Newsfeed; Saturday, February 22 2020

Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    Pentagon Sheds Light on Plans to Provide Chinook Helicopters to Afghan Special Forces

    The Defense Department plans to provide 20 Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters to Afghanistan’s security forces in a bid to save on support costs and air crew requirements, Pentagon officials said in a briefing that provides new details on the program.

    As per the Stars & Stripes report, Afghanistan would receive 10 Chinooks per year over two years to replace its elite Special Mission Wing’s aging Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters by 2023, the brief said. Current Mi-17 pilots and new trainees will become air crews on the Chinooks.

    The two-page document issued Monday came in response to questions Sen. Richard Blumenthal raised in a letter last month to Defense Undersecretary John C. Rood about what he saw as an “abrupt change” to the helicopters being fielded to America’s Afghan allies.

    Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was concerned about the change and what he called its “unclear strategic justification.”

    The Connecticut Democrat had previously pushed DOD to provide Afghan forces with UH-60 Black Hawks, made in his state by Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., after sanctions barred the U.S. from buying Russian spare parts to keep the Mi-17s flying.

    The U.S. began supplying Kabul with the first of a planned 159 UH-60s in the fall of 2017, but last month said it was capping that total at 53. Plans to send Chinooks instead were revealed in a DOD report to Congress last month, though the Pentagon declined at the time to say how many.

    The American-made Chinooks are expected to be 10-15% cheaper to maintain but 30% more capable than the Russian helicopters, while giving the special operations air wing “a medium-lift platform that fully meets its requirements for conducting its combat mission.”

    The twin-rotor Chinook, which can carry about three times the number of troops as a Black Hawk, fulfills the special operations unit’s requirement for conducting air assaults, the Pentagon said.

    None of the Chinooks are being provided to the conventional air force, officials said. Conventional units will use Black Hawks, mainly for air movement, resupply and casualty evacuation, and the Special Mission Wing will get some for “utility missions.”

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    Significant Drop in Taliban Attacks in Early Hours of RiV: Defense Minister

    Afghan acting defense minister confirmed Saturday that Taliban attacks dropped significantly during the early 12 hours of a seven-day reduction in violence negotiated between the militant group and the United States.

    Asadullah Khalid said that a few attacks happened including in northern Balkh province, where Afghan forces defensively responded.

    He said that it was possible that the Taliban leadership’s instruction had not reached the attackers.

    Khalid and US commander of international forces in Afghanistan, Scott Miller, said that they have stopped offensive operations against the Taliban during the RIV period.

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    Bike Races, Street Dancing, Afghans Celebrate Temporary Truce

    Hours after a historic truce took hold across their country, jubilant Afghans who have suffered decades of non-stop conflict took to the streets to celebrate what they desperately hope is a first step towards peace.

    Men were seen holding up signs for peace near the capital Kabul, dancing in celebration in the east, and mingling with Taliban fighters in the southern city of Helmand.

    “Almost no civilian in Afghanistan has escaped being personally affected in some way by the ongoing violence,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, UN’s the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. “It is absolutely imperative for all parties to seize the moment to stop the fighting, as peace is long overdue; civilian lives must be protected and efforts for peace are underway.”

    But on Saturday in Jalalabad, the capital of eastern province Nangarhar, cycling enthusiasts donned Lycra shorts and shirts for a road race – something previously hard to imagine in a city that has been beset by attacks.

    In Kandahar in the south, considered the Taliban heartland, and in Jalalabad, dozens of celebrating people danced the attan – a traditional Pashtun dance – in the streets during the night.

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    ‘A Conditions-Based Reduction in Violence Is A Win for Afghanistan’: Gen. Miller

    US General Austin Scott Miller, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission and US forces in Afghanistan says a conditions-based reduction in violence is a win for Afghanistan.
    During a press conference on Saturday, Gen. Miller has reinforced NATO’s commitment to Afghan National Defense and Security forces (ANDSF) with the Interior Minister, Masoud Andarabi and the Defense Minister, Asadullah Khalid.

    Gen. Miller, Minister Andarabi and Minister Khalid have agreed to uphold commitments under US/Taliban reduction in violence agreement.
    Mr. Miller emphasized that this reduction in violence presents a great opportunity and it is up to Taliban to move the ball forward toward peace.
    “The Taliban must fulfill their commitments,” he added.

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    UN Voiced Concern Over Forceful Attempts to Replace Gov’t Officials

    Amid reports about the replacement of the governor in the northern Sar-e-Pul province by Abdullah Abdullah’s team – which has announced its own national government after rejecting poll results – the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it is “extremely concerned by the events that are ongoing to replace government officials.”

