afghan rivals to meet in bid for peace

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news agencies

aljazeera

1 Jul 2019

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Rival Afghans will meet starting on Sunday in Qatar, officials said, in a fresh attempt to make political headway as the United States seeks a peace deal with the Taliban within three months.

The international efforts to bring warring Afghan sides to the negotiating table comes as the Taliban, which has been fighting the West-backed Kabul government, killed 16 in the latest attack in the capital.

The US special peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been holding a seventh round of peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, aimed at bringing the 18-year-old war to an end.

On Monday, US President Donald Trump said in an interview that he wants to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, but will leave a strong intelligence presence in the country to counter what he termed the “Harvard of terrorists.”

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani. A previous attempt to bring the armed group together with government officials in Doha collapsed in April in a dispute over attendees.

Germany, a key player in international support for the post-Taliban government, and Qatar, which maintains contacts with the armed group, said that they jointly extended invitations for a dialogue in Doha on Sunday and Monday.

‘Direct engagement between Afghans’

The Afghans “will participate only in their personal capacity and on an equal footing,” Markus Potzel, Germany’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in a statement released on Monday by the US.

“Afghanistan stands at a critical moment of opportunity for progress towards peace,” he said.

“An essential component of any process leading to this objective will be direct engagement between Afghans,” he said.

But the Taliban spokesman insisted that they would not to talk to the Kabul government.

The meeting comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a previously unannounced visit last week to Kabul where he voiced hope for a peace deal with the Taliban “before September 1.”

The ambitious time frame would allow a deal before Afghanistan holds elections in September, which Western officials fear could inject a new dose of instability.

Trump wants to pull all US troops from Afghanistan, believing that the US’s longest war – launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks – no longer makes military or financial sense.

But he said the US will “be leaving very strong intelligence, far more than you would normally think,” in an interview with the Fox New Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

“It just seems to be a lab for terrorists … I call it the Harvard of terrorists,” Trump said.

The Taliban have refused to halt their violence, believing that they have an upper hand as the US is eager to leave.

On Monday, at least 16 people were killed and dozens wounded – including 50 children – after the Taliban hit the defence ministry with a powerful bomb.

Gunmen then stormed a nearby building, triggering a gun battle with special forces. Most of the injured children were hurt by flying glass, officials said.

‘Seeking consensus’

Save the Children branded the attack “utterly deplorable,” warning that “children’s smaller bodies sustain more serious injuries than adults” and that the trauma of such attacks can stay with them for years.

Washington condemned the “brazen” and “callous” attack, but continued the seventh round of talks with the Taliban in Doha that started on Saturday.

“Once the timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces is set in the presence of international observers, then we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government,” tweeted Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman of the Taliban’s office in Qatar.

Under a peace deal, the US plans to pull its roughly 14,000 troops from Afghanistan.

In return, the Taliban would provide assurances that they would never allow their territory to be a base for foreign attacks – the primary reason for the US invasion in 2001.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator with the Taliban, said that dialogue among Afghans was an essential part of a peace deal.

“Mutual acceptance, seeking consensus, and agreeing to resolve political differences without force is what is needed to learn from the tragedy of the last 40 years,” Khalilzad said, referring to Afghanistan’s nearly incessant conflict since the Soviet invasion in 1979.

“I wish participants success,” he tweeted.

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https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/07/taliban-afghan-rivals-set-meet-fresh-bid-peace-190702021725938.html

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a synopsis of the u.s./taliban peace talks

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by Shereena Qazi

Aljazeera

29 June 2019

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United States officials and Taliban representatives are meeting in Qatar’s capital for a seventh time since October in a bid to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

The latest round of direct talks, which got under way in Doha on Saturday, is focused on four key issues: a Taliban guarantee that it will not allow fighters to use Afghanistan to launch attacks outside the country, the withdrawal of US and NATO forces, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.

The Taliban government was overthrown in 2001 by a US-led military coalition for sheltering al-Qaeda, the group blamed for the 9/11 attacks in the US.

The Afghan government, however, is not involved in the talks as the Taliban has refused to negotiate with it, deeming it illegitimate and a “puppet” of the US.

Following the end of the sixth round of negotiations with the Taliban in May, the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced that “faster progress” was needed as “the conflict rages” and “innocent people die”.

But analysts say peace has never been closer in Afghanistan since the talks between the US and the Taliban began.

Separately, three meetings have been held since 2017 in Moscow between the Taliban and senior Afghan politicians, including former President Hamid Karzai.

Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held a grand council in Kabul with politicians and tribal, ethnic and religious leaders to discuss the talks between the US and the Taliban in Doha.

But as these initiatives remain in the spotlight, deep divisions among the Afghan government and politicians complicate efforts to establish peace in Afghanistan.

What has been agreed to so far in US-Taliban talks?

