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US mulls possibility of airstrikes if Afghan forces face crisis

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(Last Updated On: June 10, 2021)

The Pentagon is reportedly considering seeking authorization to carry out airstrikes to support Afghan security forces if Kabul or any other major Afghan city is in danger of falling to the Taliban, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

According to senior officials, this could potentially introduce flexibility into President Joe Biden’s plan to end the United States military presence in the conflict.

Initially, Biden and his top national security aides suggested that once U.S. troops left Afghanistan, air support would end as well, with the exception of strikes aimed at terrorist groups that could harm American interests.

But, according to the Times, military officials are actively discussing how they might respond if the rapid withdrawal produces consequences with substantial national security implications.

No decisions have been made yet, officials said. But they added that one option under consideration would be to recommend that U.S. warplanes or armed drones intervene in an extraordinary crisis, such as the potential fall of Kabul or a siege that puts American and allied embassies and citizens at risk, the Times reported.

A potential fall of Kabul is the crisis most likely to lead to military intervention after U.S. troops leave, officials said.

Intervening to protect Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, would be far less certain, one official told the Times.

According to the Times, the discussion suggests the degree of concern in Washington about the ability of Afghanistan’s military to hold off the Taliban and maintain control of Kabul and other population centers.

And it is the latest indication of the scramble by the United States to address the ramifications of Biden’s decision in April to order a full withdrawal.

Whether to provide air support to Afghan security forces after U.S. troops pull out is one of several major questions about Afghanistan policy that the administration is grappling with as Biden prepares to meet NATO allies in Europe next week, the Times reported.

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Tajikistan says hosting Afghans awaiting U.S. visas not on agenda

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(Last Updated On: July 27, 2021)

Tajikistan has no plans to temporarily house thousands of Afghans awaiting U.S. immigrant visas after having worked for American forces now pulling out of the country, Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin said on Tuesday.

Washington has asked Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan to house some 9,000 Afghans who now risk being targeted by Islamist Taliban militants for cooperating with Western forces.

The security situation has deteriorated in Afghanistan in recent weeks, with fighting in its provinces as U.S.-led foreign troops complete their withdrawal and the Taliban launch major offensives, seizing districts and border crossings.

“This matter is not on the bilateral agenda,” Muhriddin told a briefing when asked about the United States’ request.

Uzbekistan – which like Tajikistan shares a border with Afghanistan – has also indicated it is unlikely to comply with Washington’s request, saying there were no legal grounds to house at-risk Afghans in the country.

Kazakhstan has so far declined to comment on the U.S. request.

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Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban

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(Last Updated On: July 27, 2021)

Pakistan on Monday reopened a major southwestern border crossing with Afghanistan that is currently under Taliban control on the Afghan side, Pakistani customs officials said, allowing over 100 trucks carrying goods to cross into Afghanistan.

The Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing, a key port for landlocked Afghanistan, had been closed by Pakistan for commercial traffic since fierce fighting for control of the crossing erupted between Taliban insurgents and Afghan security forces earlier this month, Reuters reported.

“Pakistan has opened its border with Afghanistan at Chaman today and resumed Afghan Transit Trade which was suspended since the last one month,” Arif Kakar, a senior official of the Chaman border district, told Reuters.

He said it would remain open six days a week.

Two Pakistani customs officials, requesting anonymity, told Reuters that Spin Boldak and the border town of Wesh were still under Taliban control, and they did not know what arrangements were in place across the border or who was clearing the goods through customs.

They said Pakistani officials were under pressure by traders to let trucks pass through as the goods they were carrying would otherwise perish, Reuters reported.

Afghanistan’s interior and finance ministries, and the Taliban spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment.

U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees American forces in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul on Sunday that Spin Boldak was a “contested space” and the Afghan government was looking to regain control of it.

Relations between neighbours Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken a sharp downturn in recent weeks, particularly over repeated allegations by Kabul that Pakistan is backing the Taliban – a charge Islamabad denies, Reuters reported.

The Taliban has escalated its offensive since the United States announced in April that it would withdraw its troops by September, ending a 20-year foreign military presence.

Reeling from battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy to concentrate forces around critical areas such as Kabul and other cities, and border crossings.

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U.S. issues new flight restrictions over Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: July 27, 2021)

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Monday it has imposed new flight restrictions over Afghanistan for U.S. airlines and other U.S. operators in response to the changing security environment.

The FAA, in an emergency order effective Sunday, said flights operating below 26,000 feet are prohibited in the Kabul Flight Information Region, which largely covers Afghanistan, unless operating in and out of Hamid Karzai International Airport, citing the risk “posed by extremist/militant activity.”

The restrictions do not apply to U.S. military operations.

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