    The “Stability and Partnership” team led by Abdullah Abdullah has appointed Muhammad Noor Rahmani as the new governor of Sar-e Pul province, local officials confirmed.

    A provincial council member of Sar-e Pul, Muhammad Asef Sadiqi told Reporterly that a number of the supporters of Abdullah Abdullah’s team backed by Gen. Abdul Rashid Dustom have entered the governor’s office and appointed Rahmani as the new governor for the province.

    “Resorting to force or any other unlawful means at the very time that efforts are ongoing to realize a reduction in violence – with the expectation that it can lead to the start of an intra-Afghan negotiations on peace – jeopardizes the population’s hope for peace,” UNAMA says in the statement.

    UNAMA in the statement calls on all parties to exercise restraint and address their grievances through dialogue and respect for the constitutional order.

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    US GOP Lawmakers Fret Over Afghanistan Drawdown Plans

    With talk of a U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan on the horizon, some Republican lawmakers- Grand Old Party (GOP) are cautioning the Trump administration against pulling out too many troops, too quickly.

    As per the Defense News, US administration officials have expressed optimism about the plan, but on the heels of meeting with Afghan President Ashaf Ghani at the Munich Security Conference last weekend, the Republicans raised concerns about how the process will work.

    To Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and a skeptic of past Trump administration drawdown plans, the devil will be in the details.

    “Are they real conditions, are you going to enforce them, or is it just window covering for a withdrawal,” he said. “I’ll say our military and the Afghan military has brought the Taliban to the table, but will they fundamentally change their ways? Can you really have Afghans in a peaceful society? I’m skeptical.”

    U.S. officials have not publicly spelled out their timetable for an initial drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but the expectation is that a reduction from the current total of about 12,000 to approximately 8,600 will begin after the signing of a U.S.-Taliban deal. The initial reduction is likely to stretch out over a period of weeks or months, and a conditions-based withdrawal to zero troops could follow.

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    Trump Admin Lacks Strategy to Fight Afghanistan’s Dangerous Heroin Trade: Watchdog

    The Trump administration says it’s on the brink of inking a deal with the Taliban that could pave the way for an end to America’s longest war.

    But despite the zeal to reach a political settlement with the militant Afghan group, the White House has neglected to address a major source of instability in the country – opium production – according to a government watchdog.

    The Trump administration does not have a current counter-narcotics strategy for Afghanistan, the special investigator who oversees U.S. spending in Afghanistan has found, even though that country is the source for 90 percent of the world’s heroin and Afghan the drug trade fuels a deadly insurgency against American troops.

    The drug trade is the Taliban’s cash cow. It funds the Islamic fundamentalist group’s fighters and pays for the bombs and weapons used to kill U.S. and Afghan security forces. Some fear that if the opium trade is not snuffed out, any U.S.-brokered peace deal could unravel – and Afghanistan could once again become a haven for terrorists.

    “It’s important that the United States have a clear, robust counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan because its drug trade constitutes a high-risk threat to our reconstruction and security goals there,” John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said in a statement to USA TODAY. “Afghanistan’s opium trade undermines our goals in several ways – by financing insurgent groups, fueling government corruption, eroding the legitimacy of the Afghan government, and exacting a devastating human and financial toll.”

    Richard Olson, a former State Department special representative for Afghanistan, said the problem must be part of the Afghanistan peace talks going forward.

    “The substantial revenue stream from narcotics production, which mostly flows to the Taliban right now, is actually one of the main drivers of the conflict,” Olson said at a Feb. 18 forum on the emerging U.S.-Taliban deal. “And so it is absolutely an issue that will have to be addressed.”

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    US-Taliban Agreement; Pakistan Urges Afghan Parties to ‘Seize Historic Opportunity’

    Pakistan Friday said it was looking forward to the February 29 peace agreement signing between US and Taliban, urging Afghan parties to “seize this historic opportunity and work out a comprehensive and inclusive political settlement”.

    The Foreign Office in its statement said: “Pakistan has consistently supported direct negotiations between the US and Taliban. From the outset, Pakistan has facilitated this process and contributed to its progress.”

    “We believe the signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement will pave the way for the next step of intra-Afghan negotiations,” the statement read.

    The FO expressed its hope for a comprehensive and inclusive political settlement for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    Abdullah’s Team Appointed New Governor of Sar-e Pul

    The “Stability and Partnership” team led by Abdullah Abdullah has appointed Muhammad Noor Rahmani as the new governor of Sar-e Pul province, local officials confirmed.

