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December 13, 2018 - US Green Beret charged with murder of man in Afghanistan
U.S. Green Beret charged with murder of man in Afghanistan | Reuters

A U.S. Army Green Beret has been charged with the murder of an Afghan man during his 2010 deployment to Afghanistan, a U.S. military spokesman said on Thursday.

Major Matthew Golsteyn has admitted to shooting and killing a man in Afghanistan because he suspected he was a bombmaker for the Taliban militant group, NBC News reported.

Golsteyn admitted twice to the killing, once in an interview for a job at a spy agency and again during an interview with Fox News Channel, NBC News said.

“Major Matthew Golsteyn’s immediate commander has determined that sufficient evidence exists to warrant the preferral of charges against him,” Lieutenant Colonel Loren Bymer, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, said in a statement.

Golsteyn said in a statement he believed the allegations against him had been resolved years ago.

His attorney, Phil Stackhouse, said he would be “relentless” in defending Golsteyn against the charges.

“Major Golsteyn is a humble servant-leader who saved countless lives, both American and Afghan, and has been recognized repeatedly for his valorous actions,” Stackhouse said.


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December 17, 2018 - Afghan Taliban meet US officials in UAE
Afghan Taliban meet US officials in UAE

The meeting seeks to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. (File/AFP)

  • The meetings come as diplomatic efforts to resolve the Afghan conflict have intensified
  • The Taliban say the presence of international forces in Afghanistan is the main obstacle to peace
KABUL: Afghan Taliban representatives and US officials met in the UAE on Monday, amid diplomatic moves toward establishing the basis for talks to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said representatives from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the UAE would also take part in the talks, which follow at least two meetings between Taliban officials and US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar. He said the talks had begun and could take some time.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have intensified, although the Taliban have refused to deal directly with the internationally recognized government in Kabul, which it considers an illegitimate foreign-imposed regime.

The Taliban, who were overthrown in 2001, say the presence of international forces in Afghanistan is the main obstacle to peace. Even as the peace process gathers momentum, fighting has continued with heavy casualties on both sides.

Although the Afghan government has not taken part directly in the talks, a team from Kabul met US and Saudi officials in the UAE on Sunday, President Ashraf Ghani’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, said.

Ghani has formed a team to negotiate peace with the Taliban but the movement said on Monday that senior members had no plans to meet the representatives of the Afghan government in the UAE.

“The talks in UAE will happen with the US envoy in the presence of representatives of some other countries,” Mujahid said.
As well as establishing direct contacts with the Taliban, US officials have stepped up efforts to win support from countries with an interest in Afghanistan, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Relations between Washington and Islamabad have long been strained over accusations that Pakistan supports insurgent groups in Afghanistan, a charge it denies. But earlier this month, US President Donald Trump requested Pakistan’s support to advance the Afghan peace process.

Senior members of the Taliban in Afghanistan said the talks would continue for three days. Taliban officials from the movement’s political headquarters in Qatar and two representatives sent by Mullah Yaqub, elder son of the Taliban’s late founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, will be present.


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21.12.2018 - Trump Administration mulls US Troops reduction in Afghanistan - Reports
Trump Administration Mulls US Troops Reduction in Afghanistan - Reports

FILE PHOTO: U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) Base in Logar province, Afghanistan August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

US President Donald Trump is considering a significant reduction of US troops currently stationed in Afghanistan, according to media reports.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday citing US officials that a drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan could begin in several weeks.

Afghanistan has long been in a state of turmoil, with the government fighting the Taliban radical movement, which has been holding vast territories in rural areas under its control and regularly launches offensives on key big cities. The situation has been exacerbated by the activities of the Daesh terrorist group, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 2015.

The United States and NATO initially launched their military operations in Afghanistan in 2001 after the 9/11 terror attacks. While most of the US troops had been withdrawn from the country by the end of 2014, NATO launched a new mission in 2015, called Resolute Support, to provide training and assistance to the Afghan security forces. Over 16,000 soldiers from 39 NATO countries are currently serving in Afghanistan as part of the mission, with the majority of the contingent being the US soldiers.

The second deputy chief executive of Afghanistan, Mohammad Mohaqiq, told Sputnik in November that the US authorities and security servicemen were unaware of the real situation in the country, with the US servicemen deployed to Afghanistan having no incentives to fight and wishing to leave the mission area.

December 20, 2018 - US considers significant Afghanistan Troop withdrawal: Officials
U.S. considers significant Afghanistan troop withdrawal: officials | Reuters

FILE PHOTO: U.S. troops wait for their helicopter

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump is considering significantly drawing down troops from Afghanistan, two U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday, in the latest sign his patience is thinning both with America’s longest war and overseas military interventions, generally.

Shortly after the officials spoke, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he was quitting so that Trump could have a Pentagon chief more aligned with the president’s views.

Mattis has argued for maintaining a strong U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to bolster diplomatic peace efforts. He also opposed the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria that Trump announced on Wednesday, a move that has bewildered allies and triggered harsh reaction from Republican allies in Congress.

The Pentagon declined to comment on Afghanistan.

Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the White House would not comment “on future strategic developments.”

The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said thousands of the 14,000 troops could be sent home as a result of the deliberations, the disclosure of which could undermine peace efforts with the Taliban.