Khalilzad, an Afghan-American diplomat who served as US ambassador to the United Nations (2007-2009), Iraq (2005-2007) and Afghanistan (2003-2005), is leading the US side in the Doha talks.

The Taliban is represented by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the group’s office chief, and cofounder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was released in October last year from a Pakistani prison.

The Taliban has long demanded the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which has been a sticking point in the meetings between the US and the group in Doha.

In previous rounds of talks, the two sides had agreed on a “draft framework” that included the withdrawal of US troops, a discussion on Taliban’s commitment that the Afghan territory would not be used by international “terror” groups, and that a ceasefire would be implemented across the country.

But the Taliban insists it will not commit to any of these things until the US announces a withdrawal timeline.

The sixth round of talks last month ended with “some progress” on a draft agreement on the withdrawal of foreign troops, according to a Taliban official.

Khalilzad said at the time the talks with the Taliban on ending Afghanistan’s war were making slow but steady progress, while signalling a growing frustration with deadly attacks in the country.

“We made steady but slow progress on aspects of the framework for ending the Afghan war. We are getting into the nitty-gritty. The devil is always in the details,” Khalilzad said.

“However, the current pace of talks isn’t sufficient when so much conflict rages and innocent people die. We need more and faster progress. Our proposal for all sides to reduce violence also remains on the table.”

In June, both sides said there was an understanding on the withdrawal but the details, including a timeline, had not been worked out yet.

This week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a trip to Kabul that the US was close to wrapping up the draft agreement with the Taliban on counterterrorism. He hoped a peace agreement could be reached by Sept 1.

Why is the Afghan government excluded?

The Taliban has long refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which has repeatedly invited the group for talks with no success.

Washington also initially tried to get the Taliban to agree to talking with Kabul. When the Taliban refused to budge, the US was left with no option but to enter into the talks.

The group has given several reasons on why it is not willing to talk to the Afghan government.

Since the Taliban was overthrown by the US-led military intervention in 2001, the Taliban maintains that the country has been occupied by foreign forces.

It says the Kabul government has no real power and considers it a “puppet regime”. The group says any engagement with the government would grant it legitimacy.

In June, Ghani decreed the formation of a peace ministry, headed by his top aide, Abdul Salam Rahimi, to encourage direct talks with the Taliban.

What can cause US-Taliban talks to collapse?

Dawood Azami, an academic and journalist who works as a multimedia editor at BBC World Service in London, said a peace deal could only be possible when both parties were flexible and willing to make concessions.

“The lack of consensus in Kabul, the failure of the Afghan government and the non-Taliban Afghans in general, to agree on the appointment of an inclusive and authoritative negotiating team able to negotiate with the Taliban will prove a major challenge and could result in a breakdown,” he said.

“I think the next phase of talks among the Afghans [generally termed as intra-Afghan dialogue] will prove more challenging than the first [US-Taliban talks]”.

Peter Galbraith, former US diplomat and ex-UN deputy special representative for Afghanistan, said if any peace deal was to happen, there would be several hurdles before it was implemented, which he felt was a sign of its possible collapse.

“The deal-breakers are the possibility of exceptionally violent and gruesome Taliban attacks; the refusal of Afghan government to go along; a refusal of the Tajiks and Hazaras to accept a deal [even if approved by President Ashraf Ghani]; and a Taliban belief that it can prevail militarily without a deal,” he said.

“But the biggest deal-breaker may be an inability of the Taliban negotiators to get all the factions of the Taliban to follow any peace document that is signed.”

Galbraith said the US President Donald Trump administration’s determination to withdraw, regardless of the consequences, was probably the single most important factor in making a US-Taliban deal possible.

Why is Taliban refusing calls for ceasefire?

Intense fighting continues across the country even as the Taliban remains in talks with the US. The group now controls or holds influence over more Afghan territory than at any point since 2001.

“As the peace talks are entering an important phase, the Taliban want to maximize their leverage and speak from a position of strength at the negotiating table,” Azami said.

“In addition, the Taliban leadership is under pressure from their military commanders not to agree to a ceasefire before achieving a tangible goal.”

The armed group has also said on several occasions that there will be no ceasefire until the US troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

When the loya jirga (grand council) called for an immediate ceasefire between the government and Taliban during the holy month of Ramadan, Ghani agreed to a truce provided it was not “one-sided”.

However, the Taliban rejected the call for a ceasefire, saying waging a war during Ramadan had “even more rewards”.

In an interview with Tolo News, Afghanistan’s largest private television station, Khalilzad said last month that any peace agreement with the armed group would depend on the declaration of a permanent ceasefire and a commitment to end the war.

“If the Taliban insist on going back to the system they used to have, in my personal opinion it means the continuation of war, not peace,” Khalilzad said.

What is the Afghan president’s loya jirga?

