latest “peace deal” details

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interview by der spiegel (german news magazine)

with zalmay khalilzad

found in the march 15, 2020 ariana news

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DER SPIEGEL: As the special representative of U.S. President Donald Trump, you signed an agreement with the Taliban in late February. What did you achieve?

Khalilzad: We achieved several United States objectives: First, the Taliban have made commitments that they were not prepared to make before. These include a break with al-Qaida; not to host or support any terrorist groups that would threaten the security of the United States and its allies; and reducing violence. And that they will sit down with a national and inclusive Afghan negotiating team to chart a future political roadmap for their country together and finalize a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.

DER SPIEGEL: The next step is supposed to be peace negotiations between the official Afghan government and the Taliban. But Kabul finds itself gripped by a serious political crisis. Two candidates for president have declared themselves winners of the election and held inaugurations. And they both control rival elements of the country’s security forces. How dangerous is the current situation?

Khalilzad: It is dangerous. The Independent Electoral Commission has declared Ashraf Ghani the winner of the presidential election. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah does not accept the results and has raised valid concerns about the electoral process. It is important that the current political crisis does not devolve into violence. Potential violence stemming from the political crisis would have a negative impact on the security forces, on the peace process and on Afghanistan as a whole. We are working day and night to encourage all sides to make sure this does not happen.

DER SPIEGEL: By last Monday, the newly elected government was supposed to have appointed a negotiating delegation. Because of the political crisis following the presidential election, though, that didn’t happen. What’s the next step?

Khalilzad: As I said, this moment holds dangers. But there is also the opportunity for a major advancement in the peace process – if President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah can agree on an inclusive government led by President Ghani, and if that inclusive government can, with other political leaders, name a national negotiating team. From there, inter-Afghan negotiations with the Taliban can begin and the future political roadmap developed. The results of those negotiations would apply and hopefully put us on the road to a lasting peace for the Afghan people.

DER SPIEGEL: What role can be played by Afghanistan’s allies? What can Germany do?

Khalilzad: Germany has offered to host or co-host intra-Afghan negotiations and support our effort to end the current political crisis and encourage the Afghans to form an inclusive national negotiating team. Germany can also support our efforts to push the Taliban to embrace the progress made in the last 18 years and to respect universal values, including the rights of women. It can also encourage other EU countries to do the same. That would be a meaningful contribution.

DER SPIEGEL: In 14 months, U.S. troops and international forces are to be withdrawn from Afghanistan…

Khalilzad: …only if the Taliban stick to their commitments. It’s very important to understand that the Taliban have to do their part. This is a conditions-based agreement. We will not look away if they commit a violation.

DER SPIEGEL: (the mysterious question!)

Khalilzad: That question is not part of our agreement with the Taliban. But we have told them clearly that this is a red line for the Europeans and other allies, and that we would not accept a return to the 1990s with its support of terrible practices. The Taliban cannot count on U.S. or European assistance if they do not respect fundamental internationally recognized rights and human rights. If they do not respect those standards, we will not support them. They would not be accepted as legitimate actors in Afghanistan.

DER SPIEGEL: You are married to a committed feminist and came to Kabul many years ago as ambassador to build a modern country. How frustrated were you when you ended up having to negotiate with the radical Islamist Taliban after all?

Khalilzad: Of course, I would have liked to have seen more progress on the political process. But Afghanistan has also made a lot of strides. I am hopeful a successful peace process will improve the future of this country, politically, economically and socially.

DER SPIEGEL: What does that mean in practice?

Khalilzad: It is perfectly legitimate for certain groups to want the “X” system, and for another group to want the “Y” system. But it must be a system that allows the coexistence of both groups. Violence cannot be the arbiter of political disagreement…

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https://ariananews.co/en

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taliban attack afghan forces

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by bill roggio

long war journal

march 10, 2020

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The Taliban has launched attacks in against Afghan security forces in 27 of the country’s 34 provinces since it signed an agreement with the U.S. that facilitates the withdrawal of American troops.

Many of these operations are not “small, low-level attacks,” as General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff characterized them last week.

The Taliban has now claimed credit for 147 attacks since resuming offensive operations against Afghan security forces on March 3, just three days after signing what many have wrongly characterized as a “peace agreement.”

That reported number of attacks – and percentage of provinces hit – may actually be on the low end.