Trump privately has been grousing about U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, telling an ally as recently as Wednesday words to the effect of, “What are we doing there. We’ve been there all these years.”

The source, who asked to remain unidentified, said it appeared the president “has lost all patience” with the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

More than 2,400 U.S. forces have died in the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan, and Pentagon officials have repeatedly warned that a precipitous exit would allow militants to develop new plots on America like the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that plunged the United States into an era of open-ended warfare.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, often a vocal Trump ally, warned of possible danger to the United States if the drawdown goes through.

“The conditions in Afghanistan - at the present moment - make American troop withdrawals a high risk strategy. If we continue on our present course we are setting in motion the loss of all our gains and paving the way toward a second 9/11,” Graham said in a statement.

Trump last year approved an increase in U.S. troops but acknowledged that he did so reluctantly. U.S. officials have told Reuters that Trump has been keen to bring the Afghan conflict to a close.

The Taliban insurgency has strengthened its grip over the past three years, with the government in Kabul controlling just 56 percent of Afghanistan, down from 72 percent in 2015, a U.S. government report showed.

Late last month, at least 22 Afghan police were killed in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan’s western province of Farah, adding to the growing casualty toll on Afghan security forces.

Earlier this week, U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives held talks in Abu Dhabi on a deal that would end the war. Officials from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also took part.

The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khalid bin Salman, tweeted on Thursday that the discussions had been productive and would bring “very positive results by the beginning of next year.”

But a former senior State Department official familiar with the issue said that the Taliban representatives rejected a proposal by Khalilzad for a ceasefire and demanded that the talks focus on a U.S. withdrawal. The news that a drawdown was under consideration could be intended as a gesture to the insurgents, the official said.

December 20, 2018 - Saudi Arabia: Afghan Peace Talks to yield 'very positive' results
Saudi Arabia: Afghan peace talks to yield 'very positive' results | Reuters

Afghan peace talks held in the United Arab Emirates will yield “very positive results by the beginning of next year”, the Saudi ambassador to Washington said on Thursday, adding to hopes of progress to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) Base in Logar province, Afghanistan August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo

Khalid bin Salman added on his Twitter account that the talks were productive and would “help promote intra-Afghan dialogue toward ending the conflict”.

The U.S. special envoy for Afghan peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Wednesday to meet government leaders following his discussions with Taliban representatives in Abu Dhabi earlier this week.

Officials from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates took part in the Abu Dhabi meeting, at least the third encounter between Khalilzad and Taliban envoys since he was named to oversee the peace effort from Washington’s side in September.

In an interview with Afghanistan’s Ariana Television, Khalilzad repeated that, ideally, an agreement would be reached before presidential elections, currently scheduled for April 20.

“I think it would be great if we could reach a peace deal before the elections,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

“But it doesn’t only depend on Afghanistan’s government. It depends on the Taliban too.”


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December 23, 2018 - Afghan President names two former Spy Chiefs to Key Posts
Afghan President names two former spy chiefs to key posts | Reuters

KABUL - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani named two former heads of the intelligence services to key security posts in his government on Sunday in a step that could affect both next year’s presidential election and moves toward peace with the Taliban.

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani attends a two-day conference on Afghanistan at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

Asadullah Khalid, who suffered horrific injuries in a Taliban suicide attack shortly after taking over the National Directorate for Security in 2012, was named as acting defense minister. Amrullah Saleh, who served as NDS chief until 2008, was appointed acting interior minister.

Both men, veterans of decades of conflict in Afghanistan, have been uncompromising opponents of the Taliban and of Pakistan, which they accuse of supporting the insurgency, but both have also been at times strongly critical of Ghani.

The appointments come at a critical time, with elections due in April and talks between U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives over a possible peace deal expected to continue in January following three meetings this year.

Ghani is expected to run for a second five-year term, and the future of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is unclear following Khalilzad’s meetings and last week’s surprise U.S. announcement of plans to withdraw almost half of its forces.

The appointments have fueled accusations that Ghani, sidelined from the talks by the Taliban’s refusal to deal with his government, was trying to neutralize potential opponents by bringing them onto his side ahead of the election.

Afghan politics, lacking strong political parties, is dominated by ethnic loyalties, personal alliances and often unstable coalitions between powerful regional leaders.

Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun like almost all Afghan heads of state, has no strong local power base of his own but has been adroit at building alliances with regional strongmen who have exchanged their support for influence in national politics.

Both Khalid, a Pashtun who founded his own political movement this year, and Saleh, an influential figure in the ethnic Tajik political world, had been expected to be on opposing sides to Ghani in the election.

But their unrelenting hostility to the Taliban and Pakistan may complicate efforts to reach a peaceful settlement to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan.

“It hurts the whole peace process and makes it difficult to convince the Taliban to negotiate with the government,” said one senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Khalid, who recovered from his wounds after two years in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington, has faced strong criticism from human rights groups over allegations of torture and running private prisons, which he denies.

When he was nominated as head of the NDS in 2012, Amnesty International said there were numerous reports he was involved in torture and unlawful killings, particularly while serving as provincial governor in Kandahar and Ghazni.

Saleh, who started his career as intelligence chief for the former anti-Soviet Mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, served as head of the NDS under former President Hamid Karzai.

