With U.S. general under fire, Afghans fear being abandoned by Trump

The Washington Post reports: Afghans are alarmed by widespread reports that President Trump has threatened to fire Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the highly regarded U.S. military commander in this war-torn country, and that Trump has also delayed deciding on a new military and political strategy Afghans have awaited anxiously for the past six months.

Nicholson, 61, the top U.S. military official in Afghanistan for the past 16 months, has become the best-known face of Washington here, working closely with Afghan military and civilian officials, and vocally advocating expanded U.S. military engagement, while the Taliban and other insurgents continue aggressive attacks across the country.

Now, with two U.S. servicemen killed in the past week, Trump’s attack on Nicholson for failing to “win” the 16-year war has stunned Afghan officials and political leaders. They said a clear signal of continued support from Washington is urgently needed to keep the fragile Kabul government on its feet amid an explosion of public unrest and organized opposition from a variety of groups.

“Our biggest immediate worry is the lack of an American strategy,” said Omar Daudzai, a former senior Afghan official. “We are facing political turmoil and a security crisis. Neighboring governments are meddling. We need an American commitment to support the defense forces, elections and democratic institutions. America’s reputation is at stake in Afghanistan, and if this all goes bad, America will lose its credibility.” [Continue reading…]

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The war America can’t win: How the Taliban is regaining control in Afghanistan

Sune Engel Rasmussen reports: In a rocky graveyard at the edge of Lashkar Gah, a local police commander was digging his sister’s grave.

Her name was Salima, but it was never uttered at her funeral. As is custom in rural Afghanistan, no women attended the ceremony, and of the dozens of men gathered to pay their respects, few had known the deceased.

Salima, like almost all women in Helmand province, had spent most of her life after puberty cloistered in her family home.

Her family said she accidentally shot herself in the face when she came across a Kalashnikov hidden under some blankets while cleaning.

In town – Helmand’s provincial capital – the story was regarded with suspicion, if not surprise. Salima died 10 days before an arranged marriage, but nobody asked any questions: it would be improper to scrutinise a woman’s death.

Her body was lowered into the hole, wrapped in a thin, black shroud. She had lived unseen, and was buried by strangers.

For more than 15 years, women’s empowerment has been claimed as a central pillar of western efforts in Afghanistan. Yet in Helmand, adult women are almost entirely invisible, even in the city. They are the property of their family, and few are able to work or seek higher education, independent medical care or justice.

And if the advancement of women’s rights has moved at a glacial pace in places such as Helmand, the process toward peace has slid backwards. Helmand’s two main towns, Lashkar Gah and Gereshk, are among a handful of places in the province not under Taliban control.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has yet to define a strategy for Afghanistan.

The US was expected to have approved the deployment of about 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan by now – the first surge since the withdrawal began in 2011.

Yet the administration is torn. The president himself has wondered aloud “why we’ve been there for 17 years”, and recent reports even suggest that the White House is considering scaling back instead. [Continue reading…]

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Trump finds reason for the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan: To plunder natural resources

The New York Times reports: President Trump, searching for a reason to keep the United States in Afghanistan after 16 years of war, has latched on to a prospect that tantalized previous administrations: Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which his advisers and Afghan officials have told him could be profitably extracted by Western companies.

Mr. Trump has discussed the country’s mineral deposits with President Ashraf Ghani, who promoted mining as an economic opportunity in one of their first conversations. Mr. Trump, who is deeply skeptical about sending more American troops to Afghanistan, has suggested that this could be one justification for the United States to stay engaged in the country.

To explore the possibilities, the White House is considering sending an envoy to Afghanistan to meet with mining officials. Last week, as the White House fell into an increasingly fractious debate over Afghanistan policy, three of Mr. Trump’s senior aides met with a chemical executive, Michael N. Silver, to discuss the potential for extracting rare-earth minerals. Mr. Silver’s firm, American Elements, specializes in these minerals, which are used in a range of high-tech products.

Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who is informally advising Mr. Trump on Afghanistan, is also looking into ways to exploit the country’s minerals, according to a person who has briefed him. Mr. Feinberg owns a large military contracting firm, DynCorp International, which could play a role in guarding mines — a major concern, given that some of Afghanistan’s richest deposits are in areas controlled by the Taliban. [Continue reading…]

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Bannon and Kushner want to outsource Afghanistan to mercenaries

Mark Perry writes: On July 10, the New York Times revealed that the Trump White House had recruited Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious private security firm Blackwater, and wealthy Trump backer Steve Feinberg, the owner of the high-profile military contractor DynCorp International, to “devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.” The story suggested that the president and his top advisers were dissatisfied with the military’s thinking on the conflict, the subject of an intense series of a consultations between senior military officers and Trump’s national security team over the last several months.

While the recruitment of Prince and Feinberg, who are close friends, was intended to provide new options for winning the 16-year war, the administration has been hesitant to describe their role. Both men are controversial for their advocacy of the U.S. government contracting out the Afghan conflict to a private company that would build Afghan state capacity, provide logistical support to the Afghan army, and battle the Taliban. At the very least, the new arrangement would mean a lighter footprint for the U.S. military (or perhaps none at all); at the most it would mean that corporate America, and not the U.S. government, would be responsible for running an overseas war—a kind of “War Inc.”

“Dyncorp has its hands all over Afghanistan anyway, and I mean they’re just everywhere,” a high-level former intelligence officer who is privy to the administration’s thinking told me, “so [senior White House adviser Steve] Bannon and crew figure, ‘What the hell, let’s just turn the whole country over to them.’”

But the proposal has shocked the handful of senior Pentagon and CIA officials familiar with it, who point out the difficulty the United States has had in controlling private armies—and those who run them. This was particularly true of Blackwater, whose contractors gave the U.S. military fits in Iraq’s Anbar Province in the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where both national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis served in key command positions. Senior military officers blame Blackwater for destabilizing Fallujah in 2004 (forcing Mattis to send his Marines into the city in “Operation Vigilant Resolve”) and for the deaths of 20 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad (the “Nisour Square Massacre”) in 2007. [Continue reading…]

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Bannon and Kushner recruited Blackwater founder, Erik Prince, to devise options for Afghanistan

The New York Times reports: President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old.

Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.

On Saturday morning, Mr. Bannon sought out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon to try to get a hearing for their ideas, an American official said. Mr. Mattis listened politely but declined to include the outside strategies in a review of Afghanistan policy that he is leading along with the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.

The highly unusual meeting dramatizes the divide between Mr. Trump’s generals and his political staff over Afghanistan, the lengths to which his aides will go to give their boss more options for dealing with it and the readiness of this White House to turn to business people for help with diplomatic and military problems. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS captures Tora Bora, once Bin Laden’s Afghan fortress

The New York Times reports: Tora Bora, the mountain redoubt that was once Osama bin Laden’s fortress, fell to the Islamic State early Wednesday, handing the extremists a significant strategic and symbolic victory, according to Afghan officials and local elders and residents.

Taliban fighters who had previously controlled the extensive cave and tunnel complex fled overnight after a determined, weeklong assault by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, according to villagers fleeing the area on Wednesday.

Hazrat Ali, a member of Parliament and a prominent warlord from the area who helped the Americans capture Tora Bora from Al Qaeda in 2001, said that the offensive was prompted by the American decision to drop the so-called mother of all bombs on an Islamic State network of tunnels in Achin District in April. The 20,000-pound bomb was thought to be the largest non-nuclear bomb ever deployed.

The Islamic State then decided to shift its refuge to the Tora Bora caves and tunnels, Mr. Ali said. “Some 1,000 ISIS militants were gathered close to Tora Bora, to capture the area,” Mr. Ali said. “I informed government forces to target them, and I told them they are trying to capture Tora Bora, but they did not pay attention.” [Continue reading…]

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Deadly bombing in Kabul is one of the Afghan war’s worst strikes

The New York Times reports: A truck bomb devastated a central area of Kabul near the presidential palace and foreign embassies on Wednesday, one of the deadliest strikes in the long Afghan war and a reminder of how the capital itself has become a lethal battlefield.

