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Trump expects only ‘4,000 to 5,000’ troops in Afghanistan by November 

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(Last Updated On: August 4, 2020)

US President Donald Trump said in an interview broadcast on Monday night that by November election day troop levels in Afghanistan will be down to between 4,000 and 5,000.

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.”

Refusing to give a date as to when the additional drawdown of troops would be done, he was then asked how many US troops would still be in Afghanistan on election day in November.

Trump said “anywhere between four and five thousand.”

Questioned about long-standing rumors of Russia supplying the Taliban with weapons, Trump said he had “heard that but again it’s never reached my desk”. 

He also said “Russia doesn’t want anything to do with Afghanistan” and stated the old Soviet Union had gone bankrupt because of its involvement in Afghanistan. 

“The last thing that Russia wants to do is to get too much involved in Afghanistan. They tried that once and it didn’t work out too well,” he said. 

This comes after reports emerged in June of Russia offering bounty payments to the Taliban to kill US troops. 

Last month the top US general overseeing operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan told CNN that the intelligence concerning Russian operatives offering bounties to the Taliban was “very worrisome” but that the information wasn’t solid enough to hold up in a court of law.

General Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, also said he was not convinced that the Russian bounty program was directly responsible for the deaths of US personnel.

But former US officials have said whether or not bounties were paid, Moscow has been a thorn in Washington’s side for years with regards to Afghanistan. 

Referring to the issue of supplying weapons to the Taliban, the then-defense secretary James Mattis said in 2017: “We’re going to have to confront Russia.”

General John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan from 2016 to 2018, also accused Russia of “arming belligerents” in 2017 and in 2018 said, “Clearly, they are acting to undermine our interests.”

Other former officials have in the past told NBC News that although Russia has professed support for planned peace negotiations, Moscow also cultivated ties and provided aid to the Taliban.

Douglas London, a former CIA official who worked on Afghanistan matters before he retired in late 2018, told NBC that US officials closely tracked Russian support to the Taliban. 

He also said that reports of the Russians paying the Taliban to “incentivize” American deaths is “not inconsistent with our understanding of Moscow’s efforts to be a disruptive force and inflict harm on our people and interests.”

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Atmar conveys condolences to Palestine just hours before media offices bombed

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(Last Updated On: May 15, 2021)

Afghanistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Haneef Atmar spoke with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Palestine, Riyad Al-Maliki, on Saturday and condemned the escalation of attacks and encroachment on the Palestinian people during the holy month of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr.

In a statement issued by his office, Atmar said the bloody attacks were unacceptable for Islamic countries and the world’s peace-loving nations. 

He also called for an immediate end to the violence in the region.

Expressing the Afghan people’s solidarity with the people of Palestine, Atmar stated that Afghanistan supported the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to an independent state, within the borders set out in the 1967 UN Security Council Resolution.

Atmar’s conversation came just hours before Israel bombed a building in Gaza City that houses The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera and a number of other foreign media outlets. 

The airstrike on the high-rise came nearly an hour after the Israeli military ordered people to evacuate the 12-story building, which also housed residential apartments. 

The strike brought down the entire structure, which collapsed in a gigantic cloud of dust. There was no immediate explanation for why it was attacked, AP reported

The spiraling violence has raised fears of a new Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising at a time when there have been no peace talks in years. 

AP reported the strike on the building housing media offices came in the afternoon after the building’s owner received a call from the Israeli military warning that it would be hit. AP’s staff and others in the building evacuated immediately.

Al-Jazeera, broadcast the airstrikes live as the building collapsed.

“This channel will not be silenced. Al-Jazeera will not be silenced,” an on-air anchorwoman said, her voice thick with emotion. “We can guarantee you that right now.”

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Hamas said it fired a salvo of rockets at southern Israel in response to the airstrike.

 

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Pakistan’s peace envoy arrives in Kabul for talks

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(Last Updated On: April 25, 2021)

Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul Mansoor Ahmad Khan said Sunday that a high-ranking delegation led by Pakistan’s Special Representative on Afghan Reconciliation arrived in Kabul for talks with Afghan officials.

