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NSC blames Taliban for high civilian casualty toll recorded in UN report

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(Last Updated On: July 28, 2020)

Afghanistan’s Office of the National Security Council on Monday afternoon voiced its concerns over the high number of civilian casualties recorded in the first six months of this year and said the Taliban were responsible “for the vast majority”. 

In its statement, the NSC said: “We note the midyear report by UNAMA and underscore the government’s findings from the field demonstrate that the Taliban are responsible for the vast majority of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan, either directly or by creating an enabling environment for other terrorist groups to attack civilians.” 

The NSC stated that “given the concerns regarding the nature of this report, we remain committed to working with UNAMA in refining its findings to better reflect the battlefield statistics.”

According to the NSC, the recent upsurge in Taliban attacks and violence against civilians comes after their commitment to decreasing violence as per the US-Taliban agreement signed earlier this year in Doha

“To protect civilians from violence and fight COVID-19 and to help the peace efforts lead to success, we yet again invite Taliban to a lasting ceasefire and the immediate start of direct talks, the statement read. 

According to the NSC, government maintained a defensive posture for months “during which the Taliban continued their violence against the people and infrastructure of Afghanistan”.

 They said the ANDSF has clear orders from the President and security-sector leaders to continue to implement the procedures and policies in place to mitigate harm to civilian lives and property.

This statement came just hours after UNAMA’s midyear report was released which stated over 1,200 civilians had been killed in Afghanistan in the first six months of this year.

 The midyear report stated that anti-government elements (AGE’s) continued to be responsible for the majority of civilian casualties and that UNAMA documented a disturbing increase in civilian casualties attributed to the Taliban from pressure-plate improvised explosive devices, as well as from abductions that led to ill-treatment and summary executions.

 “A total of 58 percent of civilian casualties were caused by AGE’s, with the Taliban responsible for 1,473 (580 killed and 893 injured) representing 43 percent of the total number of civilian casualties in the 1 January-30 June 2020 period,” an UNAMA statement read. 

NATO also responded to the report and said on Twitter: “Unacceptable violence levels by the Taliban cause the majority of civilian casualties. Taliban insistence on violence risks harming the unique opportunity for peace. #NATO calls on the Taliban to cease violence, live up to their commitments & enter intra-Afghan negotiations ASAP.”

NATO added that the best way to end the suffering of civilians is to pursue political settlement of the conflict. All parties agree there is no military solution. 

 “#NATO remains committed to helping #Afghanistan achieve lasting peace, for the benefit of all Afghans.”

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Trump’s former NSA says Afghan peace talks are ‘doomed to fail’

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(Last Updated On: September 21, 2020)

President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser HR McMaster said on Monday intra-Afghan negotiations are doomed to end in failure and warned the risk of another 9/11 type attack in the US was “very high”. 

Speaking to USA TODAY following the launch of his new book “Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World”, McMaster expressed concern about a “destructive cycle” in American politics that has weakened the country. 

In his book, he offers a thoughtful critique of US foreign policy and an assessment of Trump’s approach to North Korea, Afghanistan and other global hotspots. 

McMaster makes it clear he disagreed with some of Trump’s decisions, such as negotiating with the Taliban, which, he told USA TODAY, was based on a “fantasy” and “wishful thinking” that the militant group would renounce its ties to al-Qaeda, which orchestrated the 9/11 attacks.

In February,  the US signed a deal with the Taliban agreeing to a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. In exchange, the Taliban agreed to break ties with al-Qaeda. 

But McMaster said the US deal will simply allow the Taliban to expand its territory and establish an Islamic caliphate and a terrorist training ground. 

He also ridiculed the idea of a power-sharing agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban and said it will pave the way for the Taliban to reimpose its repressive laws on the Afghan people – particularly women.

 “What (does) power-sharing with the Taliban look like?” he asked. “Does that look like … every other girls’ school bulldozed? Or does it look like mass executions in the soccer stadium every other Saturday?”

” … We’ve created this idea that the Taliban can be partners for peace when in fact, they’re determined to establish an Islamic caliphate in Afghanistan and to use that Islamic caliphate as a base for expansion,” McMaster said. 

USA TODAY reported McMaster predicts the peace talks effort will result in failure and leave the US increasingly vulnerable – not just to al-Qaeda but to ISIS (Daesh) and other anti-American terrorist groups. 

The threat is wider now, he said, and those groups are more capable.

In the book, he recounts Trump’s off-handed comment about the war in Afghanistan. “I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.”

 McMaster says that created a misunderstanding about the conflict and “cheapened” the sacrifices made by both American and Afghan soldiers who lost their lives in the war.

The USA TODAY interview follows last week’s discussion with CBS News, where the retired lieutenant general, who left the White House in March 2018, claimed that Trump with his new policy is “partnering with the Taliban against the Afghan government.”

“I think what [Trump] did with this new policy, is he, in effect, is partnering with the Taliban against, in many ways, the Afghan government. And so, I think that it’s an unwise policy. And I think what we require in Afghanistan is a sustained commitment to help the Afghan government,” McMaster told CBS.

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US imposes sanctions on Iran’s Defense Ministry

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(Last Updated On: September 21, 2020)

The United States on Monday slapped new sanctions on the Iranian defense ministry and others involved in Iran’s nuclear and weapons program to support its assertion that all UN sanctions against Tehran are now restored.

The move, disputed by key European allies as well as US adversaries such as Russia and China, was announced on Monday evening by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo also told reporters the United States put new sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has deepened ties between Caracas and Tehran, Reuters reported. 

Earlier Monday, Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh said that the United States was waging a war against Iran by imposing sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s crude exports.

“Today Iran is still fighting a war. America has waged a war against Iran with no blood,” Zanganeh was quoted as saying by the oil ministry’s news agency SHANA.

“No matter who you are, if you violate the UN arms embargo on Iran, you risk sanctions,” Pompeo said. 

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Rescue workers search for survivors after Mumbai building collapses

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(Last Updated On: September 21, 2020)

Indian officials confirmed late Monday that at least 10 people died in a building collapse earlier in the day. 

The four-story residential building, on the outskirts of Mumbai, collapsed in the early hours of Monday morning while people were asleep. 

Search and rescue teams are still working to find survivors trapped in the rubble. 

During the June-September monsoon season, when heavy rains weaken the foundations of buildings that are poorly constructed or old, India experiences frequent structure collapses.

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