Sun Dec 23, 2018 - Afghanistan: Takhar Civil Order Police Commander Killed in Militants' Attack

A commander of the Afghan National Civil Order Police in Takhar province, Shah Tawoos, was killed in an ambush by Taliban in Kunduz province on Sunday, Takhar police confirmed.

Takhar police chief Abdul Bashir Rashid said commander Tawoos was on his way from Takhar to Kunduz when he faced Taliban ambush in Chartoot area in Kunduz, TOLOnews reported.

Rashid said two guards of the commander were also killed and four others were wounded in the attack. Taliban has not commented on the incident.

Sun Dec 23, 2018 - Eight Taliban Militants Killed in Herat Clash with Afghan Forces

At least eight Taliban militants were killed in a clash with security forces in Herat province on Saturday, local officials said Sunday.

Commander of the First Brigade of the 207th Corps in Herat Ziarat Shah Abed said the clash occurred in Shayan village of Obe district in Herat when a group of Taliban militants attacked an army outpost, TOLOnews reported.

He said 15 insurgents were wounded in the clash.

According to Abed, there was no causalities among Army forces and civilians in the clash. Taliban is yet to comment about the clash.


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Top US Commander in Afghanistan Says No Orders to Pull Out


The top US commander in Afghanistan has not received orders to pull forces out of the war-torn country, NATO confirmed Monday, days after US President Donald Trump's plan to withdraw 7,000 troops leaked to the media.

General Scott Miller's remarks on Sunday capped a tumultuous few days for Afghanistan as foreign diplomats and Afghan officials digested the possibility of the United States exiting the 17-year war it started and is now leading efforts to end.

An American official told AFP late last week that Trump had decided to pull out "roughly half" of the 14,000 US forces in the country, but the White House has so far not confirmed the widely-publicized move.

"I have no orders, so nothing has changed," said Miller, who is also the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, during a meeting with the governor of the eastern province of Nangarhar, according to Tolo News.

The remarks were confirmed by NATO's Resolute Support mission in Kabul.

"But if I do get orders, I think it is important for you to know that we are still with the security forces. Even if I have to get a little bit smaller, we will be okay," Miller continued.

US troops make up the bulk of the Resolute Support mission to train and advise local forces fighting the Taliban and the Daesh (also known as ISIL or ISIS) group.

Others are part of a US-led counter-terrorism mission.

While there has been no official announcement of a US drawdown, the mere suggestion of the United States reducing its military presence has rattled the Afghan capital.

Trump's decision apparently came Tuesday as US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with the Taliban in Abu Dhabi, part of efforts to bring the militants to the negotiating table with Kabul.

The Taliban has not issued a formal statement on Trump's plan, but a senior commander told AFP the group was "more than happy".

There are fears the hasty move could undermine Khalilzad's negotiating position, embolden the Taliban, and further erode morale among Afghan forces, which are suffering record losses.

Many Afghans are worried that President Ashraf Ghani's fragile unity government would collapse if US troops pulled out, enabling the Taliban to return to power and potentially sparking another bloody civil war.

A day after Miller's remarks, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi arrived in Kabul for the start of a four-nation tour to discuss, among other things, peace efforts in Afghanistan.

Qureshi, who had hailed Trump's decision to slash troop numbers in Afghanistan as "a step forward" in the peace effort, will also visit Iran, China and Russia.


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December 24, 2018 - Gunmen kill at least 28 in raid on Afghan Government Building
Gunmen kill at least 28 in raid on Afghan government building | Reuters

KABUL - Gunmen who raided a government building in the Afghan capital killed at least 28 people - mostly government employees - and wounded more than 20 others in a seven-hour standoff with police that ended on Monday night, Afghan authorities said.

Others killed included a policeman and three of the attackers who were shot dead by Afghan security forces, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said.

The attack began in the afternoon when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a car outside the public works ministry. Militants then stormed the building of the National Authority for Disabled People and Martyrs’ Families, taking civilians hostage as they fought a gun battle against Afghan soldiers.

Afghan security forces went from floor to floor of the building in an operation to rescue over 350 people inside, but had to exercise restraint in their operations against the attackers given the number of employees there, a senior security official said.

No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Ambulances raced to the scene during a lull in the shooting, a witness who lives nearby told Reuters. At least 20 people wounded in the clashes were taken to hospital.

An official working in another government building close by said employees had locked themselves in their offices after hearing the explosions and gunfire. During the standoff, the building’s second floor caught fire, local news channels reported.

Attacks on government offices are frequent and are generally carried out by the Islamist Taliban, who are fighting to expel foreign forces from strategic provinces, topple the Western-backed government and restore their version of hardline Islamic law.

The 17-year-old war with the Taliban has seen both fighting and diplomacy intensify in recent months.

On Thursday, an official said U.S. President Donald Trump was planning to withdraw at least 5,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a day after Trump unexpectedly announced that U.S. troops in Syria would be withdrawn.

A member of Afghan security force stands guard as ambulance arrive at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan December 24, 2018.REUTERS/Omar Sobhani


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December 24, 2018 - Gunmen kill at least 28 in raid on Afghan Government Building
Gunmen kill at least 28 in raid on Afghan government building | Reuters
For some strange reason, I sense the Taliban were NOT involved in this event? The latest assault came just days after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was considering pulling out at least 5,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops currently deployed in Afghanistan."
The incident seems to have shades of a Black Op Operation - to convince Trump - the extra Troops are needed in Afghanistan?

