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Taliban still has ties with Al-Qaeda affiliate: Pentagon

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(Last Updated On: July 2, 2020)

Pentagon says in a new report that Al-Qaeda-linked regional groups have close ties to the Taliban and have sustained interests in attacking the US forces and other countries.

While the Taliban has pledged to no longer allow Al-Qaeda to operate from Afghan soil, Pentagon says that the group colluding with al-Qaeda’s branch in the Indian subcontinent.

A report by the US Department of Defense to Congress on the security situation in Afghanistan shows that al-Qaeda’s branch in the Indian subcontinent regularly cooperates with bottom level members of the Taliban to weaken the Afghan government.

“We believe the Taliban still have ties to a network like Haqqani and dozens of other networks operating in Afghanistan. What the Pentagon findings are, our security agencies have the same report,” said Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan president.

The Pentagon has also reported that Russia is actively working with the Taliban and other groups in Afghanistan to speed up the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, as the US Secretary of State has spoken to his Russian counterpart about the matter.

“They have an objective there too. To reduce the risk of terrorism there. So yes, maybe not every time. But with great frequency, when I speak to my Russian counterparts, we talk about Afghanistan. We talk about the fact that we don’t want them engage in this,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The Pentagon says that despite recent progress in the peace process, al-Qaeda’s branch in the Indian subcontinent maintains close ties with the Taliban in Afghanistan, possibly for protection and training.

“The enemy of al-Qaeda is the United States, and it is very clear that the relationship with the Taliban will not be cut, and that it will continue to lead to war,” said Zahir Azimi, a retired militant.

Politician Rahmatullah Bizhanpour said: “The United States wants to repeat the game in Afghanistan or start a new round of games, as the US is taking different stances against the Taliban and then directly another force called ISIS will appear in the region.”

The report regarding Iran said that Iran pursues its goals in Afghanistan by providing calculated support to the Taliban and by engaging in efforts to strengthen relations with the Afghan government.

The Taliban, however, in a statement rejected the report, calling it “propaganda and unsubstantiated.”

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Grand council of tribal elders and prominent leaders officially underway in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: August 7, 2020)

The Loya Jirga, or national grand council, officially got underway in Kabul on Friday morning amid heavy security measures in place in the city.

About 3,200 delegates, including at least 700 women, are in attendance and will discuss and decide on the way forward for intra-Afghan peace talks and the controversial release of the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners.

The delegates are made up of influential tribal elders, community leaders, prominent politicians from around the country.

The Jirga will ultimately advise the president on the way forward.

According to the Doha agreement signed in February between the US and Taliban, the Afghan government was required to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners – prisoners the group listed.

However, the final 400 have not been released as they are accused of having committed or masterminded deadly crimes.

So far, the Taliban has released its captives.

Addressing the delegates on Friday during his opening speech at the Loya Jirga President Ashraf Ghani said that as per the Doha agreement, the Afghan government was to release “up to 5,000, not the exact 5,000 prisoners.”

He said the government is not committed to releasing 5,000 inmates, but the Taliban prisoners were released as part of government efforts to bring peace to the country.

The release of the final 400 has however so far been a major stumbling block in starting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban and Ghani called for a Loya Jirga to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, the United States welcomed the convening of the assembly saying that the Loya Jirga delegates had gathered “to consolidate national support for peace in Afghanistan.

“After 40 years of war, bloodshed, and destruction, the parties are ready to embark on a political process to reach a negotiated settlement,” the US State Department said in a statement.

NATO Senior Civilian Representative Stefano Pontecorvo also commented and said the Loya Jirga represents an opportunity to discuss Afghan Peace Process, “including prisoner release, allowing for much overdue intra-Afghan negotiations to start.”

“I wish the delegates well in their deliberations, consolidating a national approach to peace,” Stefano tweeted.

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Traditional grand council of elders set to decide fate of prisoners Friday

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(Last Updated On: August 6, 2020)

A traditional consultative council, or Loya Jirga, will convene in Kabul on Friday to decide the fate of the last 400 Taliban prisoners who have not yet been released in accordance with the US-Taliban Doha agreement. 

The agreement called for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 government personnel that were being held captive by the Taliban. 

To date, the Taliban has released its captives and the Afghan government has freed over 4,500 Taliban prisoners. 

The last 400 are seen as extremely dangerous by Afghan officials and some Western allies. 

The release of the final 400 has however so far been a major stumbling block in starting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban and on Sunday President Ashraf Ghani called for a Loya Jirga to resolve the issue. 

This Loya Jirga is made up of a cross-sector of the population and at least 2,000 people – mostly elders, community leaders and senior politicians will attend. 

The Jirga is expected to run over two days and security measures in Kabul have been vastly stepped up. Many busy roads in the city will be closed to normal traffic and thousands of security force members have been deployed to maintain safety.

On Wednesday, the Taliban issued a statement rejecting the Loya Jirga as having no legal status. 

In the statement issued on the group’s website, the Taliban said: “That the Kabul administration has decided to summon a supposed Loya Jirga under the pretext of deciding the fate of 400 prisoners and could possibly use it as a tool against peace and wishes of the nation, hence, convening such a Jirga before reaching comprehensive peace and political settlement can in no way be representative of the people or hold any legal status because the Kabul administration itself is illegitimate.”

But the Loya Jirga will go ahead and the 2,000 participants who will attend are the same elders and political leaders invited to a similar council meeting held last year. 

Ghani’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said this week that the Jirga will also decide “what kind of peace it wants.”

The Jirga comes even though the government’s health minister, Jawad Osmani, said at a press conference this week that a survey conducted, in collaboration with the World Health Organization, has found at least a third of the country’s population has been infected with COVID-19. This amounts to about 10 million people. 

In addition, the survey found that at least half of Kabul’s population had been infected – despite official figures countrywide being at just under 37,000. 

Meanwhile, AP reported that Ghani’s critics have accused the president of stalling peace negotiations with the Taliban to retain power as president because it is widely speculated that negotiations could seek a neutral interim government. 

Ghani, who has insisted he will finish his five-year term, was elected in controversial presidential polls held last year. He and rival Abdullah Abdullah battled over the results, which Abdullah alleged were deeply flawed.

Washington intervened warning the squabbling leaders to find a political compromise. 

That led to Abdullah being named to head peace efforts as head of a High Council for National Reconciliation.

The Taliban meanwhile have said they are ready to hold negotiations within a week of the final prisoners being released. 

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Taliban torch two fuel tankers, hijack 7 others: sources

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(Last Updated On: August 6, 2020)

Taliban militants torched two fuel tankers on the Baghlan-Samangan highway on Thursday morning, sources confirmed. 

According to sources, the insurgents hijacked seven other fuel tankers and took them to Dand-e-Ghori in Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province.

Motorists who had been traveling on the highway told Ariana News that the road had been closed to traffic for four hours due to clashes between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban insurgents.

Sources told Ariana News that the Taliban took the trucks to Dand-e-Ghori, saying that they then emptied the fuel from the tankers and sold it off for 20 AFN per liter in the area.

Local officials have not yet commented. 

This latest incident comes amid rising insecurity along the highway in recent days.

On Wednesday, at least 12 bodyguards of Mahbubullah Ghafari, a former member of the provincial council of Baghlan, were killed in a roadside mine explosion.

The incident took place in the Chashmaye Shir area on the Baghlan-Samangan road after a vehicle hit a mine on Wednesday morning.

Baghlan police confirmed the incident but further information has not yet been released. 

The Taliban have also not commented on the incidents.

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