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UK troops should stay until peace talks are over: House of Lords

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(Last Updated On: January 13, 2021)

A House of Lords committee on Tuesday recommended that British troops should stay in Afghanistan until peace talks with the Taliban are over and urged the British government to shape its own policy rather than simply follow the United States.

Releasing their report on “The UK and Afghanistan”, the International Relations and Defence Committee criticizes the lack of clarity on UK policy towards Afghanistan, expresses concern over the premature withdrawal of troops by the US, and says the British government will have to carefully consider its approach to the Taliban if a power-sharing agreement is reached at the peace talks.

While only around 850 UK troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, the UK is the third largest bilateral donor to Afghanistan, providing £167 million in official development assistance in 2020–21.

The Committee’s report comes after their inquiry which explored the UK’s diplomatic, military and aid strategy for Afghanistan, including scrutiny of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), and the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

It also considered the UK’s work with international partners such as the US, NATO, and the Afghan government.

Commenting on the report, Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Chair of the Committee, said:
“Afghanistan’s relative prioritisation as a UK national security issue has slipped since 2010, but the scale of the challenges facing the country, and their potential impact on UK interests, have not diminished.

“The Afghan state remains very fragile, while the Taliban’s insurgency continues, and terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and Islamic State Khorasan Province (Daesh), operate in the country. Afghanistan is the source of 95 percent of heroin on UK streets.

“This is a critical time for Afghanistan, with peace talks in Qatar having resumed over the weekend and an unacceptably high level of violence continuing to afflict an already poor and unstable country.

“The (British) Government must engage urgently with the incoming Biden Administration on the strategy for Afghanistan, and emphasise to the US and to NATO Allies the importance of their ongoing presence in Afghanistan until a peace deal is reached. The Government should be front and centre in calling for a multinational approach to Afghanistan within NATO, addressing regional stability, counter-terrorism and countering narcotics production and trafficking,” she said.

As a major aid donor to Afghanistan, she said the Committee was concerned that the British Government’s decision to renege on its commitment to spend 0.7 percent of gross national income on aid from 2021 could have a disproportionately negative impact on Afghanistan.

The report meanwhile found that the UK has shown little inclination to exert an independent voice on policy on Afghanistan and has followed the lead of the US.

The Committee stated it also found few traces of a coherent UK policy approach to Afghanistan and urged the British government to call for a multi-national approach to Afghanistan within NATO – focusing on the UK’s objectives of regional stability, counter-terrorism and countering narcotics production and trafficking.

The report stated that the ongoing presence of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan is essential to the Afghan government’s military strength and negotiating position at the talks in Doha and emphasised the urgency of UK engagement with the incoming Biden Administration on Afghanistan.

“The UK must make clear to the US and NATO allies the crucial role they play in maintaining the Afghan government’s leverage in the peace talks,” the report read.

The inquiry also found that the Taliban has not demonstrated that it has changed, and “it is ideologically opposed to the progress on human rights made since 2001.”

According to the report, while the Taliban “is engaging with the peace talks, its commitment to a negotiated settlement and to power-sharing remains unclear.

“The Committee concludes the Government should carefully consider how it will handle its future relationship with the Taliban in the event of the peace talks resulting in an agreement, in the context of future UK security assistance and aid to an Afghan government with Taliban representation.” the report read.

Human rights were also found to be an issue, particularly the rights of women and minorities, which the Committee found to be in danger of being a casualty of the Afghan peace talks.
“The Committee welcomes the UK’s enduring commitment to human rights, but regrets that the UK is unlikely to have sufficient leverage to ensure these rights are protected.”

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Kabul jolted by powerful explosion

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(Last Updated On: April 20, 2021)

A powerful explosion tore across Kabul on Tuesday night in what appears to have been a targeted attack on a convoy of vehicles belonging to the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

The incident happened just before 10pm on the Airport Road in the city.

According to sources, the convoy was targeted in PD15 in Charahi Shahid on Airport Road.

There have been no reports of casualties so far but damage was caused to buildings in the area.

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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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Ghani launches major development program of 1,000 projects

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(Last Updated On: April 20, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday officially launched the start of construction of 1,000 infrastructure projects across the country.

Addressing an event to mark Good Governance and Human Resources Week, Ghani stated that the projects would be implemented in Herat, Kandahar, Balkh, and Nangarhar provinces at a cost of 5.7 billion AFN.

According to Ghani, development projects such as the construction of dams, roads, and bridges are crucial for improving the lives of people.

“Completion of these 1,000 projects is important for the trust of people and will be implemented across Afghanistan. Every citizen has a fundamental right to have access to services so that we can fulfill the government’s commitments to meet the challenges of the people,” Ghani said.

Highlighting the increasing violence in Afghanistan, Ghani claimed that the Taliban still continue to destroy infrastructure in Afghanistan.

According to him, the group has damaged infrastructure in Afghanistan worth $1 billion.

“The Taliban has destroyed dozens of bridges and culverts,” he said.

Ghani called on the Taliban to plant “flowers” instead of detonating mines.

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