Last month, the Afghan president held a loya jirga, a grand assembly which brought together more than 3,200 participants, including politicians, tribal elders and other prominent figures from across the country.

The council, which sought to hammer out a shared strategy for future negotiations with Taliban, ended with delegates demanding an “immediate and permanent” ceasefire.

The meeting, traditionally convened under extraordinary circumstances, was held in a bid to build consensus among various ethnic groups and tribal factions over restoring peace in Afghanistan.

However, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with Ghani, and Karzai, the former president, were among a number of senior figures who boycotted the gathering, accusing the president of using it for political ends ahead of presidential elections scheduled for September 28.

On its website, the Taliban said there had been progress in negotiations with the US and the loya jirga was an “obstacle for ending occupation” and was “sabotaging the authentic peace process”.

Moscow talks

In February this year, a two-day conference was held in the Russian capital between the Taliban and prominent Afghan politicians in a bid to lay down a plan for ending the war.

The meeting in Russia was the first public contact in years between the Taliban and prominent Afghans, including Karzai.

But Ghani dismissed the Moscow talks, saying those attending carried no negotiating authority.

In May, a delegation of Taliban negotiators, who met Afghan politicians in Moscow, said “decent progress” was made at talks but there was no breakthrough.

“The Islamic Emirate wants peace but the first step is to remove obstacles to peace and end the occupation of Afghanistan,” the Taliban’s Baradar said.

What if the peace talks collapse?

A United Nations report released earlier this year said that 2018 saw the highest number of civilians killed in Afghanistan’s war than any other year on record.

Civilian deaths jumped by 11 percent from 2017 to 3,804 people killed, including 927 children, and another 7,189 people wounded, according to the UN figures, as suicide attacks and bombings wreaked havoc across Afghanistan.

In another report released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in May, Afghan and international forces, including NATO, killed more civilians in the first three months of this year than the Taliban or fighters from other armed groups.

At least 305 civilians were killed by pro-government forces between January and March, 52.5 percent of all deaths in that period.

With the spike in violence, there is a growing desperation for peace among ordinary Afghans. “If the talks collapse, fighting will further intensify and the Afghan people will suffer more,” Azami said.

“The Taliban would try to increase their territorial control and put maximum pressure on the Afghan government by attempting to capture cities, including provincial capitals and taking control of major highways,” he said.

Azami said the Afghans and the rest of the world would have to deal with a “possible security vacuum in which groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIL found fertile ground”.

“Increased production of drugs and the overflow of refugees would pose serious challenges not only to Afghanistan but to the whole region and rest of the world,” he said.

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https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/taliban-talks-peace-afghanistan-190510062940394.html

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russia wants to help too

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by Rahimullah Yusufzai

Arab News

June 9, 2019

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Russia hosted the second intra-Afghan meeting in less than four months as it continues to seek a role as a credible mediator for ending the Afghan conflict.

The first meeting, which brought together Taliban leaders and Afghan opposition politicians, was held in Moscow in February. It was a landmark event because the commencement of intra-Afghan dialogue is considered essential for national reconciliation.

The second intra-Afghan dialogue organized on May 28-29 was a repeat of the previous one, but with a crucial difference. It was the first time Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban deputy leader and head of the movement’s political commission in Qatar, came face to face with prominent Afghan politicians, including Hamid Karzai, Hanif Atmar, Ata Mohammad Noor, Younas Qanooni and Mohammad Mohaqiq, following his release last October after spending eight years in Pakistani custody. It was also his first visit to Russia, which has used its growing contacts within the Taliban to step up its own diplomatic initiative for ending the Afghan war.

Moscow timed the intra-Afghan conference with the 100th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and Russia. This is a remarkable turnaround in the relations between the two countries as the invasion of Afghanistan by the erstwhile USSR in December 1979 to prop up a struggling Afghan communist regime had fueled a fierce war of resistance until 1989.

The Taliban took home happy memories from the first intra-Afghan conference in Moscow as the joint declaration issued on the occasion endorsed major Taliban demands. It called for the complete withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from Afghanistan, the release of Taliban prisoners and the removal of Taliban leaders’ names from the UN Security Council blacklist.

The second intra-Afghan meeting in Moscow, however, didn’t reach any agreement, and caused disappointment as Afghan politicians unsuccessfully pushed the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire. As some delegates reported, the two sides worked on a 12-article joint statement, but disagreement about the cease-fire caused them to merely issue a short press release. 

The statement said both sides discussed important issues linked with the destiny of the Afghan people including the continuation of intra-Afghan talks, cease-fire, release of prisoners and women’s rights, among others. Without elaborating, it noted that some progress had been made on a number of issues, but no agreement was made “because reaching agreements needed more discussions.” 

