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Kabul security ramped up as Taliban issues warning against ‘occupying forces’

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(Last Updated On: May 1, 2021)

Kabul security was ramped up on Saturday as the city braced for attacks by the Taliban due to the presence of foreign troops in the country – despite the May 1 withdrawal deadline agreement signed last year between the US and the Taliban.

An increased military presence and security at checkpoints were visible in the Afghan capital, and a security source told Reuters the city had been placed on “high alert”.

Military patrols and security were being increased in main cities around the country, the source said.

On Saturday morning, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid tweeted that the US troops presence was in violation of the agreement and that the group reserved the right to take action against the “occupying forces”.

“As withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan by agreed upon May 1st deadline has passed, this violation in principle has opened the way for IEA Mujahidin to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying forces,” Mujahid tweeted.

“The Mujahidin of IEA (Taliban) will now await what decision the leadership of Islamic Emirate takes in light of the sovereignty, values and higher interests of the country, and will then take action accordingly, Allah willing,” he said.

Under the Trump administration’s February 2020 deal with the Taliban, foreign forces were to withdraw from the country by May 1 while the Taliban held off on attacking foreign troops and bases.

But US President Joe Biden announced last month after reviewing the situation that forces would stay in the country for months beyond May, withdrawing by September 11.

While the Taliban did not attack foreign forces in the year following the signing of the agreement, the group continued to carry out attacks against the Afghan security forces and Afghan civilians.

In recent weeks, more than 100 Afghan security force personnel have been killed. On Friday alone, a massive truck bomb in Logar killed dozens of people.

Washington has however warned that if foreign forces were attacked while carrying out the withdrawal they would defend themselves “with all the tools at our disposal”.

Experts said the Taliban threats should be taken seriously, but a number of factors meant that full-scale attacks against foreign targets could be averted, as the Taliban continued negotiations.

“We can’t rule out attacks,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington told Reuters.

“That said, the Taliban is less likely to attack foreign forces now that it knows there is a specific date when they will be leaving.”

In the lead up to May, sources said there was a flurry of meetings and negotiations continued with the Taliban to try to get them to agree to a deadline extension.

The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, met with the Taliban’s head of political office, Mullah Baradar, in Doha, a Taliban spokesman said on Friday.

Also on Friday, the eve of the May 1 deadline, envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan and the United States held meetings with Taliban officials and Afghan government negotiators in the Qatari capital. The Taliban said they discussed the peace process and their request that Taliban leaders be removed from sanctions lists.

Sources also said that a delegation of Taliban political leaders had been in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad this week, Reuters reported.

Two Taliban sources and one official source told Reuters negotiations had revolved around the proposed deadline extension in exchange for the United States not getting involved in Afghan military operations against the Taliban; getting the Taliban to commit to re-joining the Turkey conference if they were provided with an agenda on what would be discussed there; and possibly declaring a ceasefire over the upcoming Eid holiday.

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Pentagon chief says removal of all contractors from Afghanistan under way

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(Last Updated On: May 7, 2021)

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday the process of removing all contractors from Afghanistan working with the United States was under way as part of President Joe Biden’s withdrawal of forces from the country.

The remarks are the clearest indication yet that Biden’s April order to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 extended to U.S.-funded contractors.

Asked whether the Pentagon had issued orders to withdraw not just American troops but also contractors, Austin said: “We’re going to responsibly retrograde all of our capabilities that we are responsible for and the contractors fall in that realm as well.”

Speaking with reporters, Austin said the contractors could, however, renegotiate their contracts in the future.

As of April, there were nearly 17,000 Pentagon contractors, including about 6,150 Americans, 4,300 Afghans and 6,400 from other countries.

The departure of thousands of contractors, especially those serving the Afghan security forces, has raised concerns among some U.S. officials about the ability of the Afghan government and military to sustain critical functions.

‘NOT A FOREGONE CONCLUSION’

Austin said the drawdown was going according to plan so far.

But Afghan security forces are locked in daily combat with the Taliban, which has waged war to overthrow the foreign-backed government since it was ousted from power in Kabul in 2001.

In just two days, the Taliban captured a second district in the northern province of Baghlan on Thursday.

The Afghan government says the Taliban have killed and wounded more than 50 troops in attacks in at least 26 provinces during the last 24 hours, while its forces killed dozens of Taliban over the same period.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said there had been sustained levels of violent attacks against Afghan security forces but none against U.S. and coalition forces since May 1.

Milley, in the same news conference, said it was too early to speculate on how Afghanistan would turn out after the withdrawal of U.S. forces given that Afghanistan had a significantly sized military and police force and the Afghan government was still cohesive.

“It is not a foregone conclusion, in my professional military estimate, that the Taliban automatically win and Kabul falls or any of those dire predictions,” Milley said.

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Power pylons destroyed, leaving Kabul in the dark

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(Last Updated On: May 7, 2021)

Two electricity pylons in the north of the city were blown up early on Friday morning, the main power utility, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), said.

The incident happened in Mirzakhil village in Kalakan district of Kabul at around 4:45 am on Friday in which two power pylons that transmit imported 220 kilovolts of power from Uzbekistan to Kabul were destroyed and a third pylon was partly damaged, read DABS statement.

Locals say they woke up to the sound of an explosion, but no one was injured in the area.

“Bomb has been placed near another power pylon in the area, but a team from the Afghan army is in the area to defuse the bomb,” DABS said.

DABS said that its workers will be sent to the area once the area is safe.

So far no group claimed responsibility for the blasts.

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Australian cricketers flee India for Maldives after IPL abandoned

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(Last Updated On: May 6, 2021)

Australian cricketers playing in this year’s IPL fled COVID-ravaged India for the Maldives Thursday, but New Zealand’s top stars are stuck in Delhi until May 11, the earliest they can secure exemptions to enter England where they are due to play a Test series.

AFP reports that cricket authorities have been rushing to evacuate players and support staff after the Indian Premier League was abandoned this week.

India reported 3,980 deaths and more than 412,000 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours.

While most overseas-based players headed home, the Australians, including Steve Smith, David Warner and Pat Cummins, are unable to do so after Canberra closed its borders and threatened anyone entering from India with jail time.

They must wait until at least May 15, when the travel ban will be reviewed.

In the meantime, the 37 players, coaches, officials and TV commentators left for the Maldives, reportedly on a charter flight arranged and paid for by the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

“Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association can confirm Australian players, coaches, match officials and commentators have been safely transported from India and are en route to the Maldives,” Cricket Australia said in a statement.

“The Australians will remain in the Maldives until the conclusion of the travel pause pertaining to flights from India to Australia.”

They are likely to be chartered back to Australia once the ban has been lifted, again with the help of the BCCI.

But Chennai Super Kings batting coach Mike Hussey was not among the travelling party, forced to remain in isolation after testing positive to the virus.

Cricket Australia said he was “experiencing mild symptoms” and would remain in the care of the Super Kings until it was safe for him to return to Australia.

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