In one moment, more than 80 lives ended, hundreds of people were wounded and many more were traumatized, in the heart of a city defined by constant checkpoints and the densest concentration of Afghan and international forces.

President Ashraf Ghani, whose palace windows were shattered in the blast just as he had finished his morning briefing, called it “a crime against humanity.” President Trump called him to offer condolences.

The bombing happened just as the United States is weighing sending more troops, deepening its entanglement, to try to slow or reverse government losses to the Taliban insurgency this year. [Continue reading…]

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Trump wants a new Afghan surge. That’s a terrible idea

Douglas Wissing writes: Afghanistan today remains the largest U.S. military foreign engagement. From the peak of about 100,000 boots on the ground during the Obama-era surge, there are still almost 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, plus up to 26,000 highly paid contractors for the Department of Defense and other agencies. Each soldier costs about a million dollars a year. Economists estimate the Afghan war has already cost U.S. taxpayers around a trillion dollars. For the 2017 fiscal year, U.S. military and State Department operations in Afghanistan are costing about $50 billion—almost a billion dollars a week. (As a reference, the initial budget request for operations against ISIS in Syria was only $5 billion.)

Now the U.S. military is re-escalating in Afghanistan. The Marines are back in Helmand Province. In April, the Pentagon requested “a few thousand” more troops, since upped to 5,000. The booms are getting bigger, too. On April 15th, U.S. forces dropped the 22,000-pound MOAB, the largest non-nuclear bomb in the arsenal, on ISIS fighters in eastern Afghanistan. It is Surge 2.0.

As the Pentagon requests more troops and drops more and bigger bombs, it’s important to assess the dangers of another surge. And to consider whether another U.S. escalation can turn around an unwinnable war. Will Surge 2.0 be consequential, relevant, sustainable? Or will it be another futile chapter in an unwinnable war? [Continue reading…]

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Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar calls on Taliban to end ‘this pointless holy war’

The Washington Post reports: Fugitive warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar on Saturday made his first public appearance in Afghanistan after nearly two decades underground, calling on Taliban insurgents to “join the peace caravan and stop this pointless holy war.” He also urged all political parties to reconcile and seek change “without bloodshed.”

The return of Hekmatyar, 69, who spoke at an outdoor ceremony in a government compound in Laghman province, represented a sorely needed success for the beleaguered government of President Ashraf Ghani, who invited him to return home peacefully last fall in hopes it would encourage the Taliban to follow suit.

A brief statement from the presidential palace said Ghani “welcomes Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s return to Afghanistan as a result of the Afghan-led peace process. The deal shows that Afghans have the capacity to resolve the conflict through dialogue.”

But Hekmatyar’s homecoming was fraught with tension, and his ­expected arrival in Kabul was ­delayed by disputes over the ­release of prisoners from his former antigovernment militia. Also, his remarks had a strong anti-Western theme and were critical of the U.S.-led military campaign against the Taliban, which he compared to the Vietnam War and the Soviet quagmire in Afghanistan. [Continue reading…]

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On rampage inside military base, Taliban slaughter at least 140 Afghan army soldiers

The New York Times reports: They looked like Afghan Army soldiers returning from the front lines, carrying the bodies of wounded comrades as part of the ruse.

Dressed in military uniforms, a squad of 10 Taliban militants drove in two army Ford Ranger trucks past seven checkpoints. They arrived inside northern Afghanistan’s largest military installation just as hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed soldiers were emerging from Friday Prayers and preparing for lunch.

For the next five hours, the militants went on a rampage, killing at least 140 soldiers and officers in what is emerging as the single deadliest known attack on an Afghan military base in the country’s 16-year war. Some assailants blew themselves up among the soldiers fleeing for their lives, according to survivors, witnesses and officials.

“Today, there was even a shortage of coffins,” said Ibrahim Khairandish, a member of the provincial council in Balkh Province, where the attack took place. Other officials feared that the death toll could exceed 200.

The attack punctuated the dismal outlook for Afghanistan, where much of the population of 34 million has known only war.