December 25, 2018 - Attack on Government Building in Afghan Capital leaves 43 Dead: official
Attack on government building in Afghan capital leaves 43 dead: official | Reuters

KABUL - Afghan authorities on Tuesday collected 43 bodies from a government compound in the capital Kabul that was targeted by a suicide bomber and extremists armed with assault rifles on Monday, officials said.

Afghan policemen stand guard outside the government compound after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan December 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

The attack began when the suicide bomber blew up his explosives-laden car in front of a government building that houses a public welfare department in an eastern neighborhood of Kabul.

Some of the attackers rampaged through the building of the Ministry for Martyrs and Disabled Persons taking workers hostage, and others fought a prolonged gun battle with local security forces.

Health ministry spokesman Wahid Majroh said so far 43 bodies and 10 injured had been transported by ambulances from the attack site. One policeman was killed and three militants were gunned down during seven hours of fighting inside the government compound.

Afghan forces evacuated over 350 civilians from the building before calling off the operation on Monday night. No militant group has claimed responsibility for the complex attack that was identical to previous attacks by Taliban insurgents on government offices, foreign buildings, and military bases.

Abdullah Abdullah, the government’s chief executive, blamed the Taliban for the attack.

“The ‘Taliban’ crime syndicate must know that with every attack they carry out against our people our resolve is further strengthened to eliminate them. Their conduct is a disgrace to the very notion of peace,” he said in a tweet.

However, the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that the group was not involved in the attack on Monday.

The latest assault came just days after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was considering pulling out at least 5,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops currently deployed in Afghanistan.

The possibility of thousands of U.S. troops leaving has triggered confusion and panic in the Kabul government and foreign missions who fear that sudden withdrawal would lead to the return of the Taliban regime, who are fighting to expel foreign forces, topple the Western-backed government and restore their version of hardline Islamic law in Afghanistan.

But Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff who was in Afghanistan on Christmas Eve, was quoted by local news channels as saying that the mission for troops in Afghanistan continues without any changes.

“There are all kinds of rumors swirling around,” said Dunford while addressing hundreds of U.S. troops gathered Monday at a base in Afghanistan.

“The mission you have today is the same as the mission you had yesterday,” he said.

The Taliban controls nearly half of Afghanistan and are more powerful than at any time since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. They carry out near-daily attacks, mainly targeting security forces, government officials and civilians as human shields.

Even as diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have intensified, fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces backed by foreign troops has not subsided.

In the north, Taliban fighters killed a district police chief and kept up the pressure to seize control over parts of Faryab province on Tuesday.

Karim Youresh, a spokesman for the Faryab police said the police chief died in clashes in the Garziwan district that also killed 16 insurgents.

In eastern Nangarhar province, the Taliban killed eight pro-government militia members and injured 12 during clashes in the Bati Kot district.

Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the Nangarhar governor said the Taliban attacked several security checkpoints, with the battles continuing for hours. Ten Taliban were killed and dozens were wounded.

Afghan forces also killed a Taliban field commander in western Herat province on Monday. Mullah Javed, a Taliban military commission chief, and three aides were killed in an air strike in the Zawul district, said a police official in Herat on Tuesday.

Air and ground operations have surged in recent weeks as General Scott Miller, who took command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in September, has pressed government forces to go on the attack to strengthen their hand in any talks.


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Turkey extends troops’ deployment in Afghanistan

The parliament on Tuesday ratified a motion to extend the deployment of Turkish troops in Afghanistan for another two years as part of the NATO’s support mission in the war-torn country.

A legislation will put into effect on Jan. 6, 2019, allowing the Turkish government to send troops to Afghanistan to support the NATO-led mission Resolute Support.

As the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force ended its 17-year combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2018, the mission has evolved into training and advising of the nascent Afghan security forces.

Around 12,000 foreign troops from 28 NATO allies and 14 other partner nations agreed to support the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

The legislation that was first passed in 2015 also grants the government authority to permit foreign army personnel to be transported to and from Afghanistan through Turkey.


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Taliban to US: Leave Afghanistan or face Soviet-style defeat

US army soldiers.jpg
US army soldiers walk as a NATO helicopter flies overhead in the eastern province of Nangarhar. (Photo by AFP)

The Taliban militant group has warned the United States it would face the same fate as the Soviet Union in the 1980s if it did not leave violence-wracked Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement on Thursday that US forces face "humiliation" and could "learn a great deal" from the experience of their Cold War foe.

"Take heed from the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan and abandon thoughts of testing the mettle of the already proven Afghans," said the statement issued on the 39th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of the war-torn country.

The Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, ending a decade-long occupation and precipitating a bloody civil war and the emergence of the Taliban and other militant groups.

Elsewhere in the statement, Taliban spokesman added that any future relations between the Taliban and the United States should be based on "sound diplomatic and economic principles" rather than conflict.

The Taliban have previously said the presence of foreign troops is the biggest obstacle to peace in Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump has reportedly ordered the withdrawal of some 7,000 troops from Afghanistan. The figure accounts for about half of the total number of American boots on the ground in the country.

The Taliban have not formally responded to the partial US troop withdrawal. But a senior commander recently told media outlets that the group was "more than happy".

The Kabul government has stepped up efforts to convince the Taliban to end the 17-year militancy amid Washington’s failures on the battleground.