The Taliban claimed credit for those attacks in statements released on Voice of Jihad, its official website which is published in English, Dari, Pashto, Urdu, and Arabic. This number is merely a subset of the attacks carried out by the Taliban; these are only the attacks the Taliban chose to publicize. Note that while the Taliban often exaggerates the result of its operations, it rarely lies about the attacks themselves.

The Taliban operations have occurred nationwide, in 27 of the country’s 34 provinces, with the exception of Baymian, Daykundi, Ghor, Nuristan, Panjshir, Samangan, and Takhar provinces.

These expansive operations are being not carried out by what U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper characterized last week as Taliban “hard-liners” who were failing to honor a reduction in violence agreement. In fact, the Taliban’s official spokesmen has stated that the group was not bound to maintain a reduction in violence, and vowed to resume attacks against Afghan forces. They have done just that…

Rather, the Taliban’s pattern of operations is clear evidence of a systematic effort by the group to resume violence across the country and put additional pressure on an already overstretched Afghan military and police.

Based on the Taliban’s claimed attacks, Helmand remains the most violent province, followed by Balkh, Kandahar, Kunduz and Nangarhar. These five provinces have consistently seen the most violence in Afghanistan.

Downplaying the Taliban’s military operations

Last week, General Milley downplayed the Taliban attacks as largely inconsequential while testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Taliban was, per its agreement with the U.S., not attacking American forces, but only Afghan forces.

Milley said the Taliban violence consisted of “small, low-level attacks out at checkpoints, etc.,”

“Of significance: There’s no attacks on 34 provincial capitals; there’s no attacks in Kabul; there’s no high-profile attacks; there’s no suicide bombers; there’s no vehicle-born suicide [bombs]; no attack against U.S. forces; no attack against the coalition,” Milley optimistically noted. “There’s a whole laundry list of these things that aren’t happening.”

However, based on the Taliban reports, the group has conducted several significant ambushes, firefights and roadside bombings against Afghan forces in nine provincial capitals: Farah City, Gardez, Ghazni, Jalalabad, Kunduz City, Lashkar Gah, Maiden Shahr, Pul-i-Khurmi, and Tarin Kot.

While these attack may seem less than high profile, they are no less deadly to the beleaguered Afghan security forces. Additionally, as FDD’s Long War Journal has noted for years, the Taliban has focused much of its fighting in Afghanistan’s rural districts to position itself to attack Afghan forces after the U.S. military withdrawals.

The Taliban effectively controls districts that surround several provincial capitals, as well as the roadways that lead into these capitals. Farah City, Ghazni City, Kunduz City, Lashkar Gah, Maimana, and Tirin Kot are all essentially surrounded by the Taliban.

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Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

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https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2020/03/since-agreement-with-u-s-taliban-has-attacked-afghan-forces-in-27-of-34-provinces.php

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u.s. troops begin foreboding exit

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by kathy gannon & rahim faiez

associated press via stars & stripes

march 9, 2020

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The United States began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the U.S. military said Tuesday, taking a step forward on its peace deal with the Taliban while also praising Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s promise to start releasing Taliban prisoners after he had delayed for over a week.

The U.S.-Taliban deal signed Feb. 29 was touted as Washington’s effort to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan. The next crucial step was to be intra-Afghan talks in which all factions including the Taliban would negotiate a road map for their country’s future.

But Ghani and his main political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, were each sworn in as president in separate ceremonies Monday. Abdallah via the elections complaints commission had charged fraud in last year’s vote. The dueling inaugurations have thrown plans for talks with the Taliban into chaos, although Ghani said Tuesday that he’d start putting together a negotiating team.

The disarray on the Afghan government side is indicative of the uphill task facing Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad as he tries to get Afghanistan’s bickering leadership to come together. In an early Tuesday tweet, Khalilzad said he hoped the two leaders can “come to an agreement on an inclusive and broadly accepted government. We will continue to assist.”

U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan Sonny Leggett said in a statement Tuesday the military had begun its “conditions-based reduction of forces to 8,600 over 135 days.”

Currently the U.S. has about 13,000 soldiers in Afghanistan — 8,000 of whom are involved in training and advising Afghanistan’s National Security Forces, while about 5,000 are involved in anti-terror operations and militarily supporting the Afghan army when they are requested.

Ghani had been dragging his feet on releasing some 5,000 Taliban prisoners, something agreed to in the U.S.-Taliban deal. Ghani promised Monday to announce a decree to free the prisoners after the U.S. and a number of foreign dignitaries appeared to back his claim to the presidency by sending their representatives to his inauguration.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement Monday saying, “We also welcome President Ghani’s announcement that he will issue a decree March 10 on Taliban prisoner release.”

