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Biden administration considering a 6-month extension for US forces in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: March 19, 2021)

Washington is considering a six-month extension for US forces in Afghanistan, media outlets reported on Friday.

No final decision has been made, the official emphasized. NBC News first reported that a six-month extension is under consideration.

The official noted that the US will want to get the Taliban to agree to the extension. Other options are still on the table, including a full withdrawal by May 1, but a sign of President Joe Biden’s current thinking came this week when he told ABC News he didn’t think it would “take a lot longer,” and said a full withdrawal by May 1 “could happen, but it is tough.”

“I’m in the process of making that decision now as to when they’ll leave. The fact is, that was not a very solidly negotiated deal that the President — the former President — worked out. So, we’re in consultation with our allies as well as the government, and that decision’s — it’s in process now,” Biden told ABC.

This comes after a report from an influential Afghanistan study group co-chaired by former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford recommended a more flexible timeline based on conditions such as reduced violence.

One critical problem is the current agreement with the Taliban does not acknowledge potentially hundreds of US special operations forces in the country that are not part of the current group of 2,500 US troops there. If they stay to help with counter-terrorism missions beyond a drawdown, the US may have to broadly acknowledge that presence.

Several defense officials previously told CNN that the US-led NATO alliance would like to see decisions taken no later than April 1 because of the challenges of removing US weaponry and equipment, amid concerns about some of it falling into the hands of the Taliban.

A Pentagon report said the full withdrawal could be devastating to “the survival of the Afghan state as we know it.”

But as Biden weighs his options, the US military continues its operations in the country, having conducted airstrikes there this week targeting the Taliban in Kandahar.

US airstrikes in recent days targeted “Taliban fighters actively attacking and maneuvering on (Afghan National Security Forces) positions” in Kandahar, US Forces Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said in a tweet on Wednesday.

The Taliban “strongly condemned” the US airstrikes on Kandahar, with spokesman Qari Mohammad Yusuf Ahmadi affirming that Taliban members were killed and injured, but not specifying how many.

Ahmadi called the attacks “a clear violation of the Doha Agreement, which cannot be justified in any way.”

The “Doha Agreement,” signed by the US and the Taliban just more than a year ago in Doha, Qatar, set out a series of commitments by both sides relating to troop levels, counterterrorism and the intra-Afghan dialogue aimed at bringing about “a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”

Currently Washington official reports there are 2,500 US troops in the country but last week New York Times reported there are at least 3,500 US soldiers in Afghanistan.
That’s 1,000 more than Washington has disclosed.

The NYT reported the “cloudy accounting” around troops numbers results from some Special Forces units having been put “off the books”.

According to a senior US official, the presence of some temporary and transitioning units also accounted for the additional troops.

A second official told NYT that these troops include Joint Special Operations Command units, some of them elite Army Rangers, who work under both the Pentagon and the CIA while deployed to Afghanistan.

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US ‘deeply troubled’ by attacks on civilians as Taliban sweep across Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: July 28, 2021)

The United States said on Wednesday it was deeply troubled by reports of escalating attacks on civilians as the Taliban sweep across Afghanistan and Washington pulls out its last remaining troops and ends its longest war.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on a visit to India, said the only path to peace in Afghanistan was through negotiations, which all parties must take seriously.

Taliban insurgents have captured districts across Afghanistan and seized vital border control points in recent weeks, as Washington withdraws its last troops after 20 years. The Pentagon now estimates that the fighters control more than half of Afghanistan‘s district centres.

The surge has raised the prospect that the militants could return to power. Millions of people fled their extreme violence during their last period of rule from 1996-2001, when they staged public executions of their foes, banned women from work and education and hosted Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.

The Taliban say they will treat civilians well if they return to power, and will not allow the country to be used as a base for international terrorism.

Describing reports of attacks on civilians as “deeply, deeply troubling”, Blinken said: “An Afghanistan that commits atrocities against its own people would become a pariah state.

“There’s only one path, and that’s at the negotiating table, to resolve the conflict peacefully.”

The United Nations reported this week that civilian casualties had been surging in recent weeks, with as many killed in May-June as in the previous four months. The report did not cover casualties in July, when fighting has intensified further.

Afghans in government-held areas have been alarmed by domestic media reports in recent days of abductions and killings of civilians in areas where the Taliban have advanced. The Taliban deny they are carrying out revenge killings.

U.S. President Joe Biden has ordered all U.S. troops out of the country, fulfilling a policy pledge made by his predecessor Donald Trump, despite warnings from American generals of the potential for renewed civil war without foreign troops to protect the Kabul government.

Peace talks between the government and the Taliban in Qatar have largely stalled, with the Taliban showing little interest in negotiating while they are gaining on the battlefield.