US State Department's special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has said he held "productive" meetings in Abu Dhabi with Afghan and international partners "to promote intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict."

Khalilzad said the Taliban’s demand remained an agreement over the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. The US, meanwhile, has sought assurances from the militant group that its forces would not be attacked.

The meetings are the latest in a flurry of diplomatic efforts aimed at putting an end to the war in Afghanistan which began with the US invasion 17 years ago.

The United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 after the September 11 attacks and overthrew the Taliban regime. But US forces have remained bogged down there through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Trump.

Taliban militants have warned of stepping up their attacks until the US forces fully withdraw from Afghanistan.



The commander of US forces and the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan Gen. Scott Miller says that the fighting in the country will continue until a political settlement.

“This fight will go until a political settlement,” he told CNN when asked whether the Afghan campaign against the Taliban had reached a stalemate. “These are two sides that are fighting against one another, and neither one of them will achieve a military victory at this stage.”

Miller’s statement shows that US efforts to reach a deal with the Taliban have not reached any significant progress so far. One of the Taliban’s main demands is a full withrawal of US troops from the war-torn country.


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December 28, 2018 - Taliban seeks image makeover as Afghan Peace talks gain momentum
Taliban seeks image makeover as Afghan peace talks gain momentum | Reuters

As moves toward peace pick up in Afghanistan, the Taliban are trying to show they have changed since the brutal days of the 1990s when they banned music and girls’ education and carried out public executions in Kabul’s football stadium.

“If peace comes and the Taliban return, then our return will not be in the same harsh way as it was in 1996,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told Reuters, referring to the year they took over in Kabul before their ouster by U.S.-led troops in 2001.

“We want to assure Afghan nationals that there will be no threat to anyone from our side.”

The comments come as moves toward peace negotiations have intensified, following a series of meetings between U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives over the past three months.

Expectations of a decisive shift have been heightened by reports that more than 5,000 U.S. troops may be withdrawn from Afghanistan, in an abrupt about-turn from the previous U.S. strategy of stepping up military pressure on the insurgents.

“Our opposition is with the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. Once they are out and a peace deal is reached, then a nationwide amnesty will be announced,” said Mujahid.

“No one, police, army, government employees or anyone, will face revenge behavior from our side.”

Reports of the withdrawal are unconfirmed but they have triggered alarm among many Afghans with bitter memories of the Taliban’s ultra-hardline regime.

“I don’t think their mindset has changed but they have realized that without respecting human rights, they cannot be accepted by the international community,” said Bilal Sediqi, spokesman for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

With Afghanistan likely to remain dependent on foreign aid for years, the Taliban know they cannot return to the past when fighters swept into Kabul after the chaos of the 1990s civil war.

But they insist that as well as the withdrawal of foreign forces, there will be a return to their strict version of Islamic rule and many Afghans doubt their claims to have softened, even while yearning for an end to the war.

In June, Taliban leaders were angry at their fighters swapping selfies with soldiers and government officials and eating ice cream with civilians during a three-day ceasefire. Soon afterwards, they launched complex attacks on strategic provinces to try to oust Afghan forces and used civilians as human shields.

“I know there is no place for me if the Taliban return in their old style,” said Abdul, a 12-year police veteran currently working in the western province of Farah.

“...I will stand by the government side whatever it decides. But still I have not lost my hope in the future. The Taliban are not the old ones. We see changes among them. They are also tired of war.”

The Taliban, a predominantly ethnic Pashtun movement, strongest in the south and east of the country, now control large stretches of the countryside, where they levy taxes, run courts and control education.

For many conservative rural Afghans, Taliban rule provides welcome stability and the merciless punishments and rigid controls on women’s rights fit well with traditional practices in many areas.

In the Aqtash district of northern Kunduz province, a hotbed of Taliban insurgents, some women said they are allowed to walk freely and do not have to cover their faces in all-enveloping burqas.

Mujahid said the Taliban were not against women’s education or employment but wanted to maintain cultural and religious codes.

“We are not against women working in government organizations or against their outdoor activities, but we will be against the alien culture clothes worn by women, brought to our country,” Mujahid said.

Omaid Maisam, the deputy spokesman for Afghan Chief Executive officer Abdullah Abdullah, said the government protects human rights and the Taliban must accept the national constitution to shed their hardline image.

“We have seen some signs of changes among them, but they have to show it in their actions that they have really changed,” he said.

Many believe the return on the Taliban would threaten the gains the country has made since 2001. Much work remains to be done to convince women in work or education and skeptical groups of ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras from northern and central Afghanistan.

“I think that these statements that the Taliban have changed are only excuses that are being used by the Taliban to gain acceptance,” said Malina Hamidi, a teacher at a school in the Chamtal district of Balkh province.

“I am 100 percent confident that once they come back to power, they will be the same Taliban that ruled Afghanistan in the nineties.”


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2018-12-30 - Afghanistan: Asia’s Ukraine
Afghanistan: Asia's Ukraine - Eurasia Future

While much of the world has been transfixed by the post-2014 Ukraine conflict and its historical origins, Afghanistan’s internal conflicts and Kabul’s conflicts with its neighbours have followed much the same pattern. The main differences is that Afghanistan’s troubles have been going on for far longer. To understand the similarities between the two states and how these similarities have caused parallel conflicts, one must examine these parallels point by point.