Over the last two years, Taliban fighters have gained more territory in the countryside and now threaten several cities. Afghanistan’s forces, suffering enormous casualties and grappling with a leadership marred by indecision and corruption, have struggled to put up a defense.

More than 6,700 members of the Afghan security forces lost their lives in 2016, a record high that is nearly three times the total American casualties for the war. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. unleashes ‘Mother of All Bombs’ — and a press release

The Daily Beast reports: U.S. Special Operations Forces dropped one of the world’s most powerful non-nuclear bombs on ISIS fighters in eastern Afghanistan on April 13, defense officials told The Daily Beast on Thursday.

The bombing could mark a shocking escalation of America’s war in Afghanistan—one that places more civilians in greater danger than ever before, though military officials insist they wouldn’t have acted if they had spotted civilians nearby.

American forces were trying to root out deeply entrenched ISIS fighters when a U.S. Air Force MC-130 commando transport dropped the Massive Ordinance Air Blast munition in Achin district in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan at 7:32 in the evening, local time.

ISIS has an estimated 600 to 800 fighters in Afghanistan, many of them in Achin, according to Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump. One U.S. commando died in a firefight in the district just a few days ago, on April 8.

But this was no act of retribution, the Pentagon insisted. “This operation was planned prior to the loss of a 7th Group Green Beret last week,” U.S. military spokesman Navy Capt. Bill Salvin explained from Kabul.

Stump said the massive bombing could hinder ISIS in Afghanistan. “It really restricts their freedom of movement.”

Pentagon officials say the generals have had the authority to whatever ordnance they had in theatre against ISIS since January last year, but President Donald Trump’s comfort level with delegating new decision-making on counterterrorism strikes surely played into their thinking. The general “ordered” the weapon for use in during the Obama Administration, according to Slavin, who said it was only delivered in January this year.

“Appropriate notifications were made. This is not a new authority. This does not reflect a new policy or authority,” U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. John Thomas emailed The Daily Beast. [Continue reading…]

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The art of a deal with the Taliban

Richard G. Olson writes: This year, America’s war in Afghanistan will pass a grim milestone as it surpasses the Civil War in duration, as measured against the final withdrawal of Union forces from the South. Only the conflict in Vietnam lasted longer. United States troops have been in Afghanistan since October 2001 as part of a force that peaked at nearly 140,000 troops (of which about 100,000 were American) and is estimated to have cost the taxpayers at least $783 billion.

Despite this heavy expenditure, the United States commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., recently called for a modest troop increase to prevent a deteriorating stalemate. The fall of Sangin in Helmand Province to the Taliban this month is a tactical loss that may be reversed, but it certainly suggests the situation is getting worse. With the Trump administration’s plan to increase the military budget while slashing the diplomatic one, there is a risk that American policy toward Afghanistan will be defined in purely military terms.

Absent from the current debate is a clear statement of our objectives — and a way to end the Afghan war while preserving the investment and the gains we have made, at the cost of some 2,350 American lives. It has always been clear to senior military officers like Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was the American commander in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011, as well as to diplomats like me, that the war could end only through a political settlement, a process through which the Afghan government and the Taliban would reconcile their differences in an agreement also acceptable to the international community.

The challenges of bringing about such a reconciliation are formidable, but the basic outline of a deal is tantalizingly obvious. Despite more than 15 years of warfare, the United States has never had a fundamental quarrel with the Taliban per se; it was the group’s hosting of Al Qaeda that drove our intervention after the Sept. 11 attacks. For its part, the Taliban has never expressed any desire to impose its medieval ideology outside of Afghanistan, and certainly not in the United States.

The core Afghan government requirements for a settlement are that the Taliban ceases violence, breaks with international terrorism and accepts the Afghan Constitution. The Taliban, for its part, insists that all foreign forces withdraw. No doubt, both sides have additional desiderata, but the basic positions do not seem unbridgeable. This is particularly the case now that the Islamic State has emerged in Afghanistan, in conflict with both the government and the Taliban. [Continue reading…]

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Xenophobes can’t protect America; they just turn friends into foes

The Australian children’s author, Mem Fox, describes her treatment by immigration officials in Los Angeles International Airport. She writes: The way I was interviewed was monstrous. If only they had been able to look into my suitcase and see my books. The irony! I had a copy of my new book I’m Australian, Too – it’s about immigration and welcoming people to live in a happy country. I am all about inclusivity, humanity and the oneness of the humans of the world; it’s the theme of my life. I also had a copy of my book Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. I told him I had all these inclusive books of mine in my bag, and he yelled at me: “I can read!”