So the discussions will continue in the next round of intra-Afghan talks likely to be held in Qatar. An earlier plan to convene a broader intra-Afghan conference in Qatar involving representatives of the Afghan government didn’t materialize as the Taliban objected to the large size of the delegation coming from Kabul. The Taliban also did not want the Afghan government to play the lead role in finalizing a list of 250 delegates to attend the Doha meeting. Besides, they had imposed the condition that all participants, including Afghan government officials, would participate in their personal capacity. 

Though Russia has twice managed to hold an intra-Afghan dialogue in Moscow, the process was incomplete due to the absence of the internationally recognized Afghan government. 

Despite facing isolation at home due to growing internal opposition and abroad on account of his government’s non-representation in the Taliban-US talks in Doha and intra-Afghan meetings in Moscow, President Ashraf Ghani made the point that only his elected government had the mandate to make decisions about the peace process and Afghanistan’s future. 

It cannot be kept out forever, even though the twice delayed presidential election, now due on Sept. 28, has created uncertainty about who will eventually represent the government in the peace process. 

Russia has an abiding interest in Afghanistan due to its regional proximity. As former Afghan president Karzai noted, relations between the two countries are among the oldest and most important.

Though the Taliban are officially a terrorist organization in Russia, that didn’t stop Moscow from engaging with the group and inviting its leaders to meetings in a bid to make itself relevant to the Afghan peace process. 

The US also made an effort in April to engage its rivals, Russia and China, to reach a consensus on efforts to end the Afghan conflict. But global politics and regional rivalries could pose problems as the US, Russia and China, as well as Pakistan, Iran and India, vie for influence in determining Afghanistan’s future.

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Rahimullah Yusufzai is a senior political and security analyst in Pakistan. He was the first to interview Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar and twice interviewed Osama bin Laden in 1998.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view.
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pilots complete training

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tolo news

may 18, 2019

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A group of Afghan pilots and door gunners this month completed their training for UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in southern Kandahar province. 

They received their graduation certificates during a ceremony which was attended by Air Force Commander Gen. Abdul Fahim Ramin, Kandahar Air Brigade Commander Gen. Abdul Raziq Shirzai as well as foreign partners, trainers and officers.
 
The majority of the 11 pilots had successfully completed a UH-60 Aircraft Qualification Training in a two-month course and then transited to a Mission Qualification Course at Kandahar, according to a report on Resolute Support website.  

Many of them already had previous experience with Mi-17 helicopters. Trainings were provided by American contract instructors and overseen and managed by advisors from various Resolute Support member states. 

They comprise currently of a mix of US Army, US Air Force, Australian Army and Swedish Air Force. Those same coalition advisors fly with and instruct the Afghan Air Force crews on mission tactics after they graduate from training.
 
The NATO-led Resolute Support mission remains committed to build-up a powerful Afghan Air force, the report says. “Thus we protect our homelands. Afghanistan must never again become a safe haven for terrorists,” reads the report.

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https://www.tolonews.com/index.php/afghanistan/11-afghan-pilots-complete-training-black-hawk-helicopters

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pentagon wants to help

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by ABC News Radio

May 17, 2019

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(WASHINGTON) — The Pentagon is requesting the ability to provide lodging and transportation to insurgent groups in Afghanistan that are looking to implement local ceasefires with the Afghan government, the Pentagon said recently.

The decision to request the authority came after a largely successful ceasefire was implemented between the Taliban and Afghan government last summer.

“Following the June 2018 ceasefire in Afghanistan, the Commander of U.S. Forces–Afghanistan requested the authority to use funds to facilitate meetings between the Afghan government and insurgent groups looking to implement local ceasefires in order to be poised to take advantage of further opportunities to reduce levels of violence in the country should such opportunities present themselves,” Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich told ABC News.

The funds could go to lodging and transportation for militants if that was required to get all parties to the negotiating table “in areas that are difficult to access otherwise,” Rebarich said, adding that no U.S. military vehicles or aircraft would be used.

No Pentagon funds have been used for such a purpose. Instead, the Pentagon made the request in anticipation of possible scenarios in the future, according to Rebarich.

The acknowledgement by the Pentagon follows an apparent miscommunication with the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which appeared to interpret the request as related to the ongoing U.S.-Taliban reconciliation efforts led by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

In response to the perceived request from the Pentagon, the committee included language in its proposed defense spending bill released this week that states, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to pay the expenses of any member of the Taliban to participate in any meeting that does not include the participation of members of the Government of Afghanistan or that restricts the participation of women” — two criticisms of the U.S.-Taliban negotiations that are not relevant to local ceasefire discussions between the Afghan government and insurgent groups.

Still, the miscommunication highlights the multiple tracks that the U.S. is pursuing to bring about a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan.

U.S. and Taliban representatives concluded the sixth and latest round of peace talks in Qatar earlier this month, which a Taliban spokesperson called “positive in total.”

Khalilzad tweeted that the two sides “made steady but slow progress on aspects of the framework for ending the Afghan war,” but added that “the current pace of talks isn’t sufficient when so much conflict rages and innocent people die.”