    A provincial council member of Sar-e Pul, Muhammad Asef Sadiqi told Reporterly that a number of the supporters of Abdullah Abdullah’s team backed by Gen. Abdul Rashid Dustom have entered the governor’s office and appointed Rahmani as the new governor for the province.

    According to Sadiqi, Noor Rahmani has worked as the head of provincial council and head of Hezb-e Junbish-e Islami party in Sar-e Pul.

    He noted that the government’s governor and Police commander are not currently in the province and no security measures have been taken against Abdullah’s team.

    In the meantime, Enayatullah Habibi one of the close figures of Muhammad Muhaqiq has been reportedly introduced as the deputy governor of Sar-e Pul.

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    Clashes Erupted Between Taliban, Afghan Forces After ‘Reduction in Violence’ Begins

    Afghan local officials have confirmed that the Taliban group stormed the center of Zareh district of Balkh province after the plan of “Reeducation in Violence” started at 00:00am (local time) on Saturday.

    The spokesman of Balkh governor, Munir Ahmad Farhad told Reporterly, “The Taliban insurgents attacked the center of Zareh district from different fronts after 00:00am.”

    According to Farhad, the Taliban’s attack has been thwarted by Afghan security forces and the situation becomes normal.

    However, the Taliban group has not commented regarding the incident so far.

    This comes a week-long partial truce came into effect across Afghanistan early Saturday at 00:00am, with the Taliban, the US and Afghan forces all signed up to a lull that could be a turning point in the long conflict.

    If the so-called “reduction in violence” holds, it will be a major step towards withdrawing U.S. troops after more than 18 years — and launching Afghanistan into an uncertain future.

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    Russia Expresses Concern over Worsening Situation After Afghan Election Results

    Russia has voiced concerns over worsening political situation after the release of the final results of presidential elections as key contenders including Abdullah Abdullah rejected the final outcome of the polls.

    “Russia is concerned about the controversy around the results of the presidential election in Afghanistan, which could further worsen the political situation in the country. All this could have a negative impact on the launch of an inter-Afghan peace process,” a spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova said.

    Zakharova also declared: “We noted that Ashraf Ghani’s key rival in the presidential campaign – Chief Executive of the Unity Government Abdullah Abdullah – did not recognize the results announced by the Election Commission and announced the creation of a parallel government. There is information that other presidential contenders may support this position.”

    “We urge all of the country’s political forces to find an effective solution to the current situation, that will meet the interests of the Afghan people and help them establish lasting peace in Afghanistan,” she added.

    The Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced the final election results late on Tuesday, declaring Ashraf Ghani as the President of Afghanistan.

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    UN Chief, Iran FM Discuss Afghanistan’s Latest Developments

    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Secretary General of United Nations Antonio Guterres discussed the latest developments in Afghanistan on phone.

    According to the ministry’s Information Dissemination Department, Zarif and Guterres dealt with the latest situation in Afghanistan late on Friday.

    Zarif had recently met with Guterres in Munich Security Conference in Germany.

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    Afghan Peace Talks on Right Track: Pakistani PM

    Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has expressed his optimism about peace and stability in Afghanistan through a possible agreement between the United States and the Taliban, saying for the first time things were moving in the right direction.

    “…It is for the first time things moving in the right direction, the Americans wanting peace and dialogue with the Taliban and the Taliban are now sitting with the Americans. The next phase would be a ceasefire and then possibly an agreement,” Imran Khan said in an interview with VRT, a Belgian broadcaster.

    The prime minister said since his government came to power, he had left no stone unturned so that there would be peace in Afghanistan, and fortunately things were moving in the right direction.

    He, however, added that It was not going to be so easy because there had been 19 years of conflict.

  • 22 Feb 2020 Share this post

    Afghan Banks to Open Branches in Chabahar Port

    Iran has approved two Afghan banks to open branches in its southeastern strategic port of Chabahar, ILNA reported quoting the Secretary General of Iran-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce Mozafar Alikhani.

    There are strong economic ties between the two countries in terms of cultural, linguistic and historical commonalities, and many of Afghan traders are familiar with the patterns of trade and consumption in Iran, he said.

    Mentioning the banking relations between the two countries, the official said: “The Central Bank of Afghanistan had earlier canceled Aryan Bank’s license for activity in that country, but the bank has been re-licensed and is preparing to start operations in the near future.”