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US Troop Drawdowns In Afghanistan ‘Not Tied’ to Taliban Deal: Esper

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(Last Updated On: December 3, 2019)

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday that any future troop drawdowns in Afghanistan were “not necessarily” linked to a deal with Taliban insurgents, suggesting some lowering of force levels may happen irrespective of the ongoing peace push.

The remarks by Esper in an interview with Reuters came on the heels of a Thanksgiving trip last week to Afghanistan by President Donald Trump, who spoke of potential troop reductions and said he believed the Taliban insurgency would agree to a ceasefire in the 18-year-old war.

If honored by all sides, a ceasefire could lead to a significant reduction in violence. But U.S. military commanders would still focus on the threats associated with two other militant groups in Afghanistan: Islamic State and al Qaeda.

Speaking as he flew to London for a NATO summit, Esper said the Trump administration had been discussing potential reductions in troop levels for some time, both internally and with NATO allies.

“I feel confident that we could reduce our numbers in Afghanistan and still ensure that place doesn’t become a safe haven for terrorists who could attack the United States,” Esper said, without offering a figure.

“And our allies agree we can make reductions as well.”

Asked whether such reductions would necessarily be contingent on some sort of agreement with the Taliban insurgency, Esper said: “Not necessarily.”

He did not elaborate.

There are currently about 13,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan as well as thousands of other NATO troops. U.S. officials have said U.S. forces could drop to 8,600 and still carry out an effective, core counter-terrorism mission as well as some limited advising for Afghan forces.

A draft accord agreed in September before peace talks collapsed would have withdrawn thousands of American troops in exchange for guarantees that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militant attacks on the United States or its allies.

Still, many U.S. officials privately doubt the Taliban could be relied upon to prevent al Qaeda from again plotting attacks against the United States from Afghan soil.

Esper did not hint at any developments in the coming days or suggest that new troop drawdowns in Afghanistan might figure into NATO discussions this week.

“I don’t think there’s any ‘new’ news right now, if you will. We’ve been discussing this for quite some time,” Esper said, when asked if he would raise the issue in London.

About 2,484 U.S. service members have been killed in the Afghan conflict and many thousands more wounded.

Source: News Agencies

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Ghani meets with leading politicians to discuss peace process

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(Last Updated On: June 21, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani met with the country’s political and jihadi leaders on Monday morning who stressed that the peace process is a priority for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and that “all further steps in this process, will be taken with the necessary understanding and consensus.”

Present at the meeting were Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation; Hamid Karzai, former president; Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, former Jihadi leader; Mohammad Sarwar Danesh, Second Vice President; Mohammad Younus Qanuni, former vice president; Fazl Hadi Muslimyar, Speaker of the Senate; Mir Rahman Rahmani, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Mohammad Karim Khalili, leader of the Islamic Unity Party; Mohammad Ismail Khan, a member of the leadership of the Islamic Jamiat of Afghanistan; and a number of other senior politicians and officials.

According to a statement issued by the Presidential Palace (ARG), the politicians also agreed a united front was necessary.

“It was also emphasized at the meeting that a united front and a strong political consensus were necessary to strengthen peace and stability, strengthen the republican system and support the country’s security forces and make strong use of the strong popular support for the republican system to consolidate stability,” ARG said.

Participants at the meeting also discussed Ghani and his entourage’s planned visit to the United States, which they called “significant.”

On Sunday, the White House announced that Ghani and Abdullah were scheduled to travel to the US on June 25.

US President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet with the Afghan leaders to discuss continued US-Afghan cooperation, as well as the withdrawal of US troops from the country.

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US, Turkish military chiefs discuss diplomatic presence in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: June 21, 2021)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke by phone on Sunday today with Turkish Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar to discuss bilateral cooperation and maintaining continued diplomatic presence in Afghanistan.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Austin reaffirmed the importance of the longstanding U.S.-Turkey defense relationship and thanked the Minister for the continuing communication and cooperation on peace and security issues.

This comes after reports emerged recently that Turkey has agreed to provide security for and run the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul once all foreign troops have withdrawn.

Turkey stated however that there were conditions attached to their offer.

In an interview with TRT this weekend, Afghan Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar said Afghanistan welcomes Turkey’s offer to run the airport.

“We believe that this will be essential for continuation of Turkish and NATO as well as the international community’s support to Afghanistan. This is going to be important for the diplomatic community in Kabul and it’s also important for international assistance to Afghanistan,” he said.

He also said that he believes the new system will see Turkey as the lead nation in protecting the airport and might be supported by other NATO allies including Hungary.

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Civilians killed in roadside IED explosion in Paktia

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(Last Updated On: June 21, 2021)

At least four people were killed and five others were injured in a roadside explosion in Paktia province on Monday morning, officials said.

Hayatullah Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the Paktia police, said the incident took place in the Tala area of Machalgho in Ahmadabad district when a car hit an IED.

He said it was not yet known if the dead included women and children.

Ahmadzai said that most of the mines in the area had been planted by Taliban militants on the roads, causing harm to civilians.

Locals meanwhile said the victims had included women and children who had been on the way to the funeral of a soldier killed in fighting in the area on Sunday night.

The Taliban has not commented on the incident.

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