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US general says Taliban appear to have ‘strategic momentum’

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(Last Updated On: July 22, 2021)

The Taliban appear to have “strategic momentum” in the fight for control of Afghanistan as they put increasing pressure on key cities, setting the stage for a decisive period in coming weeks, the top U.S. military officer General Mark Milley said Wednesday.

“This is going to be a test now of the will and leadership of the Afghan people — the Afghan security forces and the government of Afghanistan,” Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon press conference.

The Pentagon says the U.S. withdrawal is 95% finished and will be completed by August 31. AP reported that while the Biden administration has vowed to continue financial assistance and logistical support for Afghan forces after August, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the focus of U.S. military efforts there will be countering terrorist threats, not the Taliban.

Speaking alongside Milley, Austin said the U.S. will “keep an eye on” al-Qaeda, whose use of Afghanistan as a haven for planning the 9/11 attacks on the United States was the reason U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, AP reported.

“Our major focus going forward is to make sure that violence, terrorism, cannot be exported from Afghanistan to our homeland, and so we’ll maintain the capability to be able to not only observe that but also address that if it does emerge,” Austin said, adding that the Taliban pledged in 2020 to not provide a sanctuary for al-Qaeda in the future.

“We expect for them to meet that commitment. If they want legitimacy going forward, I think that’s something they’ll have to consider. That’s one way to earn it, so we’ll see what happens.” He reiterated his view that there is a “medium risk” of al-Qaeda regaining within about two years of the U.S. departure the capability to launch attacks against the West.

“But, again, there are a number of things that could happen to speed that up a bit or slow it down,” he added.

Milley said the Taliban now control about half of the 419 district centers in Afghanistan, and while they have yet to capture any of the country’s 34 provincial capitals, they are pressuring about half of them. As the Taliban seize more territory, the Afghan security forces are consolidating their positions to protect key population centers, including Kabul, he said.

“A significant amount of territory has been seized over the course of six, eight, 10 months by the Taliban, so momentum appears to be — strategic momentum appears to be — sort of with the Taliban,” Milley said.

Milley said that while the Taliban are attempting to create the impression that their victory over the U.S.-backed Kabul government is inevitable, he believes the Afghan military and police have the training and equipment to prevail. He said he would not rule out a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban, nor would he exclude “a complete Taliban takeover.”

“I don’t think the end game is yet written,” he said. 

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IEA excluded from Tehran meeting on Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: October 26, 2021)

The meeting of foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, plus Russia, is scheduled to start Wednesday in Tehran without the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), which has not been invited.

A spokesman for Iran’s foreign minister has said that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will give an opening address and that foreign ministers of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan will attend the meeting in person, and the foreign ministers of China and Russia will attend the meeting virtually.

On Monday an IEA official said they had asked Iran for details on the meeting but had so far not received anything.

According to IRNA news agency, the UN Secretary General António Guterres will also issue a message to this meeting.

Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said at a press conference on Tuesday: “The meeting of foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries will be held tomorrow with the participation of six neighboring countries, plus Russia.”

He also said that the ambassadors of the participating countries will be present.

Khatibzadeh said a statement would be made once consensus among neighboring countries has been reached.

“Tomorrow, the focus will be on fulfilling the will of the Afghan people and the future of this country,” Khatibzadeh added.

Bahadar Aminian, Iranian ambassador in Kabul said Monday that economic and security problems and establishing an inclusive government will be discussed at the Tehran meeting.

“Countries in the region in Tehran meeting will emphasize responsibility about security, economic stability and an inclusive government,” said Aminian.

The Iranian envoy added that participants will also discuss sending humanitarian aid for Afghans and talk about development projects in Afghanistan.

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US was losing war to IEA so it turned to negotiations: Khalilzad

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(Last Updated On: October 26, 2021)

The United States was losing the war to the Taliban (IEA) so it chose negotiations as an alternative, said the former US special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in an interview with CBS News.

According to him, Washington tried many times to strengthen its position on the battleground but it failed.

“We did not defeat them. In fact, they were making progress on the battlefield even as we were negotiating with them. And the reason we negotiated with them was because militarily things were not going as well as we would have liked. We were losing ground each year,” he said.

Khalilzad blamed former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani for the disintegration of Afghanistan’s security sector, saying his escape triggered the chaos i seen in Kabul as the US withdrew its troops.

