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US proposes house arrest for “most dreaded” Taliban prisoners

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(Last Updated On: August 1, 2020)

In an exclusive report by Reuters, published on Saturday, the news agency stated the US has proposed that hundreds of Taliban prisoners be transferred to house arrest in a supervised facility when they are freed from Afghan jails.

Citing three senior official sources, Reuters reported that this was a proposed solution for a deadlock that is holding up peace talks.

According to the report, the proposal was for the Taliban fighters to be placed in a location where they would be under both Taliban and Afghan government surveillance. 

Reuters stated that according to sources, the proposal was presented this week to both the Afghan government and to the Taliban. 

The prisoner issue has been the sticking point in terms of kick-starting intra-Afghan talks following the February agreement between the US and the Taliban in Doha. 

To date, the Afghan government has refrained from releasing the final batch of about 400 prisoners. 

This development comes after a visit this week by US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to Kabul where he met with President Ashraf Ghani and other senior Afghan officials. 

Reuters reported that some Western allies have also expressed concerns over the release of about 200 of this group. 

“The Americans and their allies agree that it would be insane to let some of the most dreaded Taliban fighters walk out freely…the Afghan forces arrested them for conducting some of the most heinous crimes against humanity,” said a senior western diplomat in Kabul.

Khalilzad’s office was not immediately available for comment on the proposals. A spokesman for Ghani declined to comment, Reuters reported.

The US State Department referred Reuters to a statement it released after Khalilzad’s visit, which said he had pressed for “ongoing efforts to resolve the remaining issues ahead of intra-Afghan negotiations”, including the prisoner release, but did not detail any proposals.

According to Reuters, of the 400 prisoners left, around 200 are accused by the Afghan government of masterminding attacks on embassies, public squares and government offices, killing thousands of civilians in recent years, including a huge 2017 blast targeting the German Embassy in Kabul.

Two Taliban sources and one former senior Afghan official said senior members of the militant Haqqani Network, which has ties to the Taliban, are also among the group.

On Friday, Ghani ordered the release of 500 Taliban prisoners who are not part of the group’s list.

 

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Thousands cross border after Spin Boldak opens for one day only

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(Last Updated On: August 9, 2020)

Spin Boldak border crossing opened on Saturday amid tight security, allowing thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis to cross into their home countries.

Officials opened the border crossing for one day, after having closed it early this month following heightened tension between the security forces in the area. 

One official at the border crossing told Pakistan’s Dawn News on Saturday night that “over 15,000 people, including women and children, crossed into their countries smoothly and amid tight security arrangements.” 

Tensions boiled over on July 31 when at least nine civilians were killed and 50 others wounded in Pakistani forces’ artillery attacks, the Afghan Defense Ministry said at the time. 

On Thursday, hundreds of Afghans staged a protest in Spin Boldak district, in Kandahar, to condemn the incident. 

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Afghan Cricket Board agrees tour of Zimbabwe now ‘not feasible’

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(Last Updated On: August 9, 2020)

Responding to Zimbabwe’s announcement that it had canceled the T20I cricket series, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) said late Saturday night that it respects Cricket Zimbabwe’s decision and agrees it is not feasible for the series to be held given the continued COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a press release issued late Saturday night, the board said that the “ACB understands that under the current situation where the COVID-19 pandemic still poses a grave threat to the health and safety of everyone concerned, it is not currently feasible for the series to be held.”

The tour was scheduled to start later this month.

In the statement, the ACB said it had always adhered to health and safety guidelines around the  COVID-19 outbreak and pointed out that the pandemic has had an extreme impact on the cricketing calendar for 2020. 

“ACB, therefore, respects and conforms to Cricket Zimbabwe’s decision in this regard and cites it as a fair decision under the relevant circumstances and looks forward to bilateral cricket between both sides in future. 

“As ACB and Cricket Zimbabwe share a good history of bilateral cricket, the possibility of a series between the National teams of both countries will be discussed again once the threat of COVID-19 is tackled effectively,” the statement read. 

The planned Twenty20 International cricket tour was called off on Saturday by Zimbabwe after the host government declined to approve the tour, citing health risks.

 The tour was expected to start this month and despite the Zimbabwean cricket federation having applied to government for the tour to go ahead, the five-match series was canceled. 

Zimbabwe’s Sports and Recreation Commission’s (SRC) director-general Prince Mupazviriho said: “It will not be proper at the moment for foreigners to come to Zimbabwe for sport considering that there won’t be enough time to go through the required quarantine period.”

“We also took into consideration the recent spike in Covid-19 cases and felt that such a tour would put the players and everybody at great risk. So the minister responsible (Sports minister Kirsty Coventry) decided not to approve the tour.”

Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) chairman Tavengwa Mukuhlani said the Afghanistan series cancellation was a huge setback for his country’s cricket team but added that the country is now hoping to travel to Pakistan in October to begin it’s World Super League commitments, a new ICC model that creates a pathway to the 2023 World Cup.

 

 

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US to reduce troop levels to less than 5,000 by end of November

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(Last Updated On: August 9, 2020)

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday that the United States will withdraw the number of troops in Afghanistan to below 5,000 by the end of November.

“We are going down to a number less than 5,000 before the end of November,” Esper said in an interview with Fox News.

Esper said the Pentagon would still need to brief members of Congress on the plan, and would also need to ensure the “United States is not threatened by terrorists coming out of Afghanistan.”

This comes after US President Donald Trump said in an interview with Axios last week, he would like to have “probably anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000” troops in Afghanistan by the time of the election on November 3.

Over the past six months, the US has reduced the number of troops to about 8,600 from 14,000. 

This was in accordance with the Doha agreement, signed in February, between Washington and the Taliban. 

However, US officials have stated that the second phase will be conditions-based, but have yet to define this. 

In his interview last week, 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.”

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