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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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India’s COVID-19 caseload now over six million mark

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(Last Updated On: September 28, 2020)

India’s confirmed coronavirus tally has bypassed the six million mark with another 82,170 cases reported in the past 24 hours. 

The health ministry reported that the COVID-19 caseload was now at 6,074,703.

At least 1,039 deaths were also recorded in the same period, taking total fatalities up to 95,542.

New infections in India, the world’s second-most populous country, are currently being reported faster than anywhere else in the world and are expected to surpass the US tally, which is at 7.1 million, within the next few weeks. 

According to Johns Hopkins University data, almost one in every three new infections reported in the world and one in every five reported coronavirus deaths came from India.

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Abdullah hopes Pakistan visit will ‘open new chapter’ in relations

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(Last Updated On: September 28, 2020)

Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said early Monday morning his visit to Islamabad will prove a unique opportunity for Afghanistan and Pakistan to exchange views on the intra-Afghan negotiations. 

In a post on Twitter, Abdullah said “I hope this visit will open a new chapter of mutual cooperation at all levels, especially on achieving a lasting and dignified peace in Afghanistan.”

He also confirmed he will leave for Islamabad Monday, for an official three-day visit and will be accompanied by a high-level Afghan delegation. 

Abdullah said he will meet with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, President Arif Alvi, the Chairman of the Senate, the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Foreign Minister and other dignitaries.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Sunday, Abdullah will also deliver a key-note address at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad.

This will be Abdullah’s first visit to Pakistan as head of the HCNR and the first since 2008. 

“The visit will provide an opportunity for wide-ranging exchange of views on the Afghan peace process and strengthening of Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relations and people-to-people interaction,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry stated. 

“Pakistan attaches high importance to its fraternal ties with Afghanistan, rooted deep in shared history, faith, culture, values and traditions. 

“Pakistan fully supports all efforts for peace, stability and prosperity of the Afghan people. The visit of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah will contribute to further strengthening amity, brotherhood and close cooperation between the two countries,” read the statement.

 

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Afghan peace negotiator says they hope to finalize agenda soon

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(Last Updated On: September 27, 2020)

Afghan Peace Negotiator, Mawlawi Attaullah Lodin said Sunday that the Afghan team and the Taliban peace talks team have not yet reached a consensus on the agenda and framework for negotiations going forward. 

Lodin, whose video message was posted to the official Afghan negotiating team’s Twitter page said the team is fully aware of Afghanistan’s calls for an immediate ceasefire but that the talks are complicated and will need time for agreements to be reached. 

He said: “We hope to finalize the agenda and that both sides agree to it. Thereafter a ceasefire should be called.”

Lodin also raised the issue of the US-Doha agreement signed in February, which has become a point of contention between the two teams. 

The agreement led to the Afghan negotiating team meeting the Taliban team around the talks tables, which started two weeks ago. 

However, the Afghan government was not a party to the deal between the US and the Taliban, which does not recognize the Afghan government as legitimate. 

“We were not present in the deal, we have not signed the deal,” said Lodin. 

This comes after a member of the Taliban’s negotiating team, Khairullah Khairkhwa, said on Saturday that the main point of contention in the ongoing intra-Afghan talks in Doha was that the Afghanistan Republic was refusing to deal with the current talks within the framework of the US-Taliban agreement.

He also stated that the second point of contention is that Shiite members say that decisions should not be based solely on Hanafi jurisprudence. The Afghan negotiating team want Hanafi, Shiite and human rights included.

Lodin said, however, that according to the Afghan constitution, the Shiites Jaʿfari jurisprudence, or Ja’fari Fiqh, can not be ignored. 

“We don’t want to experience what is going on in Yemen and Syria as there is conflict between majorities and minorities in those countries,” he said. 

Another Afghan talks team member Nader Nadery meanwhile said late Sunday night that the two teams had met earlier and discussions had lasted several hours. The discussions focused on the contentious issues and would continue, he said.

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