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Afghan special forces kill senior Daesh militant

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(Last Updated On: August 2, 2020)

The Afghan intelligence service said late Saturday it had killed a high ranking Daesh operative in an operation in eastern Afghanistan.

A statement released by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said Assadullah Orakzai was an intelligence leader for Daesh and had been killed by special forces near Jalalabad.

Orakzai was suspected of being involved in several deadly attacks against both military and civilian targets in Afghanistan, the NDS said.

Daesh in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility for countless attacks in the country over the past few years. 

Just in March, a lone Daesh attacker killed at least 25 people at a Sikh temple in Kabul. 

While worshippers were performing rituals, a man armed with hand grenades and wearing a suicide vest stormed the temple complex in a crowded part of the city.

More than 200 people were inside when the siege began. It took security officials nearly seven hours to kill the assailant, who was wearing a military uniform.

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US peace envoy: Taliban have not complied with their commitments

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(Last Updated On: September 23, 2020)

In his testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security  US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad said the Taliban have not fully complied with their commitments under the February agreement with the US. 

As part of the agreement, the Taliban need to cut ties with al-Qaeda but according to Khalilzad, although the Taliban have made some progress in this respect the group still has more to accomplish. 

Khalilzad said: “With regard to terrorism and al-Qaeda, in this setting, what I can say is the Talibs have taken some steps, based on the commitment they have made, positive steps, but they have some distance still to go. … [W]e are in the middle of the process.  The picture is one of progress but it’s not completed.” 

The Subcommittee also heard testimony from David F. Helvey, who is performing the duties of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs at the Department of Defense. He also said the Taliban has not yet fulfilled its end of the deal. 

“[S]o far, they are not fully compliant, so we have work to be done there. I think we know that [and] the Taliban knows it.”

As part of the deal, the US agreed to withdraw its troops by April next year – and have since February gradually reduced its numbers in Afghanistan. 

Already down from 13,000 to 8,600 a further troop withdrawal to 4,500 is expected by November. 

Both Khalilzad and Helvey testified that the path to a sustainable reconciliation agreement between Afghanistan and the Taliban will be complicated, and high levels of violence remain an obstacle to peace.

Khalilzad stated: “While we have reasons to be hopeful, we are under no illusions about the challenges ahead. The conflict in Afghanistan is especially complex, and negotiators will have to overcome personal interests and political differences while representing diverse constituencies.  We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles.” 

He also stated: “The Afghan people will suffer if there is no peace agreement.”

 Helvey testified: “Taliban violence, quite frankly, has been unacceptably high for too long.” 

He also said that terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Khorasan (ISIS-K) and al-Qaeda still aspire to threaten US national security interests and that “a strong and capable ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] focused on combating terrorist threats and defending the Afghan people is going to be our best chance at supporting and defending US interests.”

In his summary to the House, Khalilzad said the US’ strategy going forward is twofold. 

“One, continue holding the Taliban to the commitments they made in the February 29 agreement, including on combatting international terrorism and discussing a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire at Afghanistan Peace Negotiations. 

“Two, adjust our force posture consistent with the agreement and conditions in Afghanistan. We are on a path to reduce troop levels to between 4,000 and 5,000 and with further reductions possible based on conditions. 

“I want to assure this committee that we will always maintain the ability to protect the United States, but staying in Afghanistan is not an end in and of itself. Our goal for Afghanistan is a nation at peace — with itself and its neighbors — and firmly aligned with the United States and our allies against international terrorism.”

Khalilzad reiterated that the conflict in Afghanistan is especially complex, and negotiators will have to overcome personal interests and political differences while representing diverse constituencies. 

“We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles. This task has required a diverse and dynamic team, made up of State Department Foreign Service Officers, civil servants, and detailees from across the US government. We have also partnered closely and effectively with the Department of Defense, especially General Scott Miller, the commanding general of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. 

