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Full US troop withdrawal will depend on Taliban’s level of commitment: Pompeo 

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(Last Updated On: September 11, 2020)

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said American troop levels in Afghanistan would depend on the Taliban upholding its commitments with the US regardless of the outcome of domestic peace talks set to start in Doha on Saturday.

Speaking to journalists while on his way to Qatar, Pompeo said: “There are a series of commitments that the Taliban have made, we have every expectation that they will follow through on them.”

He said the US’s commitment to reducing troops to zero is on condition the Taliban execute their obligations under the agreement. 

He would not however say whether the Trump administration would wait for a peace deal before withdrawing all troops. 

In February, the US and the Taliban reached a deal to kickstart peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. 

Peace talks were due to start in March but were repeatedly delayed mostly due to the issue around the Taliban prisoner release process and the ongoing attacks by the Taliban. 

One commitment was a steady withdrawal of troops by the US, which have since February dropped from 13,000 to 8,600 and five military bases have been handed over to the Afghan National Army. 

This week, Trump announced a further troop withdrawal and said by November there would only be 4,500 US forces in Afghanistan. 

The deal between the Taliban and the US meanwhile stipulates that all US troops will be out of Afghanistan by spring next year but that the Taliban has to cut all ties with al-Qaeda. 

Despite the rise in attacks by the Taliban around the country and the increase in targeted assassinations, including the attempt this week on Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh’s life, for which the Taliban denied responsibility, Pompeo has hailed the US-led campaign “a tremendous success.”

In his chat to reporters, he said: “We can be proud of what we achieved but it’s time for the next step,” adding that his objectives were based on two demands from President Donald Trump: Draw down troops as quickly as possible while also maintaining American security.

Pompeo also said it was now the turn of Afghan leaders to control the fate of their country.

“I’m mindful of how difficult these conversations will be among the Afghans but it’s theirs for the taking,” Pompeo said.

“It’s their country to try to figure out how to move forward and make a better life for all the Afghan people.”

 

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Global coronavirus caseload crosses the 40 million mark

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(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)

The number of COVID-19 cases worldwide passed the 40 million mark on Monday, according to a Reuters tally. 

Reuters reported that this comes as the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere appears to have fuelled a resurgence in the spread of the disease. 

Experts however believe the true numbers of both cases and deaths are likely much higher, given deficiencies in testing and potential under-reporting by some countries.

The Reuters data shows the pace of the pandemic continues to increase as it took just 32 days to go from 30 million global cases to 40 million, compared with the 38 days it took to get from 20 to 30 million, the 44 days between 10 and 20 million, and the three months it took to reach 10 million cases from when the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China, in early January.

Reuters also reported that record one-day increases in new infections were seen at the end of last week, with global coronavirus cases rising above 400,000 for the first time.

The United States, India, and Brazil remain the worst affected countries in the world. 

 

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UN secretary general condemns Ghor attack 

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(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday strongly condemned the attack in Ghor province on Sunday that killed and wounded dozens of civilians. 

In a statement issued by the organization, Guterres said he “strongly condemns the indiscriminate attack today on a provincial police headquarters in Afghanistan’s province of Ghor, in an area where many civilians are present.”  

The UN stated that according to preliminary reports, the car bomb claimed the lives of at least 13 people and injured dozens of civilians, including women and children. 

“Those who carry out such crimes must be held accountable,” the statement read. 

“The Secretary-General expresses his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured,” Guterres said.

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US peace envoy warns high levels of violence could derail peace process 

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(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)

US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad warned that “distressingly” high levels of violence could derail the peace process and the understanding that there is no military solution to the war in Afghanistan. 

In a series of tweets overnight Monday, Khalilzad appeared to have been responding to Sunday’s spat between the Taliban and the US Forces Afghanistan after the insurgent group accused the US of violating the Doha agreement by carrying out airstrikes in Helmand and Farah provinces last week. 

The US Forces Afghanistan responded not long after rejecting the claim and said they were within the terms of the agreement as they had been defending the Afghan security forces who had come under attack by the Taliban. 

The Taliban also issued a veiled threat in their statement and said: “All responsibility and consequences from the continuation of such actions shall fall squarely on the shoulders of the American side.”

Khalilzad meanwhile said in his Twitter statement: “Unfounded charges of violations and inflammatory rhetoric do not advance peace. Instead, we should pursue strict adherence to all articles of the US-Taliban Agreement and US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration and not neglect the commitment to gradually reduce violence.

“Continued high levels of violence can threaten the peace process and the agreement and the core understanding that there is no military solution. Violence today remains distressingly high in spite of the recent reaffirmation of the need for substantial reduction.

“Taliban attacks in Helmand, including on the provincial capital; Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces; & Taliban complaints of ANSF operations and coalition strikes led to a recent meeting in Doha.

“All sides agreed to decrease attacks and strikes and reduce violence and casualties. Although violence in Helmand has decreased, violence overall in the country remains high.

“Our expectation has been and remains that violence comes down and stays down.

“It was a focus of the Agreement we signed, further highlighted in connection with the releases of the last batch of prisoners and reaffirmed again in the most recent commitment all sides made to adhere to all aspects of the deal,” Khalilzad said. 

Reacting to the car bombing on Sunday in Ghor province that killed at least 13 people, Khalilzad stated: “Violence has stalked Afghans for far too long. It has robbed far too many Afghans of their loved ones. The tragedy in Ghor today is the most recent example.”

He said: “The belief that says violence must escalate to win concessions at the negotiating table is very risky. Such an approach can undermine the peace process and repeats past miscalculations by Afghan leaders.

“We must adhere to the letter and spirit of what was negotiated and the recent understanding. They provide a path to minimizing Afghan loss of life and protecting an historic opportunity for peace which must not be missed,” Khalilzad said.

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