war, given that it has no segregation capacity.”
The statement added, “We urge the international community to adhere to the rules of engagement. Indifference to civilian casualties, property damage and psychological trauma of the war and failure to deal seriously with the perpetrators has led to lower crime costs in Afghanistan and impunity.”
The commission stressed that justice must be done for the perpetrators and that the “perpetrators” must be held accountable before the law and their victims and survivors.
Kabul: At least eight members of the Afghan security forces have been killed in an attack by the Taliban on their outposts in Guzargah-e-Noor district in Baghlan on Friday night.
The Defense Ministry in a statement said that 20 Taliban insurgents including Amrullah, the designated district governor of Taliban for the district, have been killed in air and ground operations in Guzargah-e-Noor, Julga and Baghlan-e-Jadid districts of Baghlan on Friday night.
Six soldiers were also wounded in the attack, added sources aware of the developments. Dozens of Taliban fighters went to Guzargah-e-Noor district after they were pushed back from Baghlan-e-Markazi district in the province, the sources said.
The 217 Pamir Corps Commander Abbas Tawakuli said that six Taliban insurgents, including their key commander, were killed and seven more were wounded in the clashes. He said that the Taliban left the area after reinforcements arrived.
This comes amidst a sharp increase in violence in the country following a three-day Eid ceasefire.
Meanwhile, at least three civilians were killed in two separate incidents in which mortar shells fell on homes in Takhar and Helmand provinces.
In Takhar, one child was killed and two more, including a woman, were wounded when a mortar shell hit a civilian home in Pul-e-Shash Metra area on the outskirts of Taluqan city on Friday evening, Takhar police said in a statement, blaming the Taliban for the strike. Taliban has not commented on the incident.
In Helmand, meanwhile, two children were killed, and two women were wounded when a mortar shell hit a civilian home in the city of Lashkargah, the center of the province, early on Saturday morning, a source said. Helmand officials so far have not commented on the incident.
Kabul: On the 8th day of protests in Faryab against the newly appointed governor, the protesters gave Mohammad Daud Laghmani a deadline of three days to leave, otherwise, a federal government will be established in the province.
The protests in Faryab began after President Ghani appointed Mohammad Davood Laghmani as governor of Faryab a month ago. Ghani also nominated Naqibullah Fayek, the former governor of Faryab, to the Senate. However, supporters of the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan led by Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum in Faryab province were against this decision as they believe that Laghmani does not understand the geography or people of the province.
Dostum called on Faryab residents to prevent the nomination of Mohammad Daud Laghmani as the governor of the province and defend their rights. As a result, dozens of people in Jawzjan and Faryab provinces protested and demanded the election of governors, mayors, and district governors.
Earlier, Mir Rahman Rahmani, Speaker of the House of Representatives, announced that these problems would be resolved. Protesters had earlier prevented the landing of a plane carrying Laghmani, but two days later, he started working in the 1st Brigade of the 209th Shaheen Corps at Maimana Airport. Protesters have also set up a tent camp in front of the governor’s office. On Saturday, protesters even reached the gate of the first brigade chanting slogans. A large number of women also took to the streets and expressed their dissatisfaction.
Ehsas Niroo, spokesperson for the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, said that protests would spread to several provinces if the government did not comply.
According to Niroo, the demonstrations of the people of Faryab on their eight day were wider than on previous days, and in addition, a number of residents of Bamyan supported the claim of the people of Faryab by launching a protest too.
The protests in Faryab are underway since the last seven days. On Friday, however, they decided to reopen hospitals and some essential government offices to provide service to the people.