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Dozens killed in widespread insurgent attacks over past few days

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(Last Updated On: July 20, 2020)

At least 20 people, including two district police chiefs, have been killed in Taliban attacks over the past few days – along with Monday’s killing of 13 Afghan security force members in Kunduz, reports indicate. 

The uptick in attacks by the Taliban comes amid ongoing calls for a reduction in violence and the urgent need for peace talks.

Afghan leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani, have frequently called on the Taliban to reduce violence and agree to a ceasefire.

However, although the Taliban has refrained from launching attacks on US forces since the landmark Doha agreement in February, the group has continued its campaign of violence against Afghan security forces.

Despite a discussion on Friday between Ghani and Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah with US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, where he also called for urgent peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, attacks by the Taliban have continued unabated.

Reports indicate that early Monday about 13 Afghan security forces members were killed in two Taliban attacks in the northern province of Kunduz. The Taliban reportedly also sustained casualties.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said on Twitter Monday that numerous security force members had been killed and wounded but he made no mention of Taliban casualties.

In another attack, on Sunday, three Taliban militants were killed while an Afghan Local Police (ALP) member and a civilian were wounded during a clash at a checkpoint.

Also on Sunday, two insurgents were killed and a police officer was wounded after the Taliban attacked a checkpoint in southern Helmand province.

On Saturday night, four Afghan police officers, including a district police chief, were killed in an IED explosion in eastern Paktika province.

In a similar attack, also on Saturday, in southern Zabul province, another police chief and a police officer were killed. Six other police officers were wounded.

The same night, three pro-government militiamen and three Taliban insurgents were killed in clashes at a checkpoint in Ghazni province.

Also on Saturday night, three civilians were killed and at least eight others wounded in a Taliban rocket attack in Kapisa province.

But in a statement issued on Sunday by the Taliban, the group stated the Afghan government had failed to uphold its end of the agreement and release all prisoners as agreed earlier this year.

Kabul, however, states it has already freed over 4,000 prisoners but that the remaining 600 are “too dangerous” to release.

The Taliban said in the statement: “The completion of the prisoner exchange process is one of the most fundamental issues of this [negotiation] process on top of which an end must also be put to violations which have seen an uptick in recent days.”

Meanwhile acting US ambassador to Kabul Ross Wilson said in a tweet on Sunday: “The Afghan people have made clear their impatience. Start intra-Afghan negotiations now so that discussions on a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire can begin.”

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Stoltenberg says NATO ‘adjusting’ its presence to support Afghan peace process

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(Last Updated On: August 11, 2020)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday said he welcomes the planned peace talks between the government and the Taliban and said NATO is adjusting its presence to support the peace initiative. 

Taking to Twitter, Stoltenberg said: “I spoke to President Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah (Abdullah) to welcome the upcoming start of intra-Afghan talks. All parties should seize this historic moment for peace. NATO stand with Afghanistan in the fight against terrorism, as we adjust our presence to support the peace process.

This comes after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday signed a decree to release the final 400 prisoners in order to pave the way for intra-Afghan peace talks.

The Presidential Palace (ARG) confirmed on Monday evening on Twitter that the decree had been signed at a ceremony attended by senior Afghan leaders.

Ghani said on Sunday, after the Loya Jirga’s resolution on the prisoner issue had been issued, that he would respect the decision of the Jirga and release the prisoners – some of whom have been accused of having masterminded some of the deadliest attacks in the country over the past 19 years.

Government sources said Monday that the Afghan peace negotiating team would leave Kabul on Wednesday for Doha, Qatar, and that talks with the Taliban would likely start on Sunday.

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Second group of Afghan Sikhs due to leave for India Wednesday

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(Last Updated On: August 11, 2020)

A group of as many as 180 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus are expected to leave Afghanistan for India on Wednesday. 

The Times of India reported Tuesday that the group will likely be relatives of the victims killed in the March temple attack in Kabul which claimed the lives of 25 Sikhs.

India’s Sikh community has pledged its help and has so far evacuated 11 Sikhs – the first of what could become hundreds. 

The first group left Kabul late last month and included Nidan Singh Sachdeva, who was abducted from a gurdwara in Paktia province in June.

Speaking to Singapore’s Straits Times, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, president of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, said:  “We will do everything that we can to help the families out. We will help them with the education of their children.” 

Meanwhile, United Sikhs executive director Jagdeep Singh told the Times of India that their organization is assisting the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus wanting to leave with the necessary documents. 

He said United Sikhs had already finalized over 350 requests from Afghan Sikhs and Hindus to settle in India and they were working on the remainder. 

During the 1980s the Sikh and Hindu community numbered more than 80,000 but most left the country when the Soviet Union was ousted in 1992. 

Some returned to Afghanistan after the Taliban were ousted from power in the hope that things would improve. 

The Afghan government had encouraged their return but the community has faced vicious attacks claimed by Daesh during the past few years. Today, less than 700 live in their home country.

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Ghani signs decree ordering release of final batch of 400 Taliban prisoners

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(Last Updated On: August 10, 2020)

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday afternoon signed a decree to release the final 400 prisoners which will now pave the way for intra-Afghan peace talks.

The Presidential Palace (ARG) confirmed on Monday evening on Twitter that the decree had been signed at a ceremony attended by senior Afghan leaders.

Ghani said on Sunday, after the Loya Jirga’s resolution on the prisoner issue had been issued, that he would respect the decision of the Jirga and release the prisoners – some of whom have been accused of having masterminded some of the deadliest attacks in the country over the past 19 years.

In February, the US and the Taliban signed an agreement in Doha which was a conditions-based deal in order to start negotiations.

One of the conditions on the Taliban’s part was that the Afghan government release 5,000 of its members.

Ghani duly did so but held back on the final batch of 400 who were seen as hardcore Taliban militants.

However, in the interests of working for peace, this weekend’s peace Jirga delegates, made up of over 3,200 tribal elders, community leaders and politicians, from around the country, decided the inmates should be freed.

The Taliban has said for weeks that once these prisoners are released they will agree to meet with the Afghan peace negotiating team.

Earlier Monday, government stated that talks would likely start on Sunday in Doha between the two peace negotiating teams. The Afghan government’s team is expected to leave Kabul on Wednesday.

Early Monday, the Taliban’s spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Reuters: “We are ready to sit for talks within a week from when we see our prisoners released. We are ready.”

It was not however clear on Monday night when the prisoners would in fact be freed.

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