Taliban officials said late Monday that a flurry of biometric identifications were being conducted on Taliban prisoners, hinting at a mass release, according to prisoners currently in lockup. The Taliban officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk to the media.

Sohail Shaheen the Taliban’s spokesman in Doha where the insurgent group maintains an office, tweeted Tuesday the names of the 5,000 prisoners are with an “American delegation and the list cannot be manipulated,” without elaborating.

In his tweet, Shaheen said any prisoners handed over will be verified before being accepted. The Associated Press contacted a Taliban prisoner in Afghanistan’s Pul-e-Charkhi Jail on the outskirts of Kabul who said four Taliban had been released Monday and another three Tuesday. The seven had completed their sentence, said Maulvi Niaz Mohammad in a telephone interview.

They were not part of the 5,000 on the Taliban prisoner list, he said. Mohammad, who had also been interviewed by The AP in the prison in December, is in telephone contact with the Taliban’s Prisoners Commission, which is headed by Maulvi Nooruddin Turani, a former Taliban justice minister and a violent enforcer of the Taliban’s strict code of conduct.

Meanwhile, Pompeo said he “strongly opposed” the establishment of a parallel government in Kabul, despite early signs of one emerging. Abdullah had quickly sent his vice presidents to occupy the official offices Monday, ahead of Ghani’s plan to send his vice presidents to their offices Tuesday.

Pompeo warned against “any use of force to resolve political differences.” Both candidates — but particularly Abdullah — are backed by warlords with heavily armed militias, underscoring fears they could use force to back their candidate.

The U.S. has said its partial troop withdrawal over an 18-month period provided for in the deal will be linked to the Taliban keeping their promises to help fight terror in Afghanistan, but not to the success of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Over the weekend, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said the insurgent group was committed to its agreement with the U.S. and called on Washington to do its part to make sure its prisoners were freed.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a rocket attack that took place during Ghani’s inauguration ceremony. IS also claimed a brutal attack last week on a gathering of minority Shiites that killed 32 and injured scores more. The U.S. in reaching its deal with the Taliban said it expected the Taliban, which has been battling Afghanistan’s ISIS affiliate, to further aid in the effort to defeat ISIS.

Gannon reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Tameem Akhgar in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report

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https://www.stripes.com/news/middle-east/us-starts-troop-pullout-seeks-end-to-afghan-leaders-feud-1.621808

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u.s. carries out air strike on taliban

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by abdul qadir sediqi and charlotte greenfield

reuters

march 4, 2020

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KABUL (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday carried out its first air strike on Taliban fighters in Afghanistan since the two sides signed a troop withdrawal agreement on Saturday.

A U.S. forces spokesman confirmed the incident in southern Helmand province, hours after President Donald Trump spoke by phone with chief Taliban negotiator Mullah Baradar Akhund on Tuesday, the first known conversation between a U.S. leader and a top Taliban official.

The Taliban fighters “were actively attacking an (Afghan National Security Forces) checkpoint. This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack,” said Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan in a tweet.

He said Washington was committed to peace but would defend Afghan forces if needed.

“Taliban leadership promised the (international) community they would reduce violence and not increase attacks. We call on the Taliban to stop needless attacks and uphold their commitments,” he said.

The air strike was the first by the United States against the Taliban in 11 days, when a reduction in violence agreement had begun between the sides in the lead up to Saturday’s pact.

Since the signing, the Taliban had decided on Monday to resume normal operations against Afghan forces, though sources have said they will continue to hold back on attacks on foreign forces.

The Taliban has declined to confirm or deny responsibility for any of the attacks.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a Tweet that “according to the plan (the Taliban) is implementing all parts of the agreement one after another in order to keep the fighting reduced.”

A Taliban senior commander in Helmand who declined to be named said that a drone had targeted their position.

“As far as I know we didn’t suffer any human losses but we are working on it and sent our team to the area,” he told Reuters, adding that the group’s senior leadership in Afghanistan had called an emergency meeting to discuss what he described as a “major violation” of the agreement.

“THINGS COULD SPIRAL”

Experts said the public agreement was vague on details around ongoing violence in the country, but that the air strike and comments from U.S. officials suggested the United States had a plan to ensure reduced violence against Afghan forces and civilians.

“It is significant. I don’t think it signals the collapse of the whole U.S.-Taliban agreement…(but) you can easily see how things could spiral,” said Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst covering Afghanistan at International Crisis Group.