* A multicultural state masquerading as an ethno-state/culturally unitary state

Both Afghanistan and Ukraine as presently comprised, are mixes of several distinct and at times hostile ethnic/religious and cultural groups.

In Afghanistan, a plurality of the population are ethnic Pashtuns, while ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras also form a core of the nation’s ethno-lingusitc groups. These main sects are supplemented other smaller minority groups including Aimaks, Turkmens and a Baloch minority along with other even smaller sects.

In Ukraine, it is still a highly subjective matter (due to the fluidity of ethno-linguistic self-identification) when it comes to determining whether there are more ethnic Russians or more ethnic Ukrainians in the country (the origins of this will be explored subsequently). Suffice to say, the country is geographically divided between an east and south where a majority identify either as full ethnic Russians or linguistic Russians, while central and especially western regions are largely populated by self-identified ethno-linguistic Ukrainians. Likewise, there was a vast Polish population in the north-west of contemporary Ukraine (such regions were part of Poland between the world wars) that was largely ethnically ceased, first by Nazi Germany and their Ukrainian nationalist collaborators, before Stalin finished the job after 1945. In the south-west, there remain minority populations that include ethnic Hungarians, Romanians and Slovaks.

And yet in spite of these ethno-lingustic differences, there has been a push in the modern Afghan and Ukrainian states to link citizenship with a common “Afghan” and “Ukrainian” civic identity when both historically and presently, none exists. This is one of the roots of the internal strife that has plagued both states.

* Defining national identify in strictly negative terms


Prior to the 20th century, the term Ukrainian as a distinct ethnicity was largely unknown. Yet in the early 20th century, it became advantageous for the German troops occupying erstwhile Russian Imperial lands (in line with the Treaty of Breast-Litovsk) in the midst of Russia’s civil war and later the Bolsheviks that were victorious in the civil war to invent “Ukrainian” as a distinct ethnic identity as opposed to a regional identity that prior to the 20th century was known as a Little Russian (among Russian speakers) or Ruthenians (in most European nations including the Austro-Hungarian Empire).

For the Germans of the early 20th century as with the German dominated European Union of the early 21st century, it was helpful to see Ukrainians as distinct from their Russian cousins to the east and their Polish cousins to the west in order to provoke Moscow on the one hand while not encouraging the concept of a restored Greater Poland (aka Piłsudski’s model) on the other hand. Similarly, for the Bolsheviks of the early 20th century, the idea that a Russian Empire had given way to a Soviet “brotherhood of nations” required Moscow to both recognize and in some cases invent new national (rather than regional) identities in order to bolster the rather obtuse concept of national fraternity that had allegedly replaced a unitary empire.

–Word games

Beyond this, the very word Ukraine roughly means borderland or frontier-land in regional languages, while the term Abgân (the forerunner to the modern term Afghan) first appeared among Sassanid Persians to vaguely denote the ethnic group recognised by contemporary scholars as Pashtuns. In both cases, the meaning of these words took on very different meanings in the late modern era and in both cases for largely artificial reasons.


While the 18th century’s Durrani Empire with its first capital in the modern Afghan city of Kandahar is often considered the first modern Afghan state – the Durrani Empire bears the same kinds of similarities to today’s’ Afghanistan as did the proto-state known as the Cossack Hetmanate to modern Ukraine. In other words, these similarities are superficial at best. In both cases, largely primitive states existed for a relatively short period of time before being effectively consumed by more powerful and sophisticated neighbouring states, thus hardly being fully-fledged antecedents to the Afghanistan and Ukraine that the world knows in 2018.

But while the Hetmanate was formally brought under Russian protection with the 1654 Treaty of Pereyaslav, the establishment of the Emirate of Afghanistan in 1823 was largely a result of a British preference for a sovereign Afghan state as opposed to an Afghanistan that may have become part of a Russia that in the 18th and 19th century continued to expand southward into traditional Persian and Turkic realms.

While Britain in fact sought to conquer the Emirate of Afghanistan during much of its existence, Emir Dost Mohammad Khan had more luck than Cossack Hetman (leader) Bohdan Khmelnytsky when it came to playing nearby great powers against one another. Dost Mohammad Khan initially forged an alliance with the British Empire which controlled British India to the east (including all of modern Pakistan), but by 1839 he had made overtures to the Russian Empire to the north. This resulted in the first Anglo-Afghan war which Dost Mohammad Khan’s forces eventually won. After a period of captivity during the war, Dost Mohammad Khan reclaimed power in 1845.

The regional rivalry between Britain and Russia for influence over the fledgling Emirite resulted in a second Anglo-Afghan war fought between 1878 and 1880. While Britain was forced to vacate the territory of the Emirate, the subsequent Treaty of Gandamak saw Britain taking over the Emirite’s foreign relations, thus effectively making the Emirate a British satellite state for all geopolitical intents and purposes.

After a third Anglo-Afghan war in 1919, the Emirate and Britain signed the Treaty of Rawalpindi in which the Afghan side agreed to recognize the Durand Line as the legal border between the British Raj and Afghanistan’s eastern frontier.

It was these events which helped to define later 20th century Afghan nationalism in negative terms. As the majority of the world’s Pashtuns lived to the east of the Durand Line (in modern Pakistan), Afghanistan was not in fact the “Pashtunistan” that many Afghan nationalists sought and still seek it to be. Inversely, the presence of non-Pashtun minorities- those who were largely either culturally/linguistically Persianate or Turkic were expressly alienated from those gunning for a “greater Pashtunistan/greater Afghanistan”.