“Muhammad Sadiq, Pakistan’s Special Representative on Afghan Reconciliation, arrived in Kabul this morning for discussions with Afghan officials on peace,” Khan tweeted. 

During his visit Sadiq will also discuss security and related matters, the ambassador confirmed. 

Sadiq’s visit comes just two weeks after a scheduled visit by another Pakistani delegation was canceled due to security threats. 

Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Speaker of the House of Representatives, Asad Qaisar, and his accompanying delegation were forced to turn back to Islamabad after entering Afghan airspace following the reported discovery of explosive materials at the airport. 

At the time, Qaisar’s flight was turned back after NATO warned they had found explosives on the runway at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul city.

Qaisar had been scheduled to visit Kabul for three days. 

According to officials at the time, the explosives had been planted on one of the runways years ago.

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CENTCOM chief in midst of ‘detailed planning’ for counterterrorism ops

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(Last Updated On: April 20, 2021)

Carrying out airstrikes against terrorist hideouts in Afghanistan without a US troop presence in the country will be difficult but “not impossible”, the commander of US Central Command General Frank McKenzie said on Tuesday. 

Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, McKenzie said he is in the midst of “detailed planning” for options for so-called “over the horizon” forces, or forces positioned elsewhere in the region that could continue counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan. 

He said he plans to give Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin those options by the end of the month.

“If you leave Afghanistan and you want to go back in to conduct these kinds of operations, there are three things you need to do: you need to find the target, you need to fix the target, and you need to be able to finish the target,” McKenzie said. 

“The first two require heavy intelligence support. If you’re out of the country, and you don’t have the ecosystem that we have there now, it will be harder to do that. It is not impossible to do that.”

McKenzie’s testimony comes almost a week after President Joe Biden announced he was withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan and that they would all be home by September 11 – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. 

According to The Hill, Biden’s decision came despite repeated statements from US military officials that the Taliban was not yet upholding its end of a deal made during the Trump administration to reduce violence and break from al-Qaeda, as well as warnings about the potential for chaos in Afghanistan that could allow an al-Qaeda resurgence should US troops withdraw.

Meanwhile, McKenzie’s comments about the difficulty of intelligence gathering without a troop presence echo comments last week from CIA Director William Burns, who told senators the ability to collect intelligence on threats in Afghanistan will “diminish” with a US military withdrawal, the Hill reported.

On Tuesday, McKenzie also said he continues to have “grave doubts” about the Taliban’s reliability in upholding its commitments under the deal signed last year.

McKenzie declined to tell lawmakers how he advised Biden as the president deliberated the withdrawal, but said he had “multiple opportunities” to provide Biden with his perspective.

The Hill reported that speaking broadly about options to continue strikes once US troops leave, McKenzie said surveillance drones could be positioned in a place where they can reach Afghanistan “in a matter of minutes” or ”perhaps much further away.”

“We will look at all the countries in the region, our diplomats will reach out, and we’ll talk about places where we could base those resources,” he said. 

“Some of them may be very far away, and then there would be a significant bill for those types of resources because you’d have to cycle a lot of them in and out. That is all doable, however.”

Right now, McKenzie added, the United States does not have any basing agreements with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan or other countries surrounding Afghanistan.

McKenzie also said there are a “variety of ways” to strike targets, including long-range precision fire missiles, manned raids or manned aircraft.

“There are problems with all three of those options, but there’s also opportunities with all three of those options,” he said.

“I don’t want to make light of it. I don’t want to put on rose-colored glasses and say it’s going to be easy to do. I can tell you that the U.S. military can do just about anything. And we’re examining this problem with all of our resources right now to find a way to do it in the most intelligent, risk-free manner that we can.”

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley are also scheduled to brief the full House and Senate behind closed doors later Tuesday on Biden’s plan for Afghanistan.

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