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As US prepared exit, Taliban protected foreign bases, but killed Afghans

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(Last Updated On: May 1, 2021)

Taliban fighters have protected western military bases in Afghanistan from attacks by rival, or rogue Islamist groups for over a year under a secret annex to a pact for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by May 1, three Western officials with knowledge of the agreement told Reuters.

The U.S. State Department gave no immediate response to Reuters over the existence of any such document. Nor did it have any immediate comment on what the three officials described as a “Taliban ring of protection”.

Since United States struck a deal with the Taliban in February 2020, paving the way for America to end its longest war, there have been no U.S. combat deaths, and there have been only isolated attacks on U.S. bases, Reuters reported.

Instead, the Taliban intensified attacks on Afghan government forces, and civilian casualties have spiralled.

Peace talks between the militants and the government, begun in September, have made no significant progress, and a U.N. report said civilian casualties were up 45% in the last three months of 2020 from a year earlier.

Testing Taliban patience, U.S. President Joe Biden served notice that the U.S. withdrawal would overshoot the May 1 deadline agreed by the previous U.S. administration, while giving an assurance that it would be completed by September 11 – the 20th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

When the deadline passes on Saturday, around 2,000 U.S. troops will still be in Afghanistan, according to a western security official in Kabul. The commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General Scott Miller earlier this week said an orderly withdrawal and the handing over of military bases and equipment to Afghan forces had begun.

Afghan soldiers left manning those bases could need plenty of firepower to resist any offensive by Taliban fighters who have been occupying strategic positions in surrounding areas, Reuters reported.

In the past two weeks alone, the militants have killed more than 100 Afghan security personnel in a surge of attacks that followed Biden’s announcement that a U.S. withdrawal would take a few months more.

Two of the Western officials said Washington had accepted the Taliban’s offer to shield the western military bases from attacks by the likes of Islamic State (Daesh).

Reuters reported the officials said the Taliban had wanted to demonstrate good faith by meeting a commitment to ensure Afghan soil was not used for attacks on U.S. interests – a key U.S. demand in the February agreement.

“They provided a layer of cover, almost like a buffer and ordered their fighters to not injure or kill any foreign soldier in this period,” said one western diplomat involved in the process.

The western officials said it was also important for the Taliban to show its ability to control the more recalcitrant factions in its movement, like the Haqqani network, which has often followed its own agenda, though its leader Sirajuddin Haqqani is the second-highest ranking commander in the Taliban.

A Kabul-based western security official said that militants had kept their side of the bargain.

“The Taliban swiftly responded to even minor attacks conducted by the Haqqani network and Islamic State fighters around the bases,” he said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid declined to comment on the so-called “ring of protection” agreement.

More broadly, he said no security guarantee has been given to the United States beyond Saturday’s deadline, but talks were underway among the group’s leadership and with the U.S. side.

“So far our commitment of not attacking the foreign forces is until May 1, after that whether we will attack or not is an issue under discussion,” said Mujahid.

Mullah Baradar, the Taliban’s deputy political chief, held talks with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to discuss the peace process on Thursday, another militant spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said in a Twitter post.

Clearly having the militants holding positions around Western bases presents a danger if no understanding is reached, Reuters reported.

“They’ve definitely moved ever closer to a lot of Afghan and foreign bases,” said Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think-tank.

“Encircling U.S., NATO, and Afghan bases seems like the Taliban strategy to poise themselves to take over when foreign forces leave.”

Afghan defence ministry spokesman Fawad Aman said the Taliban had ramped up violence against the Afghan people and their government, while holding fire against foreign forces.

More than 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed and almost 5,800 were wounded in 2020, according to a United Nation report.

“By not attacking the foreign forces but continuously targeting the Afghan security forces and civilians, the Taliban have shown that they are fighting against the people of Afghanistan,” Aman said.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, sympathised with that view, saying: “they have every right to lambaste a U.S.-Taliban agreement for failing to bring a semblance of relief to Afghans themselves.”

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IEA eager for dialogue with the world: China’s Wang Yi

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(Last Updated On: October 27, 2021)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) officials are eager to have dialogue with the rest of the world, and the international community should help Afghanistan with its development, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Wednesday.

In an address delivered by video link to a conference in Iran on Afghanistan, Wang said Beijing was ready to host further talks between Afghanistan and its neighbours on the country’s future.

“The Taliban (IEA) are eager to have dialogue with the world … China will host the third Neighbours of Afghanistan meeting at the appropriate time,” Wang said in comments broadcast live by Iranian state TV.

The meeting of Afghanistan and neighbouring countries was attended in person by the foreign ministers of Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and China and Russia participated by video link.

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Iran says IEA must ensure security to all Afghans and borders

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(Last Updated On: October 27, 2021)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Wednesday at the opening of a conference on Afghanistan in Tehran that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) are responsible for the security of all Afghans and the country’s borders.

Addressing delegates from Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, and Russia, Amir-Abdollahian said: “We must emphasize that the responsibility of security for Afghan citizens, as well as security at the borders of this country with its neighbors, first of all lies with the ruling council temporarily in charge of Afghanistan.”

Iran also called on the IEA to ensure the Shiite community in Afghanistan is provided security. This comes after recent attacks, claimed by Daesh, targeted this minority group in the country.

The Iranian foreign minister also called on the international community “to pay special attention” to political and humanitarian problems, as well as to terrorism, narcotics trafficking and women’s rights in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, the Iranian foreign ministry called on the IEA, which was not invited to the meeting, to form an inclusive government and prevent violence.

“The people of Afghanistan are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, including food, medicine and vaccines to combat Covid,” Amir- Abdollahian told the second meeting of Afghanistan’s foreign ministers.

He said: “Considering the fact that aid should be distributed in such a way that people can benefit from it in a fair way.”

“Given the ubiquity of the UN umbrella, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s proposal is to request the Secretary-General of the Organization to make a concerted effort and, if necessary, mediate between the Afghan parties to reach an agreement on the future political structure of the country,” he said.

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Nato was a political failure in Afghanistan: UK’s defence secretary

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(Last Updated On: October 27, 2021)

Nato’s political campaign in Afghanistan was a failure, the UK’s defence secretary said on Tuesday but insisted the western alliance had not suffered a military defeat at the hands of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA).

Speaking to the Commons defence committee on Tuesday afternoon, Wallace said Nato forces could have stayed on in the country, but a “rotten deal” struck by Donald Trump’s US government led to the IEA’s triumphant return, the Guardian reported.

It was “highly likely” that there would now be a renewed threat from al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, Wallace said. But, he added: “For 20 years we were safer, so we can bank that.

“I don’t think that we were defeated. Our resolve was found wanting, I would say, rather than defeated,” he said.

“Nato were there to enable a political campaign and I think that is what failed. The military were there to put in place the security environment in order to try and deliver that.

“When that is withdrawn, that is when you find out whether your political campaign has worked. What we discovered is it didn’t work. It was the western resolve and the western narrative or political foundations they had laid failed. There are a lot of searching questions there for all of us.”

He added: “I think it is highly likely that we will see a return to al-Qaeda and an increasing threat coming from Afghanistan.”

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