Thus, while the country had and retains a substantial Persianate population – it was not part of Iran. Likewise, while the country had and retains a Turkic minority, it was not part of the wider Ottoman space. Finally, because most Pashtuns did not live in Afghanistan, it could not be a a “greater Pashtunistan”.

Therefore, just as Ukraine has come to define itself as a place that is neither Russian nor Polish but one culturally, linguistically and spiritually shaped by both with acknowledging neither, so too is Afghanistan a place shaped by multiple cultures and yet none of these cultures singularly define Afghanistan.

* From client states to international war zones

So long as Afghanistan was a de-facto British satellite state, it could not threaten the populations within the western flank of the British Raj. Likewise, so long as Ukraine was but a constituent part of the Soviet Union, it could scarcely be a place of conflict between competing nations, let alone a place of major internal conflict.

But in the 20th century, when the western flank of the British Raj became the independent Islamic Republic of Pakistan – this placidity changed. After the withdrawal of the British from south Asia, renewed calls in Kabul to conquer parts of Pakistan’s territory and integrate them into a “Greater Pashtunistan/Greater Afghanistan” became the defining feature of Afghanistan’s quest for a solid identity. Reneging on the terms of the Treaty of Rawalpindi, every Afghan state from 1947 onward has refused to recognise The Durand Line as the border between itself and Pakistan, even though Pakistan legally inherited British era treaties concerned with its borders – just as the same was and remains true of The Republic of India.

The expansionist tendencies of successive Kabul regimes made the country a playground for India backed terror groups threatening Pakistan’s territorial integrity, while in 1979, the Soviet Union disastrously decided to aid a Kabul regime that like many before it, could not stand on its own feet.

Today, the US has subsumed the USSR’s position of trying to uphold a Kabul administration incapable of standing on its two feet and just as was the case in respect of the USSR and British Empire before it, the US is in Afghanistan not because it realistically thinks it can conquer a notoriously unconquerable land, but because Afghanistan is a convenient location from which to gain geopolitical leverage against its powerful neighbours – Pakistan, China, Iran and the pro-Moscow Tajikistan.

Like Afghanistan, Ukraine has proved that it is not a state capable of self-governing on its own two feet. It can only exist with the support of an external power whether it be Poland, Germany, Russia or now, the United States and its EU allies. But perhaps paradoxically, when Britain, the USSR and now the US intervened to prop up or alter incompetent Afghan regimes, a bad situation only got worse. The country became an even bigger cauldron in which to foment provocations against neighbouring states, while internal sectarianism generally went from bad to worse.

Similarly, while the Ukrainian regime of Viktor Yanukovych tried to balance its international relations by attempting to be a client state of the US/EU and Russia simultaneously, much like Dost Mohammad Khan had tried to do in respect of Britain and Russia – today’s US supported Ukrainian regime has seen an embarrassingly bad situation descend to one of blood soaked internal conflict as well as conflicts with neighboring states.

* Lessons to be learnt

If the late-modern history of both Afghanistan and Ukraine can teach the world anything, it is that it is better to let perpetually failed states fail on their own rather than try to prop up countries whose centre cannot hold due to sectarianism and whose interactions with neighbors are uniformly hostile due to a desire to define nationalism as a force of negativity against others, as opposed to a force for internal harmony.

Because Ukraine and Afghanistan can only define themselves in terms of opposition to others, lest their respective internal sectarianism divides become explosively exposed, it would be better for a genuine international community not to sacrifice the stability of comparatively normal states in order to prop up two states that should have long ago been peacefully broken apart along both logical and democratic lines.


The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Tue Jan 01, 2019 - Taliban Attacks Kill Police in Northern Afghanistan

Fighters kill at least 23 police officers, as armed group storms security posts in Northern Sar-e-Pul province.

At least 23 security personnel have been killed and dozens of others wounded in a series of attacks by the Taliban on security checkpoints in Afghanistan's Northern Sar-e-Pul province, officials were quoted by al Jazeera as saying on Tuesday.
Fierce gun battles raged for several hours late on Monday in the center of Sayyad district and outside the provincial capital, Sar-e-Pul, provincial council Chief Mohammad Noor Rahmani said.

A high-ranking provincial official with an Afghan spy agency, a local police commander, and an army company commander were among the dead provincial council member Mohammad Asif Sadiqi told dpa news agency.

Taliban Spokesman Qari Yousof Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Sadiqi said at least 25 others were wounded in the attacks that began around 7p.m. local time (14.30 GMT) and continued for more than seven hours with Taliban fighters overrunning the posts.

The fighters first stormed two security posts in the district center, Sadiqi added, before a reinforcement convoy that was sent to assist with repelling the Taliban was also ambushed by the armed group.

Taliban fighters have ramped up their attacks on Afghan security forces and government facilities in recent months, leaving troops thinly stretched throughout the country.

Last Tuesday, at least 12 Afghan security forces were killed in Taliban attacks in the Northern Faryab and Eastern Nangarhar provinces.

