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CIA chief reportedly made unannounced trip to Kabul

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(Last Updated On: April 24, 2021)

CIA Director William Burns reportedly made an unannounced visit to Kabul recently amid mounting concerns about Afghansitan’s capability to fight terrorism once the US and NATO forces withdraw.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that two credible sources had confirmed the visit. In Washington, the CIA declined to comment when asked by AP about the director’s schedule and the agency’s role in Afghanistan.

However, a senior former Afghan security official told AP that two of six units trained and run by the CIA to track militants have already been transferred to Afghan control.

Two Afghan officials told AP that Burns quietly visited Kabul last weekend. They would not say whom Burns met with, but said some of the discussions addressed Afghanistan’s preparedness after the U.S. pullout.

Burns also reportedly reassured Afghan officials that the U.S. would continue to be engaged in counterterrorism efforts.

AP reports that concerns are mounting that Afghanistan’s security forces won’t be able to halt a march by Taliban insurgents on government-held territory or battle terrorist groups without the help of U.S. and NATO soldiers.

The former security official told AP he believes terrorism-fighting capabilities will be significantly reduced once the roughly 2,500 to 3,500 U.S. troops and 7,000 allied NATO soldiers leave.

The official said the CIA had been training and running Afghan special forces known as Counter Terrorism Pursuit Teams, or CTPT.

According to AP, the teams are located in the provinces of Kunar, Paktia, Kandahar, Kabul, Khost and Nangarhar.

The official said the plan is to gradually hand them over to the National Directorate of Security (NDS). So far, the Kunar and Paktia units have been transferred to Afghan control, he said.

The CTPT teams are feared by many Afghans and have been implicated in extra-judicial killings of civilians. In 2019, the head of the Afghan intelligence service, Masoom Stanikzai, was forced to resign after one of these units was implicated in the summary execution of four brothers.

Earlier this year, in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province, one of the teams was accused of gunning down civilians in a counterterrorism operation. The United Nations has also criticized the tactics of these units, previously blaming them for a rise in civilian casualties along with insurgent groups.

The former security official said that without the U.S. troops, Afghanistan’s technical intelligence gathering will suffer. Right now, some of the greatest successes in fighting terrorism and the narcotics trade have come from U.S. intelligence gathering, he said.

Meanwhile, a Western diplomat in Afghanistan said the unexpected U.S. announcement of an unconditional withdrawal left many security questions unanswered — such as what happens to NATO’s surveillance equipment and the giant blimp that hovers over the capital. The blimp provides real-time intelligence and 24-hour surveillance.

AP reported that David Barrett, a professor at Villanova University who specializes in the history of intelligence policy, said the troop pullout will reduce the amount of intelligence gathered by the military and ultimately provided to the CIA. But the U.S. can still monitor electronic communications and other signals with its advanced technology, and could intervene militarily if it assessed a threat to an American target, he said.

“We have amazing capabilities for knowing what’s happening on the ground,” he said. “If anyone, anywhere in Afghanistan decides they want to develop any ability to strike the U.S., they would be making a very big mistake.”

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Guarded by ex-inmates, Kabul’s Pul-e-Charkhi Prison lies deserted

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(Last Updated On: September 16, 2021)

Afghanistan’s infamous Pul-e-Charkhi Prison, which once housed thousands of Islamic Emirate forces and Daesh fighters in its sprawling compound on the outskirts of Kabul, today stands virtually empty, except for the remnants of prisoners’ belongings and discarded documents.

On August 15, as the Islamic Emirate drove into Kabul following the fall of the previous government, the gates to the prison were flung open – ending in some cases years of incarceration for many detainees.

The once heavily fortified facility is now guarded by former inmates – Islamic Emirate members – and only a small section is used for new inmates, alleged criminals and drug addicts arrested in the past month.

A walk through the deserted cell blocks is a stark reminder of the recent changes in the country.

In some cells, personal items that once belonged to prisoners lie forgotten about, and discarded documents are testimony to the unexpected collapse of the former Ashraf Ghani government.