At the same time those talks were concluding, the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on a U.S. non-profit organization in Kabul that killed at least nine people. Meanwhile, seven U.S. service members have been killed in combat-related events in Afghanistan in 2019.

“A key priority for the administration is to end the war in Afghanistan through a negotiated peace settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and the U.S. is working to help facilitate such a settlement,” Rebarich said. “The United States also supports local peace initiatives between the Afghan government and insurgent groups looking to cease hostilities against the Afghan Government and coalition forces.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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http://kwbe.com/abc_world/pentagon-wants-to-help-afghan-insurgents-willing-to-enter-ceasefire-abcid36184979

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u.s.-taliban talks resume

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afghanistan times

may 6, 2019

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KABUL: Peace negotiation between US and Taliban members have
entered to its sixth round in Doha of Qatar with four conservative days of
talks ended Sunday; the talks did not hold on Monday on the account of the
first day of Ramadan. The talks will resume today (Tuesday), as fresh spate of
violence grips the country in different fronts including the recent attack on
police headquarters in Pule-e-Khumir city of northern Baghlan province on Sunday
afternoon.

Taliban Qatar office spokesman Sohail Shaheen on his twitter
account said that due to holiday on the first Ramadan their talks were
suspended for a day. He said the talks would resume on Tuesday.

Taking advantage of the break, Khalilzad flew to India to
discuss the Afghan peace process with Indian officials, Pajhwok Afghan News
reported.

Shaheen said in the ongoing round they would try to reach an
agreement on a timeline for withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and
the war on terrorism. He said an agreement on the withdrawal of foreign forces
was essential before discussing other issues.

Earlier, Khalilzad had also said they were inching closer to
an agreement on the two topics, but added nothing would be agreed until all
topics were agreed upon.

Peace talks between U.S. negotiators and Taliban
representatives in Doha, Qatar, have been interrupted to mark the beginning of
Ramadan.

Shaheen told a foreign news agency late Sunday that talks
hit an impasse over when foreign forces would depart Afghanistan.

Washington is demanding that militants establish security
guarantees, a cease-fire, and make other commitments including an
“intra-Afghan” dialogue with the Kabul government and other Afghan
representatives before agreeing to any withdrawal.

The Taliban have said they would not take any of these steps
until the United States announces a withdrawal timeline.

‘Currently, the negotiations are in a good phase and they
are moving in the right direction,’ said Assadullah Zahiri, a spokesman for High
Peace Council, a body which conducts peace efforts in country-level under the
Afghan government.

Sources familiar with Doha talks said the gap is narrowing
between the US delegation and the Taliban members on issues around foreign
forces withdrawal and counterterrorism assurances. The sources said the two
sides have managed to overcome the ‘stalemate’ on a timeline for troop
withdrawal at this stage.

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http://www.afghanistantimes.af/us-taliban-talks-to-resume-monday

http://www.afghanistantimes.af

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have a sigar

https://www.sigar.mil

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Los Angeles Times

May 03, 2019

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It has become a journalistic game of sorts: Keeping a running tally of President Trump’s half-truths, untruths and outright lies. That game is not without entertainment value. Yet arguably at least as interesting and perhaps more instructive are the genuine truths that go essentially unnoticed, not only in the media, but also among elected officials and the general public.

A case in point: For years the Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a watchdog known by its initials — SIGAR — has sought to inform Congress and the American people about the nation’s progress (or lack thereof) in the Afghanistan war. Those efforts, in my estimation, qualify as heroic. They have also been largely ignored.

SIGAR’s 43rd quarterly report, published Tuesday, offers a veritable trove of facts, an example of what can easily be mined even in an era of fake news. Among its notable findings:

According to the most recent estimates, the Afghan government “controlled or influenced” no more than two-thirds of the total population. No available metric suggests that Afghan forces are winning the war, even with the support of some 14,000 U.S. troops and several thousand private contractors.

~

Today

no real peace movement exists

despite the fact that the United States is

permanently at war.

~

Enemy-initiated attacks — an indicator of which side holds the tactical initiative — are increasing, up by 19% over the previous reporting period. An average of over 2,000 such attacks occur per month. Put simply, the bad guys act and the good guys react.

Total Afghan civilian casualties and civilian war-related deaths have increased by 5% and 11%, respectively, over the previous year. During that same period, casualties sustained by Afghan security forces jumped approximately 31%. The number of noncombatants killed or wounded by coalition airstrikes, most conducted by U.S. forces, is also on the rise.

The Afghan National Army is currently at only 83% of its authorized strength. Worse, its ranks are shrinking, calling into question the long-term sustainability of the force.

According to SIGAR, Afghan military morale and commitment remain problematic. For example, a U.S.-based program to train Afghan pilots was simply dissolved when over 40% of the student aviators went AWOL.

