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Top US intel officials brief Congress on alleged Russia bounties on US forces in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: July 3, 2020)

Top US intelligence officials briefed on Thursday briefed US Congress on alleged Russia offered awards to the Taliban militants for attacks on American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. 

CIA Director Gina Haspel and National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone met with members of the key US Congress members to tell them directly about the report. 

The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a number of other Republicans were briefed behind the closed doors.

Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives urged the government to impose sanctions against Russia, while others do not believe in the Trump administration’s tough stance on Russia.

“We expect the President of the United States to give them that same force protection, that same priority, and we are disappointed that has not happened. Whatever else happens of this, we must restore those sanctions, and we must act upon them,” said Pelosi.

Earlier, the Taliban and Russia denied the report, but a Russian foreign ministry spokesman said it had only helped the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “Russia supplied arms only to the legitimate government of Afghanistan, which is a well-known fact. If our US colleagues want to have a conversation in this context, it would be appropriate to recall the information circulating in Afghanistan regarding the US special services’ support for ISIS with the use of helicopters, which we covered extensively at our briefings one to two years ago, and shielding them from Taliban attacks.”

US officials have not yet commented on Russia’s allegations.

But US forces in Afghanistan and Afghan officials have previously denied the allegations, saying they are committed to suppressing ISIS and that the group has been repressed in many parts of Afghanistan and will continue to fight them.

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Thousands cross border after Spin Boldak opens for one day only

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(Last Updated On: August 9, 2020)

Spin Boldak border crossing opened on Saturday amid tight security, allowing thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis to cross into their home countries.

Officials opened the border crossing for one day, after having closed it early this month following heightened tension between the security forces in the area. 

One official at the border crossing told Pakistan’s Dawn News on Saturday night that “over 15,000 people, including women and children, crossed into their countries smoothly and amid tight security arrangements.” 

Tensions boiled over on July 31 when at least nine civilians were killed and 50 others wounded in Pakistani forces’ artillery attacks, the Afghan Defense Ministry said at the time. 

On Thursday, hundreds of Afghans staged a protest in Spin Boldak district, in Kandahar, to condemn the incident. 

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Afghan Cricket Board agrees tour of Zimbabwe now ‘not feasible’

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(Last Updated On: August 9, 2020)

Responding to Zimbabwe’s announcement that it had canceled the T20I cricket series, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) said late Saturday night that it respects Cricket Zimbabwe’s decision and agrees it is not feasible for the series to be held given the continued COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a press release issued late Saturday night, the board said that the “ACB understands that under the current situation where the COVID-19 pandemic still poses a grave threat to the health and safety of everyone concerned, it is not currently feasible for the series to be held.”

The tour was scheduled to start later this month.

In the statement, the ACB said it had always adhered to health and safety guidelines around the  COVID-19 outbreak and pointed out that the pandemic has had an extreme impact on the cricketing calendar for 2020. 

“ACB, therefore, respects and conforms to Cricket Zimbabwe’s decision in this regard and cites it as a fair decision under the relevant circumstances and looks forward to bilateral cricket between both sides in future. 

“As ACB and Cricket Zimbabwe share a good history of bilateral cricket, the possibility of a series between the National teams of both countries will be discussed again once the threat of COVID-19 is tackled effectively,” the statement read. 

The planned Twenty20 International cricket tour was called off on Saturday by Zimbabwe after the host government declined to approve the tour, citing health risks.

 The tour was expected to start this month and despite the Zimbabwean cricket federation having applied to government for the tour to go ahead, the five-match series was canceled. 

Zimbabwe’s Sports and Recreation Commission’s (SRC) director-general Prince Mupazviriho said: “It will not be proper at the moment for foreigners to come to Zimbabwe for sport considering that there won’t be enough time to go through the required quarantine period.”

“We also took into consideration the recent spike in Covid-19 cases and felt that such a tour would put the players and everybody at great risk. So the minister responsible (Sports minister Kirsty Coventry) decided not to approve the tour.”

Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) chairman Tavengwa Mukuhlani said the Afghanistan series cancellation was a huge setback for his country’s cricket team but added that the country is now hoping to travel to Pakistan in October to begin it’s World Super League commitments, a new ICC model that creates a pathway to the 2023 World Cup.

 

 

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US to reduce troop levels to less than 5,000 by end of November

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(Last Updated On: August 9, 2020)

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday that the United States will withdraw the number of troops in Afghanistan to below 5,000 by the end of November.

“We are going down to a number less than 5,000 before the end of November,” Esper said in an interview with Fox News.

Esper said the Pentagon would still need to brief members of Congress on the plan, and would also need to ensure the “United States is not threatened by terrorists coming out of Afghanistan.”

This comes after US President Donald Trump said in an interview with Axios last week, he would like to have “probably anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000” troops in Afghanistan by the time of the election on November 3.

Over the past six months, the US has reduced the number of troops to about 8,600 from 14,000. 

This was in accordance with the Doha agreement, signed in February, between Washington and the Taliban. 

However, US officials have stated that the second phase will be conditions-based, but have yet to define this. 

In his interview last week, Trump told Axios he will reduce American troop levels in Afghanistan down to about 4,000 “very soon”. 

He said: “We are largely out of Afghanistan”.

 “We’ll be down in a very short period of time to 8,000, then we’re going to be down to 4,000, we’re negotiating right now”, he said adding that the US had “been there now for 19 years and we will be getting out.”

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