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US peace envoy: Taliban have not complied with their commitments

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(Last Updated On: September 23, 2020)

In his testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security  US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad said the Taliban have not fully complied with their commitments under the February agreement with the US. 

As part of the agreement, the Taliban need to cut ties with al-Qaeda but according to Khalilzad, although the Taliban have made some progress in this respect the group still has more to accomplish. 

Khalilzad said: “With regard to terrorism and al-Qaeda, in this setting, what I can say is the Talibs have taken some steps, based on the commitment they have made, positive steps, but they have some distance still to go. … [W]e are in the middle of the process.  The picture is one of progress but it’s not completed.” 

The Subcommittee also heard testimony from David F. Helvey, who is performing the duties of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs at the Department of Defense. He also said the Taliban has not yet fulfilled its end of the deal. 

“[S]o far, they are not fully compliant, so we have work to be done there. I think we know that [and] the Taliban knows it.”

As part of the deal, the US agreed to withdraw its troops by April next year – and have since February gradually reduced its numbers in Afghanistan. 

Already down from 13,000 to 8,600 a further troop withdrawal to 4,500 is expected by November. 

Both Khalilzad and Helvey testified that the path to a sustainable reconciliation agreement between Afghanistan and the Taliban will be complicated, and high levels of violence remain an obstacle to peace.

Khalilzad stated: “While we have reasons to be hopeful, we are under no illusions about the challenges ahead. The conflict in Afghanistan is especially complex, and negotiators will have to overcome personal interests and political differences while representing diverse constituencies.  We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles.”  

He also stated: “The Afghan people will suffer if there is no peace agreement.”

 Helvey testified: “Taliban violence, quite frankly, has been unacceptably high for too long.”  

He also said that terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Khorasan (ISIS-K) and al-Qaeda still aspire to threaten US national security interests and that “a strong and capable ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] focused on combating terrorist threats and defending the Afghan people is going to be our best chance at supporting and defending US interests.”

In his summary to the House, Khalilzad said the US’ strategy going forward is twofold. 

“One, continue holding the Taliban to the commitments they made in the February 29 agreement, including on combatting international terrorism and discussing a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire at Afghanistan Peace Negotiations. 

“Two, adjust our force posture consistent with the agreement and conditions in Afghanistan. We are on a path to reduce troop levels to between 4,000 and 5,000 and with further reductions possible based on conditions. 

“I want to assure this committee that we will always maintain the ability to protect the United States, but staying in Afghanistan is not an end in and of itself. Our goal for Afghanistan is a nation at peace — with itself and its neighbors — and firmly aligned with the United States and our allies against international terrorism.”

Khalilzad reiterated that the conflict in Afghanistan is especially complex, and negotiators will have to overcome personal interests and political differences while representing diverse constituencies. 

“We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles. This task has required a diverse and dynamic team, made up of State Department Foreign Service Officers, civil servants, and detailees from across the US government. We have also partnered closely and effectively with the Department of Defense, especially General Scott Miller, the commanding general of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. 

“This whole-of-government effort reflects the best of American diplomacy,” he said. 

Khalilzad was appointed as the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation in September 2018, with a mandate to find a diplomatic formula to bring an end to America’s longest war, reduce the burden on the US military and taxpayer, provide the best chance for a unified and representative Afghanistan at peace and to ensure terrorists can never us Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States or its allies again. 

After 18 months of intense diplomacy, two milestones have been achieved – the US-Taliban agreement in February and the start of Afghan peace talks which are currently underway in Doha. 

TO READ AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD’S FULL SUMMARY CLICK HERE 

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NATO Defence Ministers meet to address security challenges

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(Last Updated On: October 22, 2020)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday evening that alliance defense ministers had taken “another important step” and agreed to establish a new NATO Space Center in Germany. 

Addressing an online press conference after the first day of the two-day defense minister’s meeting, Stoltenberg said the new center will “help to coordinate Allied space activities; support NATO missions and operations from space, including with communications and satellite imagery; and protect Allied space systems by sharing information about potential threats.”

He also said they had addressed Russia’s growing arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles and said the “challenge is serious, and growing in scale and complexity.”

A number of other issues were also addressed including that of new air and missile defense systems; strengthening NATO’s advanced conventional capabilities; and new fifth-generation fighter aircraft. 

Stoltenberg stated that ministers had also received a comprehensive report on the state of critical infrastructure, including ports and airports; supplies of fuel, food and medical equipment; and telecommunications, including 5G.

“While we have made progress, there are still vulnerabilities. For instance foreign control of the critical infrastructure upon which our societies and our militaries rely,” he said.

“Countries like China are investing aggressively in ports and airports, and our telecommunication networks remain vulnerable to attacks from the outside, and compromise from the inside.

“So we must continue to build up our resilience. And we have agreed that we will strengthen our resilience pledge when NATO leaders meet next year.”

On Friday, NATO’s training missions in Afghanistan and Iraq will be discussed.  

Addressing a pre-ministerial meeting on Wednesday, Stoltenberg said NATO remains committed to Afghanistan’s long-term security and supports the Afghan peace talks.

He also said however that: “The Taliban must live up to their commitments, significantly reduce the levels of violence, and pave the way for a ceasefire.” 

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UN to probe Takhar airstrike after locals claim children were killed

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(Last Updated On: October 22, 2020)

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said on Thursday night it was investigating an Afghan National Army (ANA) airstrike in Takhar province that reportedly killed 12 children. 

In a post on Twitter, the mission said: “UNAMA civilian protection team following up on allegations of ANA airstrike yesterday against Taliban in Takhar province killing 12 children, girls & boys, & injuring 18 other civilians.”

UNAMA also stated that the United Nations will issue findings when complete. 

This comes after local officials in Takhar said early Thursday morning a mosque had been targeted in an airstrike killing children and injuring many others, including the mosque’s imam. 

First Vice President Amrullah Saleh rejected the claims in a Facebook post later in the day and said Taliban members had been targeted and eliminated. 

“The news of the killing of children in a mosque in Takhar is baseless. Those who dragged our forces to dust and blood yesterday were destroyed, and we have undeniable proof,” Saleh wrote.

This came a day after the Taliban carried out a massive attack against Afghan security forces in the province, killing as many as 50 soldiers. 

Reuters reported that Abdul Qayoom Hayrat, head of the provincial health department in Takhar, said that 10 of the dead soldiers were members of the Afghan special forces.

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Brazilian volunteer in COVID-19 vaccine trial dies 

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(Last Updated On: October 22, 2020)

Brazilian health authority Anvisa confirmed a volunteer in a clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University had died but said the trial would continue.

Oxford confirmed the plan to keep testing, saying in a statement that after careful assessment “there have been no concerns about safety of the clinical trial,” Reuters reported.

A source told Reuters the trial would have been suspended if the volunteer who died had received the COVID-19 vaccine, suggesting the person was part of the control group that was given a meningitis vaccination.

The Federal University of Sao Paulo, which confirmed the volunteer was Brazilian, said a review committee had suggested the trial continue. 

The university is helping to coordinate phase 3 clinical trials in Brazil.

 

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