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Al-Qaeda ‘very active’ in Afghanistan: U.S. Commander

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(Last Updated On: April 13, 2016)

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Afghanistan’s top defense official has warned that al Qaeda — the reason the United States first invaded Afghanistan — is “very active” and a “big threat” in the country.

A senior U.S. official said they were concerned about al Qaeda leaders in remote areas of the country and there may be many more core operatives in Afghanistan than previously thought.

The warnings of al Qaeda’s resurgence come as Afghanistan faces perhaps the most significant summer fighting season in decades, with government security forces facing huge internal challenges, the Taliban both gaining ground and building links to al Qaeda, and ISIS increasing its footprint in the country.

Acting Defense Minister Masoom Stanikzai told CNN that al Qaeda were keeping a low profile but expanding.

“They are really very active. They are working in quiet and reorganizing Afghanistan’s top defense official has warned that al Qaeda — the reason the United States first invaded Afghanistan — is “very active” and a “big threat” in the country.

A senior U.S. official said they were concerned about al Qaeda leaders in remote areas of the country and there may be many more core operatives in Afghanistan than previously thought.

The warnings of al Qaeda’s resurgence come as Afghanistan faces perhaps the most significant summer fighting season in decades, with government security forces facing huge internal challenges, the Taliban both gaining ground and building links to al Qaeda, and ISIS increasing its footprint in the country.

“They are working behind other networks, giving them support and the experience they had in different places. And double their resources and recruitment and other things. That is how — they are not talking too much. They are not making press statements. It is a big threat.”

Major General Jeff Buchanan, Deputy Chief of Staff for the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, said the recent discovery and destruction of an al Qaeda training camp in Kandahar province meant previous U.S. estimates of the group’s strength were being revised.

“If you go back to last year, there were a lot of intel estimates that said within Afghanistan al Qaeda probably has 50 to 100 members, but in this one camp we found more than 150.”

He admitted there was a gap in U.S. knowledge of the problem, and warned the group’s core focus was still attacking the West.

“There’s not thousands of them, but clearly in remote parts of Afghanistan there are al Qaeda leaders we’re concerned about and what they’re capable of doing.”

U.S. officials said the number of core al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan could be as high as 300, but that number does include other facilitators and sympathizers in their network.

The now-destroyed training camp — attacked in a lengthy operation by U.S. special forces and Afghan commandos in October — showed a high degree of sophistication “with ties back to al Qaeda and a subset called al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent,” Buchanan said.

“To find them in Afghanistan was quite troubling.”

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent has not previously been associated much with Afghanistan. The discovery of any presence of them in the country raises concerns Afghanistan is once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorist networks whose main focus is attacks outside Afghanistan, including the West.

Stanikzai also expressed concern over growing ties between al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The Afghan militant group was thought to have regretted its decision to harbor Osama bin Laden before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, because it led the U.S. to launch a war to remove them from power.

Yet since Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour became leader in mid-2015, the group has grown closer to al Qaeda. The Taliban’s current deputy commander, Siraj Haqqani, is the head of the feared Haqqani militant network and al Qaeda’s top facilitator in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials.

“The big cover is the Taliban,” said Stanikzai.

“They need the fighters, they need the support and they need recruitment from other places, and this is why (the Taliban) embrace them.”

U.S. General John Campbell, former commander in Afghanistan, has referred to a “renewed partnership between the two groups. Buchanan said the relationship has since “grown stronger.”

This burgeoning partnership poses a problem for any attempt by the U.S. and Afghan governments to negotiate a political settlement with the Taliban.

Official U.S. policy is that the militant group must renounce international terrorism before any talks begin. Yet analysts fear the opposite is occurring, with the Taliban-al Qaeda relationship only growing stronger.

The Taliban have also openly stated they are not currently interested in peace talks, though U.S. and Afghan officials insist some moderates do want to talk.

“Many leaders in the Taliban are willing to enter into constructive peace talks,” Stanikzai said.

“From a military point of view, we have to have the flexibility to target them. When it comes to negotiation, you cannot just burn everything.”