For years now, the United States has sought to reduce the prevalence of corruption in Afghanistan. Yet even today SIGAR describes corruption in the Afghan military as “pervasive” and notes that the government in Kabul “has not demonstrated that it is serious about combating corruption.”

Since 2002, the United States has invested $9 billion in counter-narcotics programs, to no avail. “Afghanistan remains the global leader in poppy cultivation,” the report says. While the 2018 Afghan opium crop did fall slightly from its all-time high the previous year, that decrease was primarily attributable to drought.

A legitimate Afghan economy barely exists. The nation’s total merchandise exports in 2018 fell well short of a billion dollars. At present, foreign grants account for approximately 70% of all public outlays, making the government in Kabul essentially a ward of the international community. Afghan democracy is likewise on life-support, with presidential elections originally scheduled for last April twice postponed “to implement voting-system reforms.”

Meanwhile, with most Afghans facing acute food insecurity, SIGAR reports that some households have resorted to selling their children or forcing them into childhood marriages in order to survive.

All in all, this makes for a dismal picture. For many months now, U.S. commanders in Kabul and senior officials in Washington have described the war in Afghanistan as “stalemated.” SIGAR’s latest report suggests that such a judgment may be excessively optimistic.

While not explicitly stated, SIGAR’s bottom line is this: Having over the course of nearly 18 years expended some $900 billion to create a secure, stable and democratic Afghanistan, the United States has failed. Indeed, those ambitious objectives have long since become implausible, with SIGAR noting that the current U.S. war aim is simply to promote “reconciliation between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.”

“Reconciliation” is a euphemism, a way to repackage failure as magnanimity. With only intermittent press attention, the Trump administration has been energetically courting the Taliban, hoping to negotiate a peace deal that will allow U.S. forces to withdraw once and for all. In this context, “peace” is also a euphemism. The exclusion of Afghan government representatives from those talks speaks volumes about whose interests are being served.

One day, perhaps sooner than later, the American war in Afghanistan will end, with Trump no doubt seizing the moment to nominate himself for a Nobel Peace Prize. At that point, SIGAR will close up shop, shipping its detailed and voluminous reports off to some archive to collect dust.

It’s a safe bet that Trump doesn’t care a whit about what will happen in Afghanistan after U.S. forces pull out. Yet the truth is that the majority of his countrymen don’t seem to care either — even as the war the United States initiated in 2001 goes on and on.

When I was a young man, members of a then-vigorous, if naive peace movement were known to remark, “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?”

Today no real peace movement exists despite the fact that the United States is permanently at war. A different maxim pertains: Suppose we had wars and nobody bothered to notice?

~~~

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University.

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https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-bacevich-afghanistan-war-congress-20190503-story.html

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https://www.sigar.mil

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senator travels eyes wide open

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by Troy Turner

Opelika-Auburn News

April 18, 2019

~~~

Alabama’s Sen. Doug Jones, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, warns that ISIS is making every attempt to reorganize, including an increased recruitment of women and children, and that a continued U.S. presence in the Mideast region is critical to America’s national security.

The ISIS movement also is working hard to recruit college students, especially those with computer and technology skills, the senator said.

Jones returned stateside late Tuesday from an overseas trip to Afghanistan and Iraq, where he and two other Democratic senators met with American military commanders, troops and political leaders, among others.

“ISIS has not been defeated,” he said. “Our mission has not yet been accomplished.”

Jones, speaking on a media call Wednesday morning, described new concerns about the tactics ISIS is using to rebuild and restructure its militant organization and spread its radical ideology.

“The number of women and children being recruited is quadrupling the number of fighters. We cannot rush out of there quickly,” he said.

“ISIS is recruiting out of universities. It is trying to recruit in the information age, and trying to recruit more women. It is still a very, very serious threat,” Jones said.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the senators said they detected a sincere effort with new hopes that peace talks can find some type of compromise in a country ravaged by decades of war, including discussions on the rights and safety of women.

Jones traveled with Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

“When I met with the women leaders, they talked about what they were hearing,” Shaheen told reporters during her travel. “They wanted to see a cease fire, they wanted the fighting to end. They wanted to make sure that women continue to have rights.

“To hear the amount of peace activity that was going on in the country was surprising to me.”

However, it’s also still too early to consider pulling troops from that country as well, Jones said.

“Afghanistan has a 40-year history of war. We’ve been there for 18 years. I think people are ready to have peace,” he said regarding his hopes that talks can be successful.

American military commanders, however, also remain convinced that U.S. national security interests dictate that troops continue their mission, at least for now, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Jones said, adding that he also met with troops from his home state of Alabama while visiting the two countries.

“I was happy to thank them for their service and sacrifice,” he said. “It was a very powerful experience” to meet and talk with them.

