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Biden tackles issue of bounties on US troops in Afghanistan with Putin

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(Last Updated On: January 27, 2021)

US President Joe Biden spoke on the phone on Tuesday night with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and raised the issue of bounties on US troops in Afghanistan.

This was Biden’s first discussion with Putin since his inauguration as US president.

According to VOA, Biden also expressed his concerns over the arrest of dissident Alexei Navalny, Moscow’s cyber-espionage campaign, and the bounties.

Two senior Biden administration officials told VOA that Biden’s stance appeared to mark another sharp break with that of former President Donald Trump, who often voiced delight at his warm relations with the Kremlin leader.

At the same time, according to US accounts of the call, Biden told Putin that Russia and the United States should complete a five-year extension of their nuclear arms control treaty before it expires in early February.

VOA reported that it was not immediately known how Putin responded to Biden raising contentious issues between the two countries.

But Biden told reporters Monday that despite disagreements with Moscow, he felt the US and Russia could both “operate in the mutual self-interest of our countries as a New START agreement and make it clear to Russia that we are very concerned about their behavior, whether it’s Navalny, whether it’s SolarWinds or reports of bounties on heads of Americans in Afghanistan.”

Shortly before his call with Putin, Biden spoke to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, reassuring him of the United States’s commitment to the Alliance.

During his White House tenure, Trump often quarreled with NATO allies, complaining they were not contributing enough money for their mutual defense.

The former president was often deferential to Putin, rejecting claims in the US from opposition Democrats that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US presidential election to help him win – a years-long saga that Trump derisively dismissed as “the Russia hoax.”

Last year, Trump also questioned whether Russia was involved in the hack of software manufactured by the US company SolarWinds that breached files at the departments of Commerce, Treasury and Energy.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Russia was “pretty clearly” behind the cyberattack, but Trump claimed the attack was being overplayed by the US media and that perhaps China was responsible, VOA reported.

Before taking office, Biden said, “I will not stand idly by in the face of cyber assaults on our nation.”

Trump had also dismissed claims that Russia offered the Taliban bounties to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan, another issue Biden pressed Putin on.

Despite his conciliatory approach to Russia, Trump imposed sanctions on the country, Russian companies and business leaders over various issues, including Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine and attacks on dissidents.

The Biden-Putin call followed pro-Navalny protests in more than 100 Russian cities last weekend, with more than 3,700 people arrested across Russia.

Navalny is an anti-corruption campaigner and Putin’s fiercest critic. He was arrested January 17 as he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering for nearly five months after a nerve-agent poisoning he claims was carried out by Russian agents, an accusation the Kremlin has rejected.

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US blames Taliban for high level of violence in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: February 25, 2021)

US Central Command chief, General Kenneth F. McKenzie on Thursday said the United States and NATO’s decision to withdraw troops will depend on conditions on the ground.

McKenzie also said that US and NATO in Afghanistan continue to support a negotiated settlement as the best possible outcome between the government and the Taliban going forward.

Speaking at a virtual Beirut Institute summit McKenzie said that the US still continues to see levels of violence that are way too high.

“I place a large measure of the blame on the Taliban who have continued to mount offensive operations and targeted killings of Afghan officials but the excessive violence has led the government to launch their own defensive operations to protect themselves – the violence while too high on both sides,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie also stressed that there is no sign that the Taliban had severed ties with al-Qaeda.

“In my clear judgment rests largely on the Taliban; we also continue to … look for signs of a Taliban break with al-Qaeda and I have not at this point seen any definitive signs that would lead to believe they’re prepared to or able to honor their obligations,” McKenzie added.

Meanwhile, a member of the negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan said the path to peace in Afghanistan is difficult because the Taliban have always relied on war and violence and see it as an effective way to gain power.

“Taliban strategy is still focused on war, targeted killings and assassinations take place in cities as part of the same strategy,” said Amin Ahmadi, member of the Republic’s negotiating team.

On the other hand the German government on Wednesday agreed to extend its military mandate in Afghanistan by at least another 10 months.

Germany’s Deutsche Welle reported Thursday that the new draft mandate still needs the approval of the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.

“The people of Afghanistan and the government are committed to peace, only those who are not committed to peace are fighting, the Taliban want to come to power through explosions and suicide,” said Shah Mahmood Miakhil, defense deputy minister.

However, the Interior Minister said the only way left for the Taliban is peace, otherwise they will be suppressed.

“The only way left for the Taliban is to make peace, otherwise they will be suppressed everywhere in the country,” said Massoud Andarabi, the interior minister.

Although talks between Afghans have resumed over the last three days, no results have been achieved so far.

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Pakistan to increase number of flights to Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: February 25, 2021)

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) announced Thursday it will increase the number of international flights to Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan.

According to the PIA, the national flag-carrier will increase its flights to Afghanistan from four to five a week.

“Expanding our network in Afghanistan by increasing weekly flights from 4 to 5. Best service & most comfortable aircraft on this scenic route,” PIA said in a tweet Thursday.

PIA also stated it will launch direct flights to Azerbaijan’s Baku from March 14. The flights will be operated twice a week from Lahore city of Pakistan

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German cabinet agrees to extend Afghanistan mission by 10 months

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(Last Updated On: February 25, 2021)

The German government on Wednesday agreed to extend its military mandate in Afghanistan by at least another 10 months.

Germany’s Deutsche Welle reported Thursday that the new draft mandate still needs the approval of the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.

The current mandate is set to expire at the end of March.

Under the draft agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet, German troops would be able to stay in the country until January 31, 2022, Deutsche Welle reported. .

Government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said the new date “takes account appropriately of the complex situation in Afghanistan and also makes possible the flexibility necessary to be able to react if the volatile security and threat situation there changes.”

With over 1,100 troops, Germany has the second-largest contingent after the United States in the NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.

Seibert said that the maximum limit of 1,300 German troops will remain unchanged in the new mandate.

This comes after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last week that no final decision had been made on the future of foreign troops in Afghanistan – despite the May 1 troop withdrawal deadline.

Stoltenberg acknowledged that the military alliance is facing “many dilemmas” over its continued engagement in the country.

US President Joe Biden is reviewing Donald Trump’s 2020 deal with the Taliban, which sets May 1 as the deadline for a total US troop withdrawal.

Last week, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the decision to withdraw troops should not be rushed, rather than being “slavishly” bound to the May deadline. Instead, the drawback of troops should be linked to slow-paced peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, he has said.

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