CHINA HOSTS TALIBAN DELEGATION

Taliban delegations have visited neighbouring countries in recent weeks, gaining international standing for a movement that had been treated as outcasts and banned as terrorists for most of the past two decades.

The latest regional power to host them was China, whose Foreign Minister Wang Yi met a nine-person delegation led by Taliban deputy leader Mullah Baradar Akhund in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin during a two-day visit.

Wang said the Taliban were expected to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan“, according to a readout of the meeting from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Taliban delegations have also visited Iran and Russia in recent weeks. The group has an office in Qatar.

“Politics, economy and issues related to the security of both countries and the current situation of Afghanistan and the peace process were discussed in the meetings,” Taliban spokesperson Mohammed Naeem tweeted about the China visit.

“(The) delegation assured China that they will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China,” Naeem said. “China also reiterated its commitment of continuation of their assistance with Afghans and said they will not interfere in Afghanistan‘s issues but will help to solve the problems and restoration of peace in the country.”

Moscow, which fought for a decade in Afghanistan in the 1980s, said it was beefing up the combat capabilities at its military base in Tajikistan, a small former Soviet republic that borders Afghanistan.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, visiting Tajikistan on Wednesday, said the security situation had rapidly deteriorated in Afghanistan during a “hasty” U.S. withdrawal.

Shoigu said Islamic State fighters were moving into Afghanistan from countries including Syria and Libya, describing their arrival as “quite seriously organised”.

“We are paying increased attention to strengthening the combat capabilities of our base and refining plans to jointly repel possible insurgent infiltration,” he said.

A senior Russian diplomat has said Moscow views Taliban gains in northern Afghanistan as having a security upside because the group is hostile to what Russia regards as more dangerous Islamist extremists.

Russia is set to hold military drills on Aug. 5-10 near Tajikistan’s Afghan border, involving more than 1,000 Russian soldiers as well as Uzbek and Tajik forces.

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China says Taliban expected to play ‘important’ Afghan peace role

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(Last Updated On: July 28, 2021)

China told a visiting Taliban delegation on Wednesday it expected the insurgent group to play an important role in ending Afghanistan‘s war and rebuilding the country, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

Nine Taliban representatives met Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin on a two-day visit during which the peace process and security issues were discussed, a Taliban spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that China had informed the government about the Taliban visit to China.

According to the Ministry, the visit reflects China’s concerns over the security situation in Afghanistan, the presence of foreign militants alongside the

Taliban, and the country’s support for peace talks and political agreements.

China has expressed its deep concerns over recent attacks of the Taliban, “which have resulted in the increasing killing of innocent people and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.”

China has also called on the Taliban to cut ties with “regional and international terrorists.”

Wang said the Taliban is expected to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan“, according to a readout of the meeting from the foreign ministry.

He also said that he hoped the Taliban would crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as it was a “direct threat to China’s national security,” according to the readout, referring to a group China says is active in the Xinjiang region in China’s far west.

The visit was likely to further cement the insurgent group’s recognition on the international stage at a sensitive time even as violence increases in Afghanistan. The militants have a political office in Qatar where peace talks are taking place and this month sent representatives to Iran where they had meetings with an Afghan government delegation.

“Politics, economy and issues related to the security of both countries and the current situation of Afghanistan and the peace process were discussed in the meetings,” Taliban spokesperson Mohammed Naeem tweeted about the China visit.

Naeem added that the group, led by Taliban negotiator and deputy leader Mullah Baradar Akhund, was also meeting China’s special envoy for Afghanistan and that the trip took place after an invitation from Chinese authorities.

Security in Afghanistan, with which China shares a border, has been deteriorating fast as the United States withdraws its troops by September. The Taliban has launched a flurry of offensives, taking districts and border crossings around the country while peace talks in Qatar’s capital have not made substantive progress.

“(The) delegation assured China that they will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China,” Naeem said. “China also reiterated its commitment of continuation of their assistance with Afghans and said they will not interfere in Afghanistan‘s issues but will help to solve the problems and restoration of peace in the country.”

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Universities to reopen once students and staff have been vaccinated

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(Last Updated On: July 28, 2021)

The Afghan Ministry of Higher Education said Wednesday that classroom-based lessons will resume at universities in 11 provinces within the next 10 days once all students and staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The ministry said this includes Kabul University.

Addressing a press conference in Kabul, the minister, Abbas Basir, said once all students around the country have been vaccinated, all universities will reopen.

“We call on all [staff and students at] public and private higher education institutions to be vaccinated over the next two weeks; and if the whole country is vaccinated within fifteen days, training can resume in all provinces by August 12.

“We have asked all universities and each province to implement the vaccine campaign within two weeks and students to use this opportunity,” Basir said.

Meanwhile, a number of students who have already been vaccinated have called on all non-vaccinated students to get their vaccines so that classes can resume as normal.

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