In parts of the prison, signs of the Islamic Emirate flag remain, as does the black flag of Daesh.

One former prison guard, Safiullah, told Ariana News: “There is no one, you can see, they have generally destroyed many places and left.”

While the majority of political prisoners were Islamic Emirate members, no differentiation was made when the gates opened. As a result hundreds of Daesh fighters also fled, as did some hardened criminals.

During the walk through of the facility, Safiullah also pointed out areas that were used for specific purposes.

“This was a Madrasa where the Islamic Emirate’s Qaris [teachers] were teaching students to memorize the Holy Quran. We set up this Madrasa for them,” Safiullah said.

One former inmate, an Islamic Emirate member Mohammad Salim, in turn pointed out the section used by prison guards to mete out punishment.

“They punished us here; they tied our hands here and punished us and beat us here,” said Salim.

Islamic Emirate authorities have however said that they are working to recapture and return some former inmates – especially hardened criminals – to the facility.

Pul-e-Charkhi has a long, disturbing history of violence, mass executions and torture.

Mass graves and torture cells were uncovered dating from the Soviet-backed governments of the late 1970s and 1980s and under the former government it was known for poor conditions and overcrowding.

The prison’s 11 cell blocks were built to house 5,000 inmates, but were often packed with more than 10,000, including political prisoners and hardened criminals.

Some of the Taliban now guarding the site were former inmates while the former guards have fled.

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UN envoy, Haqqani discuss urgent need for humanitarian aid

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(Last Updated On: September 16, 2021)

Deborah Lyons, head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, has met with Sirajuddin Haqqani, the new acting interior minister, to discuss much needed humanitarian relief for Afghanistan.

Suhail Shaheen, an Islamic Emirate spokesman, said in a statement on Twitter on Thursday: “(Haqqani) stressed that UN personnel can conduct their work without any hurdle and deliver vital aid to the Afghan people.”

Afghanistan was already facing chronic poverty and drought but the situation has deteriorated in the last month with the disruption of aid, the departure of tens of thousands of people including government and aid workers, the freezing of foreign reserves and the collapse of much economic activity.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an international aid conference this week that Afghans were facing “perhaps their most perilous hour”.

The UN mission in Afghanistan said that in the Wednesday meeting Lyons had stressed the “absolute necessity for all UN and humanitarian personnel in Afghanistan to be able to work without intimidation or obstruction to deliver vital aid and conduct work for the Afghan people.”

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Baradar says reports he was hurt in internal clashes are false

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(Last Updated On: September 16, 2021)

Afghanistan’s acting deputy prime minister Abdul Ghani Baradar appeared in a video interview posted on Wednesday and denied reports that he was hurt in a clash with a rival faction of the Islamic Emirate.

“No this is not true, I am OK and healthy,” Baradar said in an interview with state TV which was posted on Twitter by the Islamic Emirate’s political office in Doha.

“The media says that there is internal disputes. There is nothing between us, it is not true.”

The brief clip showed him seated on a sofa next to an interviewer with an RTA state television microphone in front of him, apparently reading from a sheet of paper.

Earlier, an official from the cultural commission said on Twitter that the interview would be shown on RTA TV to disprove “enemy propaganda.” Islamic Emirate officials have issued repeated denials in recent days that Baradar had been hurt.

The denials follow days of rumors that supporters of Baradar had clashed with members of the Haqqani network, a group affiliated with the Islamic Emirate based near the border with Pakistan and blamed for some of the worst suicide attacks of the war.

Baradar, one of the founding members of the Islamic Emirate and once seen as the likely head of government, had not been seen in public for some time. He was not part of the ministerial delegation which met Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Kabul on Sunday.

In the clip, he said he had been on a trip when the visit took place and had not been able to get back in time.

On Wednesday, Anas Haqqani, younger brother of the newly appointed Acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, also issued a statement on Twitter denying reports of internal rifts in the movement.

The rumors follow speculation over rivalries between military commanders like Haqqani and leaders from the political office in Doha like Baradar, who led diplomatic efforts to reach a settlement with the United States.

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