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Afghan army collapse ‘took us all by surprise,’ US defense secretary says

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(Last Updated On: September 29, 2021)

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress on Tuesday that the Afghan army’s sudden collapse caught the Pentagon “by surprise,” as military leaders confronted a contentious Senate hearing about how and why America lost its longest war.

Republican lawmakers accused President Joe Biden of lying about recommendations from his military that some troops should be kept in Afghanistan. Even Biden’s Democrats expressed frustration with a chaotic withdrawal that left U.S. troops dead and American citizens behind.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Frank McKenzie of U.S. Central Command also acknowledged being caught off-guard by the speed of the Taliban takeover and collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

It was their first public congressional testimony since the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) won the war in August.

“The fact that the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away – in many cases without firing a shot – took us all by surprise,” Austin, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“It would be dishonest to claim otherwise.”

McKenzie and Milley testified that they had believed it would have been best to keep a minimum of 2,500 troops in the country. In an August interview Biden denied his commanders had recommended that, saying: “No. No one said that to me that I can recall.”

Milley refused to be drawn on whether Biden had lied when pressed by Republican Senator Dan Sullivan

“I’m not going to categorize a statement of the President of the United States,” Milley said.

He said that the U.S. missed warning signs about the coming failure of “leadership and will” in its Afghan allies that ultimately led to their collapse.

Republican Senator Joni Ernst said Biden’s decision to keep former President Donald Trump’s unconditional withdrawal agreement with the IEA had squandered U.S. sacrifices for what he thought would be “a cheap political victory.”

“The loss of our service members, and abandonment of Americans and Afghan allies last month was an unforced, disgraceful humiliation that didn’t have to happen,” Ernst said.

Senator James Inhofe, the panel’s top Republican, described it as a “horror of the president’s own making.”

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said Biden’s military experts had provided “a range of viewpoints” about Afghanistan, and that Biden believed leaving troops there would “mean war with the Taliban (IEA).”

Milley, the top U.S. military officer, noted military warnings since late 2020 that an accelerated, unconditional withdrawal could precipitate the collapse of the Afghan military and government.

“That was a year ago. My assessment remained consistent throughout,” Milley said.

Austin, Milley and senators – many of whom oversaw the war effort for years – seemed full of questions about what went wrong, citing failures to appreciate the impact of corruption and damaged morale in the ranks.

“There’s a series of strategic lessons to be learned,” Milley said.

Democrats faulted Republicans for blaming Biden, who has been president since January, for everything that went wrong during the 20 years U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan, including under Trump.

“Anyone who says the last few months were a failure, but everything before that was great, clearly hasn’t been paying attention,” Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said.

Austin praised U.S. personnel who helped airlift 124,000 people out of the country.

But Milley acknowledged that while the evacuation effort was a logistical accomplishment, the withdrawal was a “strategic defeat”.

He warned that the IEA has not broken ties with al Qaeda.

A reconstituted al Qaeda in Afghanistan with aspirations to attack the United States was “a very real possibility” – perhaps in as little as a year, he said.

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IEA wraps up first day of talks with Norwegian authorities

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(Last Updated On: January 24, 2022)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) said on Monday members of their delegation, led by acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, to Norway met with Norwegian officials on Sunday and discussed issues related to the current situation in the country.

According to a statement issued by the (IEA), “a one-day joint meeting was held between officials of the acting Afghan government and a number of personalities in Oslo, the capital of the Kingdom of Norway”.

“During the meeting, the participants listened patiently to each others’ opinions and exchanged views on the current situation in the country.

“They affirmed that Afghanistan is the shared home of all Afghans, and stressed that all Afghans need to work together for the political, economic and security prosperity of the country.

 “The participants of the meeting recognized that understanding and joint cooperation are the only solutions to all the problems of Afghanistan,” read the statement.

The IEA also said all participants declared such meetings to be in the interest of the country.

Speaking at the end of the first day of talks, IEA delegate Shafiullah Azam told The Associated Press that the meetings with Western officials were “a step to legitimize (the) Afghan government,” adding that “this type of invitation and communication will help (the) European community, (the) U.S. or many other countries to erase the wrong picture of the Afghan government.”

Norway’s Foreign Ministry meanwhile said in a statement last week that Afghan representatives have been invited to Oslo from  23-25 January to meet Norwegian authorities, the international community, and other Afghans.

The statement noted that the meetings do not represent a legitimization or recognition of the IEA “but the de facto authorities must be talked with so that we prevent political situation leading to a worse humanitarian disaster”.

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Pakistan’s PM renews call for humanitarian aid for Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2022)

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday reiterated calls for the international community to provide urgent humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

Khan said in a tweet that under the UN Principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), it was obligatory to help protect people from the mass-scale humanitarian crisis left in the wake of a prolonged conflict.

“Right now millions of Afghan people are in danger of starvation,” he said adding it was the “duty of the international community to provide humanitarian assistance.”

UN agencies have warned that more than 23 million people are at risk of starvation if aid is not provided.

Earlier this month, the UN agencies launched a call for $4.5 billion in aid for 2022, its biggest-ever international appeal. The US responded with a donation of $308 million to be channeled through independent humanitarian organizations.

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IEA delegation arrives in Norway for humanitarian talks

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2022)

Representatives of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) arrived in Norway on Saturday (January 22) for three days of talks due to start on Sunday (January 23) on how to alleviate a humanitarian crisis.

Millions of Afghans have been plunged deeper into poverty since last year’s IEA takeover, which resulted in disruption to aid programmes and deteriorating food security.

The IEA representatives will meet Norwegian authorities as well as diplomats from several other countries from January 23 to January 25.

“These meetings do not represent a legitimisation or recognition of the Taliban [IEA]. But we must talk to the de facto authorities in the country,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said in a statement.

According to the Norwegian foreign ministry, meetings will also take place between the IEA delegation and Afghan civil society members, including women leaders, journalists, and “individuals working to safeguard human rights and address humanitarian, economic, social and political issues”.

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