Regarding their mission so far from home, and the long duration of America’s involvement in both theaters of operation, “People have to understand that that’s where most of the terrorism around the world originates,” Jones said, “and now it’s become more sophisticated.”

He said he was moved by the dedication of all the American service personnel he met, from troops to commanders.

“They fully believe that their mission is to protect the United States, not just Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “I think that everyone there believes that their mission is not complete.”

Seeing it first hand, he said, “it all sinks in a heck of a lot more than just sitting and hearing someone speak at the capitol.”

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https://www.oanow.com/news/auburn/alabama-senator-describes-the-war-front-in-iraq-afghanistan/article_e2834cb8-6143-11e9-8b93-bb7bbbe445de.html

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peace talks postponed by taliban

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Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi & Rupam Jain

Editing by Darren Schuettler

Reuters

April 18, 2019

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KABUL (Reuters) – A meeting between the Taliban and Afghan politicians and civil society aimed at ending more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan has been postponed, officials and diplomats said on Thursday, citing Taliban objections to the size of the Afghan delegation.

The talks were set to begin on Friday in Doha, but a senior government official in Kabul said “the gathering has been called off for now and details were being reworked.”

Afghan delegates scheduled to fly to the Qatari capital on Thursday were told the trip was postponed and new dates were being discussed, a western diplomat in Kabul said.

“The government will have to change the composition of the delegation to make this meeting happen,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said leaders of the hardline Islamist group were uncomfortable with the size of the Afghan delegation and its composition.

“Presence of some participants was completely against the list of what was agreed upon,” Mujahid told Reuters over phone, adding that the delegation included Afghans working for the government.

The Taliban have repeatedly refused to meet President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which they call a puppet regime, but have held several rounds of peace talks with U.S. officials.

Ghani said Wednesday the 250-member Afghan delegation included some government officials attending in a personal capacity. But the group did not include some of the most powerful figures in Afghan politics, who are reluctant to join forces with Ghani ahead of presidential elections due in September.

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https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-taliban/peace-talks-postponed-as-taliban-objects-to-size-of-afghan-delegation-idUSKCN1RU0W2

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taliban face u.s. at peace talks

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by Mujib Mashal

New York Times

March 26, 2019

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DOHA, Qatar — When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and toppled the Taliban government, even those who surrendered were treated as terrorists: handcuffed, hooded and shipped to the American detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Now, in a stark demonstration of the twists and contradictions of the long American involvement in Afghanistan, five of those men are sitting across a negotiating table from their former captors, part of the Taliban team discussing the terms of an American troop withdrawal.

“During our time in Guantánamo, the feeling was with us that we had been brought there unjustly and that we would be freed,” said one of the former detainees, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa. “But it never occurred to me that one day there would be negotiations with them, and I would be sitting there with them on one side and us on the other.”

The five senior Taliban officials were held at Guantánamo for 13 years before catching a lucky break in 2014. They were exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only known American service member to be held by the insurgents as a prisoner of war.

In recent months, as the Americans and militants took up intense negotiations to try to end the conflict in Afghanistan, the Taliban leadership made a point of including the former prisoners. Each day during the recent round of talks in Doha, Qatar, the five men sat face to face with American diplomats and generals.

During days of slow and at times frustrated discussions at the most recent session, which ended on March 12, it was the Taliban side that was often more emotional. Some gave impassioned speeches about how vital it was that the Americans completely leave Afghanistan in as little as six months.

The usual response from the American side, led by senior envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, was to give detailed technical explanations about why withdrawing was complex and needed to be slower, perhaps over years.

But other than Mullah Khairkhwa, the former detainees seemed more reluctant to speak, officials involved in the talks said. When they did address the group, they seemed less harsh or strident than some of the other Taliban negotiators, perhaps mellowed by years of hardship or wary that their freedom could be fragile. Over the past few years, they have stayed in Doha and have been reunited with their families, but remain under watch by the Qatari authorities at the request of the United States.

The five former Guantánamo detainees had varying roles during the Taliban government reign. Mullah Khairkhwa served as a governor and acting minister of interior. Abdul Haq Wasiq was deputy minister of intelligence.

Perhaps the most infamous figure in the group is Mullah Fazel Mazloom, a front-line commander who was also chief of the Taliban army. While accusations of human rights abuses by the others have generally remained vague, there seems to be considerably more evidence against Mullah Mazloom, who is accused of mass killings and scorched-earth brutality.

During an initial tribunal hearing at Guantánamo — The New York Times obtained the transcript via the Freedom of Information Act — Mullah Mazloom (his last name means “meek”) showed no remorse.

“There is a 25-year war person to person, village by village, city by city, province by province, and tribe against tribe,” he told the tribunal. “If you think this is a crime, then every person in Afghanistan should be in prison.”

Still, he insisted: “I never fought against the new government. I never fought against America.”

In their introductions around the table as negotiations started last month, the five men held up their detention at Guantánamo as the most important part of their identity.