 CNN

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14 killed, including five children, in Daikundi roadside explosion

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(Last Updated On: September 29, 2020)

At least 14 people were killed on Tuesday morning when the vehicle they were traveling in hit a roadside bomb. 

The explosion happened in Kariz village in Kajran District, the Ministry of Interior confirmed. 

The incident happened at about 9am. Seventeen civilians had been in the vehicle at the time of the explosion. 

Those killed include seven women, five children and two men, officials confirmed. Three others were wounded.

A sharp rise in violence has been detected around the country in the past two months, with a marked increase in the use of IEDs by the Taliban – which largely affects civilians as they are planted along public roads. 

Afghan security forces have however been detecting and defusing hundreds of these explosive devices around the country each week – putting their own lives at risk to do so.

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Time to move past ‘conspiracy theories’, work together: Abdullah

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(Last Updated On: September 29, 2020)

Afghanistan’s chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation addressed an event at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad on Tuesday and said “peace is on the horizon” but that everyone needs to move beyond conspiracy theories, and “start looking at the region as one region.”

Everyone needs to draw on lessons learned and look at where the region could have been if the situation had been different, he said. 

Abdullah stated he cannot emphasize enough the importance of current peace efforts which will benefit the entire region. 

He told the delegates attending the event his job as the chairman of the HCNR is to help build consensus and promote reconciliation in order to seek a political settlement. 

Again he said Afghanistan is very different to what it was in 2001 and is inclusive and respects the rights of people.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to pay a high price because of terrorism, he said adding that there are groups working as spoilers of the peace process. 

He also stated that during his meeting with Pakistan’s national assembly on Monday night, he noticed the widespread interest in Pakistan to reach a peace settlement in Afghanistan. 

He said Afghanistan is grateful for the steps Pakistan has taken to date around the peace efforts and thanked Pakistan for hosting millions of Afghan refugees. 

Prior to Abdullah’s speech, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said: “We do not want to meddle in your [Afghanistan’s] internal affairs. We respect your sovereignty, your independence and your territorial integrity”. 

He said there had been “a paradigm shift”  and Pakistan wants to be friends, not masters. 

He also assured Kabul of Pakistan’s “complete support”.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will visit Pakistan soon. 

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Trump was ‘absolutely wrong’ to negotiate with Taliban: McMaster

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(Last Updated On: September 29, 2020)

The Trump administration has been “absolutely wrong” in its negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, former US national security adviser HR McMaster said Monday night.

Appearing on CNN International’s Amanpour show, McMaster was asked by host Christiane Amanpour about the White House’s talks with the Taliban as the administration works towards a complete troop withdrawal by April next year.

She asked whether McMaster believes “to fulfill a promise to pull all American forces from overseas that cozying up to the Taliban is a national security sensible thing for the United States to do right now.”

“I think that the Trump administration policy has been absolutely wrong since the negotiations began with the Taliban,” McMaster replied.

“What I think is paradoxical about this, regrettable about it, is the Trump administration has replicated almost precisely the fundamental flaws in the Obama administration approach to Afghanistan,” he said, “and that is this flawed assumption, this belief, that there’s this bold line between the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”

There is a tendency, he said, toward “strategic narcissism — defining the world as we would like it to be and then assuming what we do is decisive to the outcome, and in this case, creating the enemy we would prefer.”

McMaster said what worries him is what “power-sharing with the Taliban” looks like? 

“Is that mass executions in the soccer stadium every other Saturday? Is that every other girls’ school bulldozed?” he said. “So I’m very concerned that this negotiation process made too many concessions.”

“Forcing the Afghan government to release 5,000 of the most heinous people on earth who could form the backbone of a rejuvenated terrorist infrastructure as well as cutting a deal,” saying simply “just don’t plot against the United States,” he said.

He said there are brave Afghans fighting daily to preserve the freedoms that they have achieved since the end of the Taliban regime in 2001, implying Trump’s policy was going against everything the Afghan nation has been fighting for.

“About 30 Afghan soldiers and police give their lives every day” to protect the Afghan population against “these terrorists who commit mass murder of innocent people as their principle tactic in a war against all humanity.”

He said the Trump administration’s policy towards the Taliban “is a disaster” and “it’s something I hope can be reversed.”

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