A spokesman for Helmand’s provincial governor said the Taliban had attacked a security checkpoint in Washer district – a different district to the one in which the U.S. carried out its air strike – on Tuesday evening, killing two police officers.

An interior ministry spokesman, Nasrat Rahimi, said on Wednesday the Taliban had conducted 30 attacks in 15 provinces in the previous 24 hours, killing four civilians and 11 security and defense force members. Seventeen Taliban members had been killed, he said.

The weekend agreement envisages a full withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition forces within 14 months, dependent on security guarantees by the Taliban, but faces a number of hurdles as the United States tries to shepherd the Taliban and Afghan government towards talks.

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Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Charlotte Greenfield in Kabul; additional reporting by Zainullah Stanekzai in Helmand, Sardar Razmal in Kunduz, Orooj Hakimi in Kabul and Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; editing by John Stonestreet, William Maclean and Timothy Heritage…

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https://news.yahoo.com/u-carries-airstrike-taliban-fighters-083552879.html

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taliban re-embrace violence & death

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by emal haidary & usman sharifi

afp services

march 2, 2020

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Kabul (AFP) – The Taliban called an abrupt end to a partial truce on Monday, just two days after signing a deal with the United States that was meant to bring peace at last to Afghanistan.

In the southern province of Kandahar, considered the Taliban’s heartland, fighting broke out in at least in two districts.

“They started attacking five of our posts in Panjwahi and Maiwand,” local police chief Sultan Mohammad Hakimi told AFP. “Fighting is ongoing.”

The Taliban ordered its fighters to recommence attacks against Afghan army and police forces, apparently ending an official “reduction in violence” that had seen a dramatic drop in bloodshed and given Afghans a welcome taste of relative calm.

The partial truce between the US, the insurgents and Afghan forces lasted for the week running up to the signing of the US-Taliban accord in Doha on Saturday, and was extended over the weekend.

“The reduction in violence… has ended now and our operations will continue as normal,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

“As per the (US-Taliban) agreement, our mujahideen will not attack foreign forces but our operations will continue against the Kabul administration forces.”

The Taliban’s military commission circulated instructions for fighters to resume operations, according to a document that an insurgent provided to AFP.

Soon after, an Afghan army commander told AFP the Taliban were attacking military positions in the northwest province of Badghis. At least one soldier was killed.

But the Taliban denied responsibility for a bomb blast at a football ground in Khost in eastern Afghanistan, where three brothers were killed.

President Ashraf Ghani said Sunday he would continue the partial truce at least until talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban kick off, supposedly on March 10, though he angered the militants by rejecting a prisoner swap component in the deal.

Fawad Aman, a defence ministry spokesman, said Monday the government was “checking to see if (the truce) had ended”.

The United States cautioned that an immediate halt to violence had not been expected.

“The Taliban is not a monolithic group, there’s multiple terrorist organisations operating,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said in Washington.

“To think that (violence) is going to go to zero, immediately — that’s probably not going to be the case.”

The US has previously said it would defend Afghan partners if they come under attack.

The Doha deal includes a commitment to swap 5,000 Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government in return for 1,000 captives, but Ghani said the US had no authority to negotiate such an exchange.

“Ghani’s stand shows that the Americans hadn’t done the groundwork before signing the agreement,” a Taliban source in Pakistan said.

Analyst Michael Kugelman from the Wilson Center think-tank said he was not surprised the Taliban were on the offensive again.

“Remember, violence is leverage for the Taliban. It won’t easily give it up,” he tweeted.

“And now it’s exploiting that leverage to strengthen its bargaining position going into the intra-Afghan dialogue, when (and if) it begins.”

Since the deal signing, the Taliban have been publicly claiming “victory” over the US.

Under the terms of the deal, foreign forces will quit Afghanistan within 14 months, subject to Taliban security guarantees and a pledge by the insurgents to hold talks with Kabul.

While supporters of the accord say it marks a critical first step toward peace, many Afghans fear it amounts to little more than a US capitulation that will ultimately see the insurgents return to power.

In the eastern province of Laghman, thousands of locals and jubilant Taliban fighters massed on Monday to celebrate what they called their “defeat of the US”.

They also vowed to continue operations against the Afghan government until an “Islamic system” of government is restored. The Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996-2001 under an extreme interpretation of Islam.

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https://news.yahoo.com/taliban-end-partial-truce-afghan-violence-resumes-153659616.html

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