“This whole-of-government effort reflects the best of American diplomacy,” he said. 

Khalilzad was appointed as the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation in September 2018, with a mandate to find a diplomatic formula to bring an end to America’s longest war, reduce the burden on the US military and taxpayer, provide the best chance for a unified and representative Afghanistan at peace and to ensure terrorists can never us Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States or its allies again. 

After 18 months of intense diplomacy, two milestones have been achieved – the US-Taliban agreement in February and the start of Afghan peace talks which are currently underway in Doha. 

TO READ AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD’S FULL SUMMARY CLICK HERE 

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Khalilzad testifies before House Committee, says pact with Pakistan possible

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(Last Updated On: September 22, 2020)

Testifying before the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security about the Trump administration’s Afghanistan policy, US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington and its allies were looking at an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan so that neither side’s territory would be used to attack the other. 

He also said the level of violence in Afghanistan was unacceptably high and that setbacks during talks are expected. 

“By any measure, current levels of violence are too high,” he told the hearing but said, “we know that reductions are possible.”

Talks between the Afghan negotiating team and the Taliban started in Doha on September 12 but few details have been given since the opening ceremony, except that both sides appear to be disagreeing on a number of basic issues. 

One of the key concerns among Afghans however is that women’s rights might not be preserved under a possible peace deal. 

Asked about this by the Democrats during the hearing, Khalilzad said: “I want to assure the Afghan women that we will be with them.”

He said: “While we have reasons to be hopeful, we are under no illusions about the challenges ahead. … We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles.” 

He also said Washington and its allies were looking at an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan so that neither side’s territory would be used to attack the other.

“We’re hoping that by the time that these other negotiations are over, we could also achieve success in that regard,” Khalilzad said.

Afghanistan has for years accused Pakistan of supporting Taliban militants but Pakistan denies doing so and in turn, accuses Afghanistan of supporting militants fighting Islamabad.

The US signed a pact with the Taliban in February, that was conditions-based, in order to bring the Afghan government and Taliban to the talks tables. 

One of the agreements on the part of the US was a gradual drawdown of troops, until a full troop withdrawal in April next year. 

Since the February agreement, US troop levels are down to 8,600 from 13,000 and are to be reduced further to about 4,500 by November. 

David Helvey, who is performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told the subcommittee hearing the Pentagon was carrying out “prudent planning” to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by May 2021 if conditions were met.

He added that for now, Defense Secretary Mark Esper had not issued any orders to go below 4,000 troops.

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Afghanistan’s ‘cricket is proof that dreams come true’: ACB director

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(Last Updated On: September 22, 2020)

The Director of Cricket at Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB), Raees Ahmadzai said on Tuesday that with hard work and determination “dreams do come true” and that Afghanistan’s cricket is proof of this. 

Representing the ACB at a virtual meeting of the Asian Cricket Council, attended by both full-members and some associate members, Ahmadzai provided details on the country’s achievements and on its challenges. 

According to the ACB, Ahmadzai also discussed the enormous potential of talent in the country – especially with spin bowlers. 

He said: “Without doubt with hard work and determination, dreams do come true and Afghanistan Cricket is a living example of it. Afghan cricketers have been through various hurdles and struggles to enjoy its results today.”

The participants, which also included officials from the International Cricket Council (ICC), recognized Afghanistan Cricket Board’s efforts to promote the game in the war-torn country. 

The meeting came just a day after ACB’s acting CEO Nazeem Abdul Rahimzai met with the governor of Nangarhar Ziaulhaq Amarkheil to discuss progress around the construction of the new Behsud cricket grounds in Jalalabad. 

Construction started about six weeks ago and phase one, which involves the leveling of the ground, is expected to be completed in the next month. 

Rahimzai asked for the governor’s assistance on some issues relating to the project and “was fully assured of full support by the local government,” an ACB statement read. 

Amarkheil meanwhile said cricket in the province should be a priority and said the project would be completed on time. 

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