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Parts of Helmand cleared of Taliban, operation ongoing: MoD

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(Last Updated On: October 28, 2020)

Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) said Wednesday that several parts of Nad Ali and Nawa district of Helmand have been cleared of Taliban fighters in an ongoing operation by Afghan Special Forces.

According to the ministry the operation was launched on Monday in the districts and in Lashkargah city, capital of Helmand, after several areas fell to the Taliban 15 days ago.

The ministry said that during the operation at least 100 Taliban fighters were killed and wounded.

Government officials claimed that dozens of foreign fighters, especially Pakistani fighters, have been involved in the Helmand war, a claim that the Taliban has denied.

Following days of skirmishes in the province, the Ministry of Defense said Tuesday that fresh Special Forces were deployed to the province on Tuesday night.

“Our operation, which started on Monday, saw progress in the areas of Bolan, Nawa and Nad Ali. In this operation, nearly 100 enemy [fighters] were killed and wounded, we have no casualties, only three of our soldiers were slightly wounded,” said Afghan Army Chief of Staff Yasin Zia.

Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces said these forces will provide better security for the residents.

One of the displaced residents said however that two weeks ago, the Taliban took control of the area he was living in and he was forced to flee and find refuge in Lashkargah city.

“Now the forces have recaptured our areas and cleared the Taliban so we are coming back to our homes and areas,” said the displaced resident.

Last week Ghulam Bahauddin Jailani, State Minister for Natural Disaster Management said that it has allocated 20 million AFNs to address the needs of those affected by the fighting in Helmand.

According to Helmand officials around 5,000 to 7,000 refugees registered with the officials.

Afghan Special Forces who went in on Tuesday night said they are making headway against the Taliban, and that the insurgent group has suffered a high casualty rate and that they are retreating.

On Sunday the Taliban’s designated shadow deputy governor for Helmand, Mawlawi Ghafoor, who reportedly led the recent fighting against government forces in the province, was arrested by security forces in Nahr-e- Saraj district, said the Helmand governor’s office.

The latest conflict in Helmand has raised concern both nationally and internationally and widespread condemnation of the Taliban’s actions has been voiced.

This also comes amid stalled peace talks in Doha between the Afghan government representatives and the Taliban.

Reports indicate that the disputes between the two side, has led them to show interest in approving some sort of facilitator or mediator.

The spike in violence however has many people concerned and on Tuesday UNAMA stated in a new report that although the overall civilian casualty figure for the first nine months of this year had dropped by about 30 percent against the same period last year, the harm done to civilians remains inordinate and shocking.

In their latest quarterly report, UNAMA documented 5,939 civilian casualties (2,117 killed and 3,822 injured) from 1 January to 30 September 2020.

The mission said the period from 1 October is outside the scope of UNAMA’s latest quarterly report, but “raises its increasing concern over the intensification of the fighting in Helmand, as well as several indiscriminate attacks in Nangarhar, Laghman and Ghor along with an airstrike in Takhar and a suicide attack targeting civilians in Kabul that taken together killed and injured more than 400 civilians.”

The Taliban rejected the report and said it was a unilateral report.

But the issue of stalled peace talks has raised concerns among Afghanistan’s international partners and on Tuesday their Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad headed for Doha where he will meet with negotiating teams to press both sides to immediately reduce the levels of violence that Afghan civilians are forced to bear.

The General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has also stepped in and on Tuesday night reiterated its call to all parties to the conflict to focus on achieving a successful outcome in the stalled peace talks.

Condemning the recent surge in violence in Afghanistan “that has caused many casualties including women and children”, the General Secretariat urged all stakeholders to reduce violence, declare an immediate ceasefire and resort to dialogue as the only way forward towards reaching comprehensive reconciliation and lasting peace in Afghanistan.

The OIC Secretary-General, Dr. Yousef A Al Othaimeen, recalled the OIC’s initiatives and efforts towards reconciliation and lasting peace within the framework of the Afghan-owned, Afghan-led peace process.

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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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