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US sends more warplanes to protect troop withdrawal

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(Last Updated On: May 8, 2021)

Washington has deployed a dozen additional warplanes to bolster protection of American and coalition troops making a final withdrawal from Afghanistan as Taliban insurgents step up pressure on Afghan government forces, top Pentagon officials said Thursday.

AP reported that General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said F-18 attack planes have been added to a previously announced package of air and sea power — including the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea and six Air Force B-52 bombers based in Qatar.

Also, several hundred Army Rangers have also been deployed to Afghanistan as part of the support package.

“There continue to be sustained levels of violent attacks” by the Taliban against Afghan security forces, Milley said, speaking alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a Pentagon news conference.

However, he said there have been no attacks against U.S. or coalition forces since they began pulling out of the country on May 1, and he described the Afghan forces as “cohesive,” even as speculation swirls around Kabul’s ability to hold off the Taliban in the months ahead.

“They’re fighting for their own country now, so it’s not a foregone conclusion, in my professional military estimate, that the Taliban automatically win and Kabul falls, or any of those kinds of dire predictions,” Milley said.

“That’s not a foregone conclusion. There’s a significant military capability in the Afghan government. We have to see how this plays out.”

Milley said the Pentagon is considering options for continued support of Afghan government forces after the troop withdrawal is complete, including possibly training Afghan security forces in another country, AP reported.

That would be in addition to urging the Congress to authorize continued financial assistance to the Afghan forces, which has been in the range of $4 billion a year for many years, and possibly providing aircraft maintenance support remotely from another country.

“We haven’t figured that out 100% yet,” Milley said.

Milley said Afghanistan’s air force is central to the strategy for holding off the Taliban, but the durability of those planes is in some doubt.

The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in an April 30 report that without continued foreign contractor support, none of the Afghan air force’s airframes can be sustained as combat effective for more than a few months.

Austin acknowledged that holding off the Taliban without American support on the ground “will be a challenge” for the Afghans.

“We’re hopeful that the Afghan security forces will play a major role in stopping the Taliban,” Austin said. “What we’re seeing unfold is what we expected to unfold — increased pressure” on the Afghan forces.

He confirmed that government forces launched a counterattack this week against the Taliban in Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province, and that they were “performing fairly well.”

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Four polio vaccinators killed, four wounded in Nangarhar

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(Last Updated On: June 15, 2021)

Four polio vaccinators were killed and four others wounded in four separate attacks by unknown gunmen in Nangarhar province on Tuesday morning, confirmed local officials.

Officials said one vaccinator was killed and another wounded at 7:30am in Chamtala area of Khoqyani district on Tuesday.

According to the officials one other vaccinator was killed and one wounded at 8:30 am in another attack in PD3 of Jalalabad city on Tuesday.

One volunteer vaccinator was killed and one wounded in a third attack in Khoqyani district of the province.

In the fourth attack one volunteer vaccinator was killed and one wounded in Sra-Road district of the province.

Attaullah Khoqyani, spokesman for Nangarhar governor confirmed that vaccinators were attacked in several areas but he did not provide details.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks so far.

This comes after at least three members of a polio vaccination team, all of them women, were shot dead by unknown gunmen in Nangarhar province in March, local officials said.

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NATO to provide provisional funding to help run Kabul airport

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(Last Updated On: June 14, 2021)

NATO has not yet decided on who would run the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul once foreign troops have withdrawn, the organization’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said Monday night. 

Stoltenberg said however that Turkey would play a “key role” in running the airport and that NATO is committed to providing transitional funding for the key facility. 

This comes after Turkey offered to run and guard the airport after the withdrawal of troops. 

However, the Taliban issued a warning and said such a move would be a “mistake” and that any country doing so would be considered invaders. 

“The presence of foreign forces under whatever name or by whichever country in our homeland is unacceptable for the Afghan people and the Islamic Emirate (Taliban),” the group cautioned in a statement.

The Taliban insisted that the security of airports, foreign embassies, and diplomatic offices is the responsibility of Afghans, saying that “no one should hold out hope of keeping military or security presence” in Afghanistan.   

In a communique issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the NATO Summit, it was stated that NATO will retain a Senior Civilian Representative’s Office in Kabul to continue diplomatic engagement and enhance its partnership with Afghanistan.

“Recognising its importance to an enduring diplomatic and international presence, as well as to Afghanistan’s connectivity with the world, NATO will provide transitional funding to ensure the continued functioning of Hamid Karzai International Airport,” the communique read.  

“We will also step up dialogue on Afghanistan with relevant international and regional partners. We continue to support the ongoing Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process, and call on all stakeholders to help Afghanistan foster a lasting inclusive political settlement that puts an end to violence; safeguards the human rights of Afghans, particularly women, children, and minorities; upholds the rule of law; and ensures that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists.”

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Khalilzad in Kazakhstan to discuss Afghanistan peace process

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(Last Updated On: June 14, 2021)

US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Nur-Sultan on Sunday to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan.

Kazakhstan media reports stated the two discussed prospects for the development of the Kazakh-US relations in the context of ensuring security and stability in Afghanistan especially once foreign troops have withdrawn.

Reports stated Khalilzad and Tokayev also discussed the coordination of bilateral and multilateral efforts for the stabilization and socio-economic reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Tokayev said: “This year we are marking the 30th anniversary of our Independence. During this period, we managed to build relations of friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation.

“The United States is a strong partner of Kazakhstan. We are good partners in so many areas, including trade and economic cooperation,” he said.

Tokayev also said the Afghan issue was always a focal point in his talks with the leaders of Afghanistan, Russia, China, Central Asian states and international organizations.

Kazakh media reported that during the meeting, Khalilzad shared his assessment of the current situation in Afghanistan, and the vision of American diplomacy regarding the further development of the intra-Afghan peace process.

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