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Pentagon continues with troops drawdown despite new law

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(Last Updated On: January 17, 2021)

The US military has continued with its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Department of Defense told Reuters on Monday, despite a new law prohibiting further reductions without the Pentagon sending Congress an assessment of the risks.

“Currently, no new orders have been issued which impact the progression of the conditions-based drawdown expected to reach 2,500 (troops) by January 15, 2021,” it said in a statement.

Reuters reported that the Pentagon’s action will likely anger Republican and Democratic lawmakers opposed to further troop cuts and renew concerns about the outgoing Trump administration’s disdain for Congress, even in its waning days.

“If they are continuing the drawdown, that would be a violation of the law,” said a congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The White House declined to comment.

Reuters stated that halting the drawdown could jeopardize the US-backed Afghanistan peace process which came after the February agreement last year. As part of the agreement, the Taliban wants a complete US troop withdrawal by May in return for the insurgents fulfilling security guarantees.

In November, the Pentagon said it would reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January.

But this month Congress enacted a defense policy bill – overriding a veto by President Donald Trump – that bars using funds appropriated for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to pay for a drawdown below 4,000 US troops until acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller submits to Congress a “comprehensive, interagency assessment of the risks and impacts,” Reuters reported.

It is unclear how many troops have been moved out of Afghanistan since the law passed.

One defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US troop level is already close to 3,000.

The legislation also requires a risk assessment before the number of US troops can be reduced below 2,000.

The Pentagon said it was “evaluating” the impact the legislation would have on US troop strength in Afghanistan.

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Govt to purchase local products in move to boost domestic market

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2021)

The Afghan National Procurement Authority (NPA) and the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Saturday, that will compel government entities to purchase only domestic products where possible.

According to the MoU, which was signed between Ilham Omar Hotak, NPA Chief, and Shirbaz Kaminzada, Chief of the ACCI, all government departments will have to use domestic products from next year (1400 Solar Calendar).

Hotak said at the event that government will in the future have to purchase domestically produced or manufactured products, despite the estimated 25 percent price difference.

Hotak urged the ACCI to guarantee the quality of products, stating “all industrialists should standardize their products.”

“We want to use all alternatives to promote our domestic products in the year 1400 and all government bodies will be bound to use domestic products.”

The ACCI officials, meanwhile, stated they would invest more in the country if the government promised to support local products.

ACCI Chief, Shirbaz Kaminzada stated: “If domestic products are included in government deals we are ready to invest in other sectors as well.”

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Taliban ‘prevents’ 3.5 million children from getting polio vaccine

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2021)

More than 3.5 million children have been deprived of anti-polio vaccinations due to restrictions imposed by the Taliban in several provinces, the Ministry of Public Health claimed Saturday.

The Ministry stated that the Taliban’s restrictions on the house-to-house vaccination campaign has increased from three to ten percent of homes in the last three years.

Mirjan Rasikh, head of the Polio Eradication Program said: “Although the Taliban promised to cooperate in implementing the vaccine, they have prevented it more so than in the past.”

“Children in Paktia and Maidan Wardak have missed the immunity doses against the polio virus due to the Taliban’s restrictions,” Rasikh said.

The vaccination campaign began last week.

The Taliban not only failed to cooperate with the process but also prevented thousands of children from getting the vaccine in Maidan Wardak, Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Kunduz, Takhar, Paktika, and Paktia provinces, the Public Health Ministry said.

A number of civil society activists in eastern provinces have meanwhile called on the Taliban to allow the vaccination campaign to be implemented in areas under their control.

“The Taliban prevented the campaign in areas under their control. We asked them to allow the children to get the vaccine,” Sayeed Jamal Asifkhel, a Paktia civil society activist stated.

Meanwhile, children in Bamiyan, Daikundi, and Ghor provinces also missed out on the vaccine program as healthcare workers were prevented from rolling out the vaccines due to poor weather conditions.

In November last year, the Taliban announced that the group would cooperate in implementing the vaccination campaign, but later the group’s spokesman told Ariana News that the campaign was stopped due to what he put down to “abuses” during the vaccination process.

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Andarabi claims Taliban ‘playing for time’

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2021)

Masoud Andarabi, Minister of Interior Affairs, said Saturday the Taliban is playing for time in the ongoing peace negotiations in Doha and waiting to see what the new US administration decides following the inauguration of Joe Biden last week.

Biden’s administration has confirmed that they will review the US-Taliban agreement signed in February last year and that they will assess whether the Taliban has met the conditions as per the deal, which includes ensuring a reduction in violence and the cutting of all ties with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

According to the deal, if Taliban meets the conditions, Washington will withdraw the last of its troops by May.

Andarabi meanwhile said in an interview with BBC, that the Taliban has increased the level of violence and ramped up targeted attacks across the country in a bid to pressurize the government into giving in to their demands.

He said the group wants the government to release the remaining Taliban prisoners and to accept an Islamic Emirate.

Andarabi also said the Taliban believes in conflict as a solution.

“The Taliban are waiting for the withdrawal of US forces and the group is targeting civil society activists and journalists in order to [get the government to] release more [Taliban] prisoners, as well as to impose Islamic Emirate ideology in governing,” he said.

The Interior Minister added that the Taliban attacks jeopardize all hard-won achievements of the last two decades.

“How committed are they (Taliban) to the values that we have gained with giving hundreds and thousands of sacrifices?” Andarabi asked.

The Taliban has not commented yet. The group, however, has frequently emphasized its commitment to bringing peace to Afghanistan

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