He was less than half my age – I don’t look 70 but I don’t look 60 either, I’m an older woman – and I was standing the whole time. The belligerence and violence of it was really terrifying. I had to hold the heel of my right hand to my heart to stop it beating so hard.

They were not apologetic at any point. When they discovered that one of Australia’s official gifts to Prince George was Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, he held out his hand and said: “It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Ms Fox.” I was close to collapse, very close to fainting, and this nearly broke me – it was the creepiest thing of all.

I had been upright, dignified, cool and polite, and this was so cruelly unexpected, so appalling, that he should say it was a pleasure. It couldn’t have been a pleasure for him to treat me like that, unless he was a psychopath.

In that moment I loathed America. I loathed the entire country. And it was my 117th visit to the country so I know that most people are very generous and warm-hearted. They have been wonderful to me over the years. I got over that hatred within a day or two. But this is not the way to win friends, to do this to someone who is Australian when we have supported them in every damn war. It’s absolutely outrageous. [Continue reading…]

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) promotes itself as a military friendly employer and actively recruits veterans.

The numerous reports of zealous officials mistreating people who are viewed with suspicion primarily because they are not American, makes me wonder what proportion of these officials have traveled overseas for any other purpose than to engage in war.

If your only experience of the wider world has been the daily fear of getting blown up by an IED in Iraq or Afghanistan, then to be placed on “America’s frontline” is an invitation to turn the war-fighter’s fears into a permanent way of life.

 

While Trumpsters think they’re making America safer, the much more predictable effect of the climate of paranoia and xenophobia the White House is fueling is to turn the United States into one of the least desirable tourist destinations in the world.

The Guardian reports: Interest in travel to the US has “fallen off a cliff” since Donald Trump’s election, according to travel companies who have reported a significant drop in flight searches and bookings since his inauguration and controversial travel ban.

Data released this week by travel search engine Kayak reported a 58% decline in searches for flights to Tampa and Orlando from the UK, and a 52% decline in searches for Miami. Searches for San Diego were also down 43%, Las Vegas by 36% and Los Angeles 32%.

Though flight prices are holding firm (they usually take weeks rather than days to adjust to consumer trends), Kayak has identified a knock-on effect on average hotel prices. It found prices in Las Vegas are down by 39% and New York City by 32%.

It is the latest in a string of reports from the travel industry that suggests a “Trump slump”, with the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) estimating that since being elected President Trump has cost the US travel industry $185m in lost revenue. [Continue reading…]

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Support for refugees is not charity; it contributes to the global stability on which all nations depend

David Miliband, president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, writes: President Trump’s executive order suspending the entire resettlement program for 120 days and banning indefinitely the arrival of Syrian refugees is a repudiation of fundamental American values, an abandonment of the United States’ role as a humanitarian leader and, far from protecting the country from extremism, a propaganda gift to those who would plot harm to America.

The order also cuts the number of refugees scheduled for resettlement in the United States in the fiscal year 2017 from a planned total of about 110,000 to just 50,000. Founded on the myth that there is no proper security screening for refugees, the order thus thrusts into limbo an estimated 60,000 vulnerable refugees, most of whom have already been vetted and cleared for resettlement here. The new policy urgently needs rethinking.

Refugees coming to the United States are fleeing the same violent extremism that this country and its allies are fighting in the Middle East and elsewhere. Based on recent data, a majority of those selected for resettlement in America are women and children. Since the start of the war, millions of Syrians have fled not just the military of President Bashar al-Assad but also the forces of Russia, Iranian militias and the Islamic State.