“But I believe the biggest difficulty was that President Ghani and a few other Afghan leaders did not believe that we were serious about withdrawal for a long time, and they liked the status quo compared to a political settlement in which they might not have the jobs that they had and- and the resources that the US was providing would not be there.

“They preferred the status quo to a political settlement. And then when it became clear that the U.S. was leaving, then they- they miscalculated the effects of-of the continuing war. They were not serious about the political settlement,” he said.

and did not take into account the real situation in the country.

Khalilzad believes that the US counterterrorism mission in the country succeeded as “the terrorist threat from Afghanistan is not what it used to be” and al-Qaeda has been “devastated.”

He said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) is living up to its agreement regarding al-Qaeda stating “we are convinced that they are not allowing- they are not allowing plotting and planning operations by al-Qaeda against the United States.

“We always would like to see more from the Taliban (IEA), from almost any country that we deal with on this issue. We would like them to do more. We would like to expel- to- to get them to expel any al-Qaeda member who was there.”

“We should press them to do more on the issue of terrorism,” he added.

Asked if he knew where the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri was, Khalilzad said: “Well, the [UN] report that I have seen indicates he could be in Afghanistan or adjacent territories.”

However, he said the IEA members he negotiated with in Doha said they did not know where al-Zawahiri was.

He went on to say he did not necessarily believe this and said: “That’s why it’s very important not to take their word for it, in terms of what they say or what they commit to. That’s why we are saying there has to be over the horizon monitoring of the commitments on terrorism and the ability to strike if we see plotting and planning going on.”

On October 18, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Khalilzad had stepped down as a special envoy for Afghanistan.

Khalilzad said that he made the decision to resign at a time when Washington is beginning a new phase of policy toward Kabul following the withdrawal from Afghanistan in August.

“I was representing the United States to carry out the president’s direction. But I believe the biggest difficulty was that President Ghani and a few other Afghan leaders did not believe that we were serious about withdrawal for a long time, and they like the status quo compared to a political settlement in which they might not have the jobs that they had and- and the resources that the US was providing would not be there.

“They preferred the status quo to a political settlement, he said.

Khalilzad also stated that he would have liked to have seen a negotiated settlement but implied that Ghani did not give this a chance.

He said Afghanistan was close to his heart, especially as he had been born in the country.

“I was born there, and I have spent a lot of my life on behalf of the United States focused on Afghanistan. I helped them with their constitution. I helped them with their first election. I established an American university in-in Afghanistan.

“I was very encouraged by the first years, the enthusiasm, the hopefulness that I observed there,” he said adding that the “political elite of the country made terrible mistakes”.

He said they “allowed corruption, misused elections, democracy, and didn’t treat their security forces perhaps the way they should have been treated.

“And we faced the- the circumstances we did.”

In conclusion he said: “Now it’s time for the Afghans to take ownership with non-military assistance, unless we are threatened, then our military should be in play. But we should not abandon Afghanistan, turn our back on it — use our influence as a country with enormous capability and influence to encourage the emergence of an Afghanistan that the Afghans aspire for.”

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Iranian embassy confirms meeting, outlines agenda

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2021)

Bahadar Aminian, Iranian ambassador in Kabul said Monday that economic and security problems and establishing an inclusive government will be discussed at the Tehran meeting on Afghanistan.

This comes as Iran prepares to host a meeting on Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Aminian said that foreign ministers from Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and China will attend the meeting.

“Countries in the region in Tehran meeting will emphasize responsibility about security, economic stability and an inclusive government,” said Aminian.

The Iranian envoy added that participants will also discuss sending humanitarian aid for Afghans and talk about development projects in Afghanistan.

“Not only is aid necessary for Afghans, but long term projects for development are also important for Afghans to preserve their independence,” he added.

China’s foreign minister will deliver an online speech, while Russia has confirmed it will be present.

Officials of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) said that they asked Iran for details but have not received any so far.

“In the past decades, rulers of the country [Afghanistan] have not taken responsibility for independence, dignity and security. We hope that the current people in Afghanistan will solve the problems,” said Aminian.

This comes after the former government accused Iran of interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Now however the Iranian envoy criticized the former government and called on the IEA to be more responsible.

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