After the unexpected tweet last week by US President Donald Trump that all American troops in Afghanistan should be home by Christmas, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said on Sunday that he would not go into specifics but they “have a responsible plan to end the war.”
Speaking to NPR, he would not be drawn on whether this meant that all troops would leave by late December but said: “We have a plan, a series of responsible drawdown options that has been briefed to the president.
“I’m not going to go into specific numbers for the future. I think that would [not] be appropriate for me as the chairman to talk specific numbers in future operations, we typically don’t do that. But we have a responsible plan to end the war with US interests clearly in mind,” he said.
Miley said however Washington was on track to draw down to 4,500 troops in the near future adding that further drawdowns will be determined by Trump.
He said the US-Taliban agreement, signed in February in Doha, and the drawdown plans are conditions-based, and that he expects further discussions to assess whether conditions are being met will be held in future.
“The key here is that we’re trying to end a war responsibly, deliberately, and to do it on terms that guarantee the safety of the US vital national security interests that are at stake in Afghanistan.”
Unbundling the terms “conditions-based” in relation to a full withdrawal as per the Doha agreement, he said the US was monitoring “a variety of other conditions” in addition the peace talks being held, the Taliban not attacking US forces, the group not carrying out large attacks on major urban areas, and severing ties with al-Qaeda.
“So we’re monitoring all of those conditions closely. And we’re, we the military, are giving our best military advice on those conditions so that the president can make an informed, deliberate, responsible decision.”
On the high level of violence, currently gripping the country, he said “if you start measuring the violence from, call it four or five months ago, has there been a significant reduction in violence? Answer: not significant. If you measure it from two to three years ago or five years ago, there has been a significant reduction in violence.”
“So, you have to look at this stuff analytically and we do. And you have to put it through a high degree of rigor, because you can get two people looking at the same set of phenomena and they will come up with two different conclusions.
“So what I want to make sure is that we’re going through a high degree of rigor and providing good analysis for the president to make a responsible, deliberate decision,” he said.
In February, at the time of the signing of the Doha agreement, there were about 13,000 American troops in the country. A systematic drawdown has since been carried out with troop levels expected to reach about 4,500 by next month.
However, last week the US national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said he expected a big reduction of US troops in Afghanistan by early next year. Just hours later, Trump said on twitter that all troops should be home by Christmas.
Asked what would happen if the US pulled out all troops by Christmas, he said “I don’t think, frankly, it would be appropriate [to answer the question],” adding that he did not want to speculate in an open forum on what he might advise Trump on what those risks are.
“I default back to we have a plan. It’s a conditions-based plan, and right now, the only number that’s publicly out there that I am aware of in terms of any sort of official number is 4,500 in the not-too-distant future by November. And that’s the plan.
“And we’re continuing to monitor those conditions. And as further decisions that the president makes based on those conditions, then we’ll execute those decisions. But right now, for me to go beyond that, for me to go beyond the publicly disclosed number of 4,500 would not be, I don’t think it’d be a wise thing for me to do,” he said.
About O’Brien saying that the US will cut the number of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 by early next year, Milley said anyone “can speculate as they see fit. I’m not going to engage in speculation. I’m going to engage in the rigorous analysis of the situation based on the conditions and the plans that I am aware of and my conversations with the president. And then when we get to the point where we have further discussions and further decisions, those will be appropriately made public.”
Kazakhs told to leave streets to avoid ‘anti-terrorist actions’
A statement broadcast on Kazakh TV on Friday told Almaty residents to stay inside during the security operation in the city.
Video obtained by Reuters showed the broadcast statement, which said: “Respectable Inhabitants of Almaty! A counter-terrorist operation to destroy bandit groups is going on in Almaty. The main goal is to stop terrorists and safeguard the security of the city. If anti-terrorist activity takes place where you live, it is recommended you do not go near by windows or get out in the street. Hide in a safe place, do not leave children or the elderly without supervision.”
Almaty, Kazakhstan’s main city, has seen days of violence, with demonstrations that began as a response to a fuel price hike swelling into a broad movement against the government and ex-leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, the longest-serving ruler of any former Soviet state.
Security forces appeared to have reclaimed the streets of Kazakhstan’s main city on Friday after days of violence, and the Russian-backed president said he had ordered his troops to shoot to kill to put down a countrywide uprising.
A day after Moscow sent paratroopers to help crush the insurrection, police were patrolling the debris-strewn streets of Almaty, although some gunfire could still be heard, Reuters reported.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said foreign-trained terrorists were responsible for the unrest, and the interior ministry said 26 “armed criminals” had been “liquidated”, while 18 police and members of the national guard had been killed, figures that appeared not to have been updated since Thursday. State television reported more than 3,700 arrests.
Japan pledges $109 million to Afghanistan and its neighbors to ‘address crisis’
The Japanese government has pledged to donate a total of approximately $109 million to Afghanistan and its neighboring countries “to address the humanitarian crisis” in the country.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said that Japan will provide assistance to directly address humanitarian needs in Afghanistan and its neighboring countries including Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
“The Government of Japan will provide assistance to directly address humanitarian needs in areas such as healthcare, food, and nutrition, protection, water, and sanitation, as well as livelihood improvement to Afghanistan and its neighboring countries,” the statement read.
According to the statement the assistance would be provided through 16 international organizations to improve the humanitarian crisis.
“The Government of Japan will continue to provide support and stand with the people of Afghanistan, and play an active role to realize stability in the region,” the statement added.
According to the statement, $100 million will be allocated for Afghanistan; $4.01 million to Iran; $3.72 million to Pakistan; $0.99 million to Tajikistan; and $0.43 million to Uzbekistan.
Unvaccinated COVID patients flood French ICUs as cases surge
Pressure on French hospitals has been steadily mounting over the past few weeks as France battles a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections, which has been filling up ICUs with unvaccinated patients.
Of the 20 COVID patients of the Mulhouse hospital ICU, only three are vaccinated while the youngest is aged 19 years old, head of the Emile Muller hospital ICU, doctor Khaldoun Kuteifan, told Reuters on Thursday.
“The Mulhouse hospital ICU is currently at full capacity as patients have been coming in for the past 20 days. Seventy percent of the ICU patients are positive COVID cases.”
France had recorded 60,866 new cases over the past 24 hours on Thursday night, while 78.1% of French people have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, according to the French Health Ministry website.
“The waves keep coming and hitting us, and the more it goes on, the more tired we get,” nurse Aurelie Multhaupt told Reuters.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday that the government expects to see around 4,000 patients in intensive care with COVID-19 by the Christmas holidays, Reuters reported.
Attal said new decisions on the reinforcement of border rules, the acceleration of the vaccination campaign and travel recommendations for the holidays could be announced in the coming days.
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