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Concerns grow of US downplaying al-Qaeda numbers and strength



(Last Updated On: October 17, 2020)

Edmund Fitton-Brown, coordinator of the United Nations monitoring team for Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaeda, and the Taliban warned on Friday that senior al-Qaeda members are still in Afghanistan, as well as hundreds of armed operatives. 

Speaking during a webinar on the future of Afghanistan, Fitton-Brown said: “[Al-Qaeda leader] Ayman al-Zawahiri remains close to the Taliban,” adding that the “Taliban regularly consulted with al-Qaeda during the negotiations with the United States and they offered informal guarantees that [they] would honor their historic ties with al-Qaeda.”

This, however, is in contravention of the US-Taliban agreement signed in February in Doha which states the Taliban must break all ties with terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. 

Fitton-Brown’s warning is not however new as a UN report issued in July stated the group is “covertly active in 12 Afghan provinces,” and that it likely commands 400 to 600 fighters.

Afghan officials have also rejected claims that the threat from al-Qaeda has disappeared. In May, the acting head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Zia Seraj, said: “The Taliban try to use these groups and organizations more than before in fighting inside Afghanistan.”

VOA reported that UN member states have further warned of additional armed support from the group al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), an affiliate that is thought to have another 150 to 200 fighters in Afghanistan’s Nimroz, Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

The report states that while international and Afghan counterterror officials see a growing threat, a number of key US officials continue to portray al-Qaeda in Afghanistan as a fading power.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said there are “fewer than 200 al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan,” while days later, National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller stated in written testimony to lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee that al-Qaeda’s presence in the country has been reduced to a few dozen fighters. 

But one international counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told VOA that such optimistic pronouncements are “hugely problematic.” Others warn the US is making a mistake by failing to account for substantial support from a vast majority of the 10,000 foreign fighters currently in Afghanistan.

However, other officials and experts fear the US assessments of a “few dozen” al-Qaeda fighters are not intended to be accurate, but rather to align with repeated calls by US President Donald Trump to get American troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible.

A senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Thomas Joscelyn told VOA: “It’s just not credible to say that there are only a few dozen al-Qaeda guys running around Afghanistan.”

“There are so many pronouncements made by the military on al-Qaeda’s strength in Afghanistan that were wrong over the years,” he said, noting earlier US estimates of as few as 50 operatives. “They just go from one inaccurate assessment to another.”

But Joscelyn added even the UN estimates of 400 to 600 al-Qaeda operatives might be too low.

“The Pakistani Taliban is known to have a very tight relationship with al-Qaeda,” Joscelyn told VOA. 

“How many of the Pakistani Taliban guys…are dual-hatted, they’re also al-Qaeda guys? Nobody can tell you, but we know that some of them are.”


Uzbekistan’s Samarkand city named 2023 World Tourism Capital



(Last Updated On: December 5, 2021)

Uzbekistan’s historic city of Samarkand was chosen as the 2023 World Tourism Capital at the 24th General Assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in Spain, Uzbekistan’s Tourism and Sports Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

Samarkand will host the 25th General Assembly of the UNWTO, which will be a “historic event” as it marks the first time in history that the gathering will be held in Uzbekistan, read the statement.

The summit in Madrid was attended by a delegation led by Uzbekistan’s Tourism and Sports Minister Aziz Abdukhakimov, who is also the country’s deputy prime minister.

The opportunity to host a UN organization meeting for the first time is the result of the Uzbek government’s policies and efforts to develop tourism in the country, the statement added.

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Pakistan seal semi-final T20 World Cup spot after beating Namibia 



(Last Updated On: November 2, 2021)

Pakistan defeated Namibia by 45 runs on Tuesday night in Abu Dhabi to become the first side to qualify for the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup 2021.

Chasing a formidable target of 190, Namibia gave a good account of their ability and promise and eventually finished with 144-5 as Pakistan collected the two points they needed to go through to the next round.

Pakistan’s total is the second-highest in this tournament, behind Afghanistan’s 190-4 against Scotland in Sharjah.

Afghanistan’s next T20 World Cup match is on Wednesday against India.


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US administers over 420 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines



(Last Updated On: October 31, 2021)

The United States has administered 420,657,683 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Saturday morning and distributed 518,701,225 doses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

The agency said 221,221,467 people had received at least one dose, while 192,244,927 people were fully vaccinated as of 6am on Saturday.

The CDC tally includes two-dose vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, as well as Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine, Reuters reported.

About 17.7 million people have received a booster dose of either Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.

On November 8, the United States is lifting the extraordinary travel restrictions that have barred most non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have been in Britain, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. 

It is also imposing new rules requiring nearly all foreign adult air visitors to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

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