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NATO chief predicts another tough year ahead for Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: March 16, 2016)

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Head of NATO on Wednesday predicted a difficult fight ahead for Afghanistan as the government continues to battle the Taliban and other militant factions trying to assert their presence in the war-ravaged country.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, said insurgents will press their fight against Kabul in what is likely to be another tough year for the Afghan government. He spoke to The Associated Press during a two-day visit to Kabul, his second since taking the top NATO role in late 2014.

The Taliban, al-Qaida and the Islamic State group will keep up their attacks across Afghanistan throughout 2016, he said.

“We have seen different terrorist organizations trying to establish themselves in Afghanistan,” he said. “We have seen the presence of al-Qaida, IS, the Taliban and all the groups, and they are still in Afghanistan.”

“There is going to be continued fighting and we have to expect that there are going to be new attacks on the government forces,” he added.

NATO has around 3,000 troops in Afghanistan, in the so-called Resolute Support non-combat mission along with about 9,800 U.S. soldiers. The mission was pared down in 2014, with the departure of most international combat troops, leaving Afghan forces to take on the insurgency largely alone.

For now, the United States will halve troop numbers at the end of this year. Stoltenberg said NATO’s numbers for 2017 are not yet clear. The use of U.S. airstrikes to back Afghan forces has been critical in helping them hold ground and can push Taliban and other insurgent groups out of contested areas.

The Taliban were well-prepared for the end of the U.S.-NATO combat mission and swiftly intensified their insurgency, now in its 15th year. Officials have said that Afghan forces suffered almost 30 percent more deaths and casualties in 2015 than the estimated 5,000 of the year before.

There have been no official figures released on those casualties.

The U.N. mission in Afghanistan says more than 11,000 civilians were killed and wounded last year, many of them women and children caught in the crossfire.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said this week that the extremists from an Islamic State affiliate that had gained a foothold in the east last year, with ambitions to move north toward the Central Asia states, were now “on the run” following military operations.

Analysts, however, dispute that assessment, and also point to the spread in the north by the Taliban and other Islamic militants.

Nevertheless, Stoltenberg was upbeat in his praise for Afghan forces and said NATO efforts would focus on Kunduz in the north and Helmand in the south, where the Taliban are fighting to hold lucrative routes for smuggling men, guns, drugs, alcohol and minerals.

A dire assessment was also expressed by the U.N. mission chief in Afgansiatn, Nicholas Haysom, who on Tuesday told the U.N. Security Council that the Afghan government was fighting for its survival amid surging militants.

Unless the government overcame “five distinct hurdles” it would face “severe consequences,” Haysom said, listing a contracting economy, intensifying insurgency, fractious political environment as well as desperately needed funding from the international community and the need to demonstrate progress toward a sustainable peace.

“For 2016, survival will be an achievement,” Haysom said at the U.N.

Ghani’s government is hoping to draw the Taliban into a dialogue aimed at formal peace talks, but a face-to-face meeting between representatives of both sides that had been expected earlier this month has yet to be set. The Taliban said last week they would not participate.

Meanwhile, violence continues to kill and wound civilians and Afghan security forces. In Kunar province, bordering Pakistan, a woman and three of her children died when a rocket landed on their home in the Ghazi Abad district early Wednesday, the provincial police chief, Faridullah Dehqaan said.

Further south, in Nangarhar province, also bordering Pakistan, an attack by militants loyal to IS left six policemen “killed or wounded,” the provincial governor’s spokesman Ataullah Khogyani said. The attack on their checkpoint took place around 2am Wednesday, he said.

Written by Associated Press

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Taliban under pressure from US for failing to stick to deal: Envoy

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(Last Updated On: November 30, 2020)

Ross Wilson, US Chargé d’Affaires to Afghanistan said Monday that the US will put pressure on the Taliban as the group has failed to act in accordance with the US-Taliban agreement and has not reduced violence in Afghanistan.

In an interview with Ariana News, Wilson said the increase in violence across the country is unacceptable and that the Taliban has not heeded calls by the United States or the international community for a reduction in violence.

He also accused the Taliban of being involved in targeted killings and said the group “is complicit in a culture of violence”.

“The Taliban are not meeting the commitments they made with us in concluding US-Taliban agreement in February. We have repeatedly called on the Taliban to reduce the violence.

“Unfortunately, our efforts, our advocacy, and advocacy by many of Afghanistan’s other friends. the efforts of the United Nations did not succeed. And we are putting pressure on the Taliban. This is important for the success of the peace process and for the success of this country,” said Wilson.

Questions around the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the foreign policy of the incoming US president, Joe Biden, on Afghanistan were also raised in the interview.

However, Wilson did not comment on the foreign policy but did say the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan was conditions-based.

“US forces and coalition forces remain substantial. We are actively defending the Afghan Defense and Security Forces. The issue of withdrawal, which was previously announced by the United States, will be based on conditions,” Wilson added.

Wilson also said the United States is working with the Afghan government to recover money embezzled by corrupt individuals.

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Cross-border markets will be up-and-running in February

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(Last Updated On: November 30, 2020)

Pakistan said Monday that one of the 12 Joint Border Trade Markets, that is to be established along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, will be launched by February 2021.

In a statement released on Monday, the Embassy of Pakistan in Kabul stated that the market would be operational at Shaheedano Dand in Kurram Agency of Pakistan.

“The Joint Border Trade Markets are believed to promote the wellbeing of the people living on both sides of the border, rehabilitate those affected by anti-smuggling drive, economically integrate the neglected areas, formalize bilateral trade and transform local economies of people living across Pak-Afghan border,” Pakistan Embassy in Kabul said in a statement on Monday.

According to the statement, Pakistan has prepared a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the establishment of the markets with Afghanistan.

The statement noted that the MoU has covered “all the modalities including the proposed list of items to be traded in these markets and locations where the border markets are to be established, the composition of Border Market Management Committees, which will oversee the smooth working of the markets, the medium of exchange and dispute settlement.”

“Once, formally established, the people friendly initiative of JBTMs of Prime Minister of Pakistan is expected to uplift the economic and social wellbeing of the people living across Pak-Afghan border,” the statement read.

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NATO facing difficult dilemma on whether to leave or stay: Stoltenberg

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(Last Updated On: November 30, 2020)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that “no one wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary.”

Addressing an online press conference ahead of the NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs meeting, Stoltenberg stated the organization’s training mission continues despite the US’ decision to further reduce troop levels in Afghanistan.

This comes after outgoing US President Donald Trump decided to further reduce American forces in Afghanistan from around 4,000 to 2,500, as part of the Doha deal which was signed between the US and the Taliban in February.

Stoltenberg, meanwhile, stated that the alliance forces would assess their presence in Afghanistan in the next few months.

“In the months ahead, we will continue to assess our presence based on conditions on the ground,” he noted.

“We face a difficult dilemma, whether to leave and risk that Afghanistan becomes once again a safe haven for international terrorists. Or stay, and risk a longer mission, with renewed violence,” he said.

According to the Doha deal, the US should pull all its troops out of Afghanistan by May.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News last week that the full withdrawal remains based on a set of conditions on the ground.

“That was what we’d agreed to. We have made some progress. We’ve had significant prisoner releases. We have violence levels that have reduced risks to Americans significantly over this time period since February of last year,” Pompeo stated.

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