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Pentagon ‘mindful of looming deadlines’ around troop withdrawals

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(Last Updated On: February 24, 2021)

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said on Wednesday night Washington has been in constant communication with Afghan officials as it continues to review the February agreement signed between the US and Taliban in Doha last year.

In an off-camera press conference, Kirby said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was also fully aware of the findings of the Afghan Study Group analysis and its recommendations.

The report released early this month recommended an immediate diplomatic effort to extend the current May 2021 withdrawal date in order to give the peace process sufficient time to produce an acceptable result.

Kirby meanwhile stated that the Pentagon is “mindful of looming deadlines here and — and everybody shares the sense of — of alacrity when it comes to working our way through this review but we want to do it in a thoughtful, deliberate way, to make sure that we’re — that whatever decisions are made, they’re the best ones, that are in our best national security interests and the — certainly the security interests of our allies and partners, and that includes the Afghan people.”

Asked whether Austin would speak directly to President Ashraf Ghani about this, Kirby said: “I don’t have a future conversation to announce here today but obviously we’ll keep you posted as he continues to consult with our allies and partners.”

Kirby also stated that it was “perfectly reasonable when you have a new administration coming in, to want to take a look at the Doha Agreement, which was agreed to before this administration took office.”

He said given the stakes in Afghanistan, it was reasonable for the new administration to want to review the agreement and look at the issues of compliance in order to make an informed decision about the best way forward.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” he said.

Kirby went on to state “we would hope that people would feel a sense of confidence that we are taking this so seriously; that we want to dive into the details and better understand it, mindful of our security commitments around the world, and particularly, to our Afghan partners.”

This comes just three days after Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, said that the US supports a political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire in Afghanistan.

Following a phone conversation between Blinken and Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) on Saturday about the Afghan peace process, the Secretary of State said: “The U.S. supports progress toward a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”

Abdullah also said that Afghanistan’s situation and the acceleration of the Afghan peace process was discussed in this conversation.

“We exchanged views on the Afghan Peace Process, the 2nd round of the peace talks, the US review of the situation in Afghanistan and ways of accelerating and supporting the peace process,” tweeted About Abdullah.

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Afghan journalists launch center to preserve freedom of speech

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(Last Updated On: April 17, 2021)

A number of Afghan media officials and journalists Saturday officially launched the Afghanistan Center for Freedom of Speech, which is aimed at supporting the values of free speech, the media, and journalists.

During an event to mark the official launch in Kabul, media workers called for an immediate end to the targeted assassinations of journalists and urged the government to prosecute those responsible.

Addressing guests attending the event, Sharif Hassanyar, Head of News for Ariana News stated: “As we enter a crucial phase [in the country] I think the existence of this organization and defending the values of freedom of speech is a must.”

The new center has been funded by the European Union and the Ministry of Information and Culture and will represent the rights and values of the media community in the country.

EU Ambassador to Kabul Andreas Von Brandt also addressed guests and called on warring parties to stop targeting journalists and media workers.

“Mursal Wahidi, Shahnaz Raufi, Sadia Sadat, Ilyas Dayee, and Samim Faramarz were all murdered because of their profession,” he said.

“These targeted attacks not only deprived the victims of their future but they can also be qualified as war crimes,” Von Brandt noted.

“The EU is not only protecting free speech, the EU is the foremost, the world’s largest and the most successful experiment in peacemaking,” he said.

“I stand here to testify that understanding between hereditary enemies is actually possible and peaceful transitions can be managed, but all this needs of course is compromise and the readiness for each side to make concessions.”

“The EU stands ready to help [Afghanistan],” he said.

Meanwhile, in support of journalists, the center on Saturday also awarded Afghan female journalist Anisa Shahid with their inaugural journalist of the year award.

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Afghan swimmer makes waves in World Para Series in Texas

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(Last Updated On: April 17, 2021)

Afghan swimmer Abbas Karimi won a silver medal at the World Para Swimming Series tournament in Texas on Friday evening in the men’s 50m butterfly S5 category.

Posting the news on his Facebook page, Karimi said: “I won this medal for 80 million refugees in the world.”

The Afghan-born swimmer is competing as part of his bid to get into the Refugee Para Athletes Team for the Tokyo Olympics.

He made history at the 2017 World Championships in Mexico City when he became the first refugee to win a medal at a major Para-swimming event. In 2018 he also won gold at the World Series in Indianapolis.

On Saturday, Karimi said about his latest win: “This medal is cool but I want Paralympic medals [from Tokyo].”

More than 100 swimmers have come together in Louisville, Texas for this year’s major swimming contest.

Karimi has so far secured first place in 50m and 100m freestyle and 50m butterfly heats in his category, and second place in the 200m freestyle heat.

Karimi is also expected to take part in the 50m backstroke event in his category on Sunday.

“Thank you so much, everyone, who’s been supporting and praying for me,” Karimi wrote.

Should Karimi make it to the Tokyo Paralympics, he will be the first Afghan to do so.

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EU envoy urges Taliban to attend Istanbul peace conference

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(Last Updated On: April 17, 2021)

EU Ambassador to Kabul Andreas Von Brandt has called on the Taliban to engage in serious negotiations with the Afghan government.

Addressing the inauguration of the “Afghanistan Free Speech Hub” by a group of Afghan journalists and media officials in Kabul, Von Brandt said that the Taliban should not miss opportunities for maintaining peace in Afghanistan.

“As we entered in the holy month of Ramadan I still hope that the Taliban will not miss this opportunity offered to them in Istanbul,” he said.

“There is actually no time to waste,” Von Brandt stressed.

“If the Taliban want to be part of a government in Afghanistan, benefit from our development assistance from our trade, from our humanitarian aid, from the international exposure they better start seriously negotiating,” the EU diplomat said.

This comes after US President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday announced that a full withdrawal of troops would start from May 1 and end by September 11 – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the United States.

EU Ambassador stated that the organization would continue its mission in Afghanistan beyond foreign troop withdrawal.

“Let one thing be clear the EU delegation will continue to be here and continue to do its work,” Von Brandt said.

He, meanwhile, called on the warring parties to compromise for the sake of the Afghan people.

“Understanding between hereditary enemies is actually possible and peaceful transitions can be managed,” Von Brandt said.

“It is an example…how the blood on the battlefield can be exchanged for patience at the negotiating table, how horrific conflicts and wars can be ended through joint institutions.”

“But all these needs of course compromise and the readiness for each side to make concessions,” he added.

He emphasized that if war continues or intensifies “everybody will lose terribly”.

“Of course we are strong supporters to an inclusive peace process that reflects the concerns of the people of Afghanistan that includes women, war victims, civil society, and of course all groups of the population,” he said.

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