There are also thousands of Afghans and Iraqis whose lives are at risk because of assistance they offered American troops stationed in their countries. Of all the refugees that my organization, the International Rescue Committee, would be helping to resettle this year, this group, the Special Immigrant Visa population, makes up a fourth. [Continue reading…]

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Time to leave Afghanistan, Taliban tell Trump

Al Jazeera reports: The Taliban has called on President Donald Trump to withdraw US forces from the “quagmire” of Afghanistan, saying nothing has been achieved in 15 years of war except bloodshed and destruction.

In an open letter to the new US president published on one of its official web pages, the Taliban said the US had lost credibility after spending a trillion dollars on a fruitless entanglement.

“So, the responsibility to bring to an end this war also rests on your [Trump’s] shoulders,” it said.

Afghanistan was invaded by the US in 2001 and has become Washington’s longest military intervention since Vietnam.

The Taliban justify their ongoing insurgency in the letter, claiming that the group’s “Jihad and struggle was legitimate religiously, intellectually, nationally and conforming to all other lawful standards”.

So far, Trump has had little to say publicly about Afghanistan, where around 8,400 US troops remain as part of the NATO-led coalition’s training mission to support local forces as well as a separate US counterterrorism mission. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Over the past eight years, Afghans have become increasingly disillusioned with the American role in their country. Many blamed President Barack Obama’s policies for an increase in Afghan corruption, for air attacks that killed civilians, and for a foreign troop presence that failed to stop Taliban insurgents and was pulled out too quickly.

So it is not surprising that, like American voters who supported Donald Trump out of a longing for change, many Afghans are looking to his presidency as a chance for a fresh start. Most know little about Trump except that he may do something bold and unexpected. For now, that sounds appealing.

“Obama was too predictable. Sometimes a small dose of madness can be good,” said Davood Moradian, director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies. He suggested that Trump’s bluntness and “masculine” approach may be useful for deterring the insurgencies that are thwarting Afghanistan’s path to stability and development. [Continue reading…]

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Taliban seeks recognition for Qatar office, direct talks with U.S.

VOA reports: Afghanistan’s Taliban has demanded official recognition for its political office in Qatar, direct talks with the United States and removal of senior members from a U.N. blacklist, describing these as preliminary steps to peacefully ending its insurgency.

A Qatar-based Taliban spokesman, Sohail Shaheen, has asserted the presence of U.S.-led foreign troops in Afghanistan is the “root cause” of war and its continuation.

The “foreign occupation forces” are undermining the country’s sovereignty and freedom of its politics as well as the government, he added.

“That is why there is need for America and its allies to come to the table for direct talks with the Islamic Emirate (the Taliban) for negotiating an end to the occupation,” Shaheen said.

If peace is the objective of the other side, he asserted, then the Taliban must be allowed to open its “Political Office” in Qatar and names of its senior members be removed from the U.N. black list. [Continue reading…]

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Taliban envoy breaks silence to urge group to reshape itself and consider peace

The New York Times reports: The Taliban’s internal debate over whether and how to negotiate with the Afghan government is playing out in the open, even as there have been renewed attempts to restart talks.

Breaking with nearly 15 years of public silence, Sayed Muhammad Tayeb Agha, who until recently was the Taliban’s chief negotiator and head of their political commission, issued a letter about peace talks to the insurgency’s supreme leader over the summer and discussed reconciliation efforts in an interview with The New York Times in recent days, his first on the record with a Western publication in years.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times and appeared in the Afghan news media, Mr. Agha supported the idea of talks, and said the insurgency should be urgently trying to position itself as an Afghan political movement independent from the influence of Pakistani intelligence officials who have sheltered, and at times manipulated, the Taliban since 2001.

Mr. Agha led efforts to open the Taliban’s political office in Qatar in 2011, and he was instrumental in negotiations that led to the release of the last known American prisoner of war held by the Taliban, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in exchange for the release of five Taliban detainees from the American prison camp at Guantánamo Bay. But he became disgruntled over the internal power struggle that broke out in 2015 after the death of the movement’s founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar, for whom he was a trusted aide. He remains in exile abroad. [Continue reading…]

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