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Officials say troops could be out long before September: New York Times

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(Last Updated On: April 18, 2021)

American officials said on Saturday that orders for the remaining US troops to start leaving Afghanistan could be issued in the next few days.

According to the New York Times, the officials, who were not named, said if US troops face no threats from the Taliban, the forces could be completely withdrawn well before the September 11 deadline.

This comes after US President Joe Biden announced last week that all US troops would be out of the country by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

US officials have not release details on the foreign troops withdrawal schedule except Biden did say last week that the process would start on May 1.

The Boston Globe meanwhile carried an op-ed article on Sunday which stated that there will be a terrible human — and moral — cost to this pullout from Afghanistan, “which is why so many former U.S. officials who have served there have been so depressed and angry during phone interviews this week”.

A former top Pentagon official David Sadney was quoted as saying: “There is a humanitarian disaster coming.”

“The Taliban are taking names, and they will start taking vengeance on women and young people, teachers and their families, who believed in U.S. values. They will be killed and tortured because they bought into a vision the U.S. supported and encouraged, ideas of democracy and free speech.

“I know Afghans who have and will die,” he said.

The article noted that the Biden team tried to accelerate political negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, but they got nowhere.

The Taliban made clear that, with U.S. troops leaving, they believed victory was in hand. They opposed any form of constitutional democracy or elections in favor of harsh Islamic rule.

The article also quoted one former US ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker, as saying: “This is a surrender. Everybody, China and Russia included, is taking note.”

The author of the op-ed Trudy Rubin states the Taliban will crow that they have defeated a superpower – especially since, for some bizarre reason, the final pullout date is set for the anniversary of al-Qaeda’s greatest triumph, the 9/11 attack on the United States.

She writes it would have made more strategic sense for the Biden team to change the narrative and instead of “forever war,” keep around 3,000 troops in the country indefinitely as an insurance policy to prevent a Taliban win until such time as a regional peace could be negotiated.

Rubin points out that after all, the US has kept troops in Germany and South Korea for decades, as a preventative measure.

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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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