latest “peace deal” details

~~~

interview by der spiegel (german news magazine)

with zalmay khalilzad

found in the march 15, 2020 ariana news

~~~

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…

~~~

https://ariananews.co/en

~~~

taliban attack afghan forces

~~~

by bill roggio

long war journal

march 10, 2020

~~~

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.

~~~

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

~~~

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

~~~

u.s. troops begin foreboding exit

~~~

by kathy gannon & rahim faiez

associated press via stars & stripes

march 9, 2020

~~~

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

~~~

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

~~~

is there a poor loser here?

dueling afghan leaders

both declare

themselves president

~~~

kabul’s political crisis continued to deepen with ashraf ghani and abdullah abdullah both holding rival inaugurations

~~~

by rahim faiez & tameem akhgar
the diplomat
march 10, 2020

~~~

Afghanistan’s rival leaders were each sworn in as president in separate ceremonies on Monday, throwing plans for negotiations with the Taliban into chaos and creating a dilemma for the United States as it figures out how to move its peace deal with the Taliban forward.

The U.S.-Taliban deal signed just over a week ago was touted as Washington’s effort to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan and was seen by many Afghans as the best opportunity yet for bringing an end to relentless wars.

But the sharpening dispute between President Ashraf Ghani, who was declared the winner of last September’s election, and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who charged fraud in the vote along with the elections complaints commission, threatens to wreck the next key steps and even risks devolving into new violence.

The rivals held simultaneous inauguration ceremonies, each packed with his supporters — Ghani’s in the presidential palace and Abdullah’s next door in the Sapedar Palace.

Even as Ghani was winding up his thank you speech, blasts of rocket fire were heard hitting near the presidential palace. “We have seen bigger attacks. Don’t be afraid of just two blasts,” Ghani said, raising his hands and urging rattled participants to stay in their seats. The perpetrators of the fire were not immediately known, but the scene hiked worries that the split will open the door to violence.

In a sign of international support for Ghani, his ceremony — aired on state TV — was attended by Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, General Austin S. Miller, the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as well as a number of foreign dignitaries including the U.S. Embassy’s charge d’affaires and Tadamichi Yamamoto, the U.N. Secretary General’s personal representative to Afghanistan.

At Abdullah’s inauguration, aired on private Tolo TV, among those present were so called “jihadi” commanders, who participated in the brutal civil war of the 1990s and were among those who allied with the U.S.-led coalition to topple the Taliban in 2001.

Both candidates — but particularly Abdullah — are backed by warlords with heavily armed militias, underscoring fears they could use force to back their candidate. The rival claims to be president have the potential to further split and weaken Afghanistan’s fragile institutions, including the military, if they demand their authority be recognized.

When Washington and the Taliban insurgents signed their accord on February 29, 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. They are looking to hammer out such thorny issues as women’s rights, free speech, and the fate of tens of thousands of armed men on both sides of the 18-year war.

Those negotiations were set to open Tuesday in Oslo, but the political chaos in Kabul makes it a near impossibility. Ghani said he will announce his team Tuesday, though it appears Abdullah may also announce his negotiating team.

At the dueling inaugurations, both men offered their peace plan. Abdullah said he had no preconditions for talks and promised his team would be inclusive, but did not elaborate. Ghani said he understood that another promise of a reduction of violence would come from the Taliban in exchange for the release of their prisoners. There was no comment from the Taliban to this and previously they said their earlier commitment was only for seven days and a ceasefire would be part of negotiations.

The United States has said its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan over an 18-month period provided for in the deal will be linked to the Taliban keeping their counterterrorism promises, but not to the success of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government

Afghanistan’s election commission declared incumbent Ghani as the winner of September’s vote. His former partner in a unity government, chief executive Abdullah, as well as the election complaints commission say the results are fraught with irregularities. As a result, both Ghani and Abdullah declared themselves winners.

The dueling inaugurations took place despite last-minute shuttle diplomacy by Khalilzad, who reportedly went back and forth between the two Afghan rivals into the early hours Monday. He asked both sides to delay their inaugurations three days to sort out the stalemate, a senior member of Abdullah’s team, Basir Salangi, told Tolo TV. Abdullah reportedly said he was ready, but only if Ghani also agreed.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed, in response to questions from The Associated Press, said late Sunday that the Taliban were still committed to the deal, but said the dueling presidential inaugurations “are not good for the Afghan nation.”

Until now the Taliban have refused to sit with Ghani’s government. There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.

As well as competing candidates, Khalilzad still has to get some agreement on a prisoner release, which was supposed to be settled before the intra-Afghan negotiations could begin. The U.S.-Taliban deal said 5,000 Taliban prisoners and up to 1,000 captives from the government side would be freed as a goodwill gesture ahead of the talks.

Ghani has said he won’t release the Taliban prisoners, even as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on all sides to stop posturing and free their prisoners, some of whom have already served their sentences. Pompeo called on all sides get on with talks about the country’s future.

The Taliban spokesman told AP that the group wants their prisoners released and were ready to free the captives they’re holding. Mujahed said they did not want to see a delay but reiterated that if it occurred “we remain committed to the agreement.”

In a tweet, Afghanistan’s former deputy foreign minister, Jawed Luddin, thanked Washington for trying to sort out Afghanistan’s political turmoil while calling the squabbling “a mess.”

“Thank you, USA, for trying to sort out our political crisis — yet again. We know you must be sick of it — as are we Afghans,” Luddin said.

“You and us both had a hand in bringing about the mess that is today’s Afghan politics. But I wish we Afghans felt half as responsible for the mess as you do,” he added.

~~~

by rahim faiez and tameem akhgar for the associated press.

ap correspondent kathy gannon contributed from islamabad.

~~~

https://thediplomat.com/2020/03/dueling-afghan-leaders-both-declare-themselves-president

~~~

u.s. carries out air strike on taliban

~~~

by abdul qadir sediqi and charlotte greenfield

reuters

march 4, 2020

~~~

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.

~~~

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…

~~~

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

~~~