“In important moments like this, my own personal troubles don’t come to mind,” Mullah Khairkhwa said in the interview, after the negotiations had ended. “I am really not thinking about who is sitting across from me and what they had done to me.”

“What is important is what we are talking about,” he said, “and what is in it for our interests, for our goal and for our country.”

The men’s Guantánamo files include several notations about uncooperative behavior and instigations, including throwing milk at guards and tearing up their mattresses in protest.

Listed in Mullah Khairkhwa’s record, along with making disruptive noises or refusing to eat or shower at times, is this: trying to kill himself and urging others to kill themselves. But in his tribunal hearing, Mr. Khairkhwa denied having done so.

“There was no spoon in my meal, so I asked the guard for a spoon,” Mullah Khairkhwa said, according to the transcript. “Other detainees also shouted that they did not have spoons, either. The sergeant said he was sorry and from orders of his boss he could not provide me with a spoon.”

“When I asked the reason,” Mullah Khairkhwa added, “he said that I was trying to kill myself and encourage others to do the same.”

Most of the men were detained and sent to Guantánamo after they had surrendered — or even after they had started cooperating with the leadership of the new government the United States had installed in Afghanistan.

At the time of his arrest, Mullah Khairkhwa had retreated to private life in his family’s home village, and had reached out to President Hamid Karzai, who came to power in the wake of the American invasion.

Mullah Khairkhwa, according to his Guantánamo documents, was accused of narcotics trafficking and of closely associating with Osama bin Laden’s men in Al Qaeda. He denied both accusations in his hearings.

The former Taliban government deputy intelligence chief, Mr. Wasiq, had come to a meeting with C.I.A. operatives to discuss cooperation with American and Afghan officials. But he and some of his associates who had come along were bound and taken away, with at least one of them rolled up in a carpet.

Mullah Mazloom had surrendered to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek strongman in northern Afghanistan whose militia allied with American Special Operations forces. General Dostum sent thousands of Mullam Mazloom’s men to an overcrowded prison, and his militia killed hundreds — if not thousands — of those foot soldiers after an insurrection in the prison.

Mullah Mazloom and some others were eventually turned over to the Americans.

A timeline for an American withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a stubborn sticking point during the long days of talks. But an even more frustrating issue has been how to define who is a terrorist and who is not. That definition is central as the United States has tried to seek assurances from the Taliban that Afghan territory will not again be used as a staging ground for terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies.

When they were toppled and hunted down, the Taliban were an oppressive regime, denying citizens basic rights, including keeping women and girls out of school and behind house walls. In the group’s 18-year insurgency since, they have resorted to acts of terrorism like truck bombings that have caused mass civilian casualties.

But now that the United States’ priority has shifted to withdrawal, and out of the pragmatic need to negotiate with the Taliban, American envoys have turned to parsing words to find some definition of terrorism they can hold in common with the Taliban.

In some of the sessions sitting across the table from the former Guantánamo detainees was Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in his four-star uniform. Last October, General Miller narrowly escaped death in an attack by a Taliban infiltrator that killed a prominent Afghan security chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq, who had been walking beside him in a heavily guarded compound in Kandahar Province.

According to several officials on both sides who knew details of the talks, General Miller told the Taliban that he respected them as fighters, but that the war needed to end. He also evoked a mutual need to fight the terrorism of the Islamic State.

“We could keep fighting, keep killing each other,” General Miller was quoted as saying. “Or, together, we could kill ISIS.”

Mullah Khairkhwa said that even though the two sides had not been able to reach a final agreement this time, the two sides shared a common interest, at least, in ending the war.

“It’s been a long war, with lots of casualties and destruction and loss,” he said. “What gives me hope is that both teams are taking the issue seriously. On every issue, the discussions are serious, and it gives me hope that we will find a way out — as long as there are not spoilers to ruin it.”

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editor

Rawclyde

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a new breed in the village

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Deception & camouflage & secret looks

Secret codes & secret trails to secret nooks

The glint of a knife & someone suddenly gone

Someone trusted suddenly faking a yawn

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The U.S. Army colonel & her ex-Taliban spouse

Sneeking in & out of your very own house

Growing crooked, growing mean

A sudden realization that you’re a human being

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Looking for God, looking for a friendly nod

Cleaning the dead enemy’s weapon with oil & rod

Not getting too rude while cooking some food

Trying to get some sleep but only able to brood

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Then ye notice the bow, look close at an arrow

Accidentally shoot a poor innocent sparrow

Get the Goddess from God knows where

To finally see you & share

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Some of her knowledge, some of her skill

Secret lessons, a miracle, a talent to kill

Hide like a gloomy secret agent everything that you are

An infinitely shining rapidly rising morning star

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by Rawclyde!

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Afghaneeland Adventure Series

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text copyright clyde collins 2015

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