January 1, 2019 - Top US Commander in Afghanistan sees Peace Opportunity in 2019
Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan sees peace opportunity in 2019 | Reuters

KABUL - The top U.S general in Afghanistan told NATO troops on Tuesday to prepare themselves to deal with “positive processes or negative consequences” as peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban to end a 17-year war gain momentum.

General Scott Miller, who commands U.S. forces and the NATO-led non-combat Resolution Support (RS) mission in Afghanistan reiterated the need for a political settlement to end the conflict.

“Peace talks (are) out there, regional players pressing for peace, the Taliban talking about peace, the Afghan government is talking about peace,” Miller told dozens of NATO soldiers who had gathered at RS headquarters in Kabul for an exercise session.

Dressed in gym gear, Miller participated in a 60-minute open-air morning workout of sprints, squats, burpees and push-ups.

He did not comment on reports that the United States was considering pulling out almost half of the 14,000-strong force currently deployed in Afghanistan.

A White House spokesman said last week that U.S. President Donald Trump had not issued orders to withdraw the troops. However, the administration has not denied the reports, which have also prompted fears of a fresh refugee crisis.

“Are (the RS) able to adapt? Are we able to adjust? Are we able to be in the right place to support positive processes and negative consequences, that’s what I ask you guys to think about in 2019,” Miller said.

U.S. Army General Scott Miller, Commander of Resolute Support forces and command of NATO forces in Afghanistan, speaks during a New Year celebration at the Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan January 1, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail


The Living Force
FOTCM Member
The Taliban met U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar on Monday, the militant group said, days after threatening to pull out of Afghan peace talks and hours after Taliban fighters killed more than 100 members of the Afghan security forces.

January 21, 2019 - Taliban say they hold talks with US Afghan Envoy in Qatar
Taliban say they hold talks with U.S. Afghan envoy in Qatar | Reuters

“Talks between Taliban leaders and U.S. officials have started today in Qatar,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement.

A source close to the talks said members of the Taliban’s political office were meeting with Khalilzad in Doha, adding: “They will hopefully finalize a timeline and mechanism of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.”

A suicide attack took place in Kabul-Logar highway in Mohammad Agha district in the vicinity of central Logar Province of Afghanistan amid reports a convoy of vehicles carrying the provincial governor and other senior officials was targeted.

Sun Jan 20, 2019 - 8 People Killed in Taliban's Attack on Convoy of Afghanistan's Provincial Governor

As many as eight people were killed and 10 others were injured as a result of a militant attack on a convoy of vehicles carrying the governor and other senior officials of Afghanistan's Central Logar Province, Khaama news agency reported on Sunday.

A local security official confirmed that the governor has escaped unhurt from the attack. A member of the provincial council also announced that the provincial director of the intelligence was also travelling in the convoy but he has also escaped the attack unhurt.

The Taliban movement has claimed responsibility for the attack, the media outlet reported.


The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Taliban officials said U.S. negotiators on Saturday agreed a draft peace deal stipulating the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan within 18 months of the agreement being signed.

Sat. January 26, 2019 - Foreign Troops to quit Afghanistan in 18 months under Draft Deal: Taliban Officials
Foreign troops to quit Afghanistan in 18 months under draft deal: Taliban officials | Reuters

The details were provided to Reuters by Taliban sources at the end of six days of talks with U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar aimed at ending the United States’ longest war. They have yet to be confirmed by U.S. officials nor has either side released an official statement. Officials at the U.S. embassy in Kabul were not immediately available for comment.

Khalilzad is heading to the Afghan capital Kabul to brief President Ashraf Ghani after the longer-than expected talks, the sources and a diplomat said.

According to the Taliban sources, the hardline Islamic group offered assurances that Afghanistan will not be allowed to be used by al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants to attack the United States and its allies - a key early demand of Washington.

It is not known if a draft is acceptable to both sides has been completed, or when it might take effect.

The Taliban sources said a key provision to the deal included a ceasefire but they had yet to confirm a timeline and will only open talks with Afghan representatives once the ceasefire is implemented.

“In 18 months if the foreign forces are withdrawn and ceasefire is implemented then other aspects of the peace process can be put into action,” a Taliban source said, quoting from a portion of the draft.

Taliban representatives and US authorities finalized a proposed deal during the course of six days of negotiations in Qatar that would put an end to the Afghan war, which has raged in the country for 17 years, Reuters reported on Saturday, citing Taliban sources.
Sat Jan 26, 2019 - US, Taliban Reportedly Finalise Draft of Peace Deal to End 17-Year War

According to the source, the agreement highlights that the deal includes guarantees that al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) will not be able to use Afghanistan as a base for terrorism.

Moreover, the deal urges the foreign military forces that are present in the central Asian country to withdraw within 18 months,
the source added.
After the negotiations, US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is expected to inform President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul about the achieved progress.

The US embassy in Kabul has not yet confirmed the reports on the draft agreement and the envoy's visit to Afghanistan's capital.

The Taliban’s five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end in the wake of a US-led invasion in 2001, but 17 years on, the militant group continues to challenge the government and thousands of foreign troops remaining on Afghan soil.


FOTCM Member
According to the Taliban sources, the hardline Islamic group offered assurances that Afghanistan will not be allowed to be used by al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants to attack the United States and its allies - a key early demand of Washington.


According to the source, the agreement highlights that the deal includes guarantees that al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) will not be able to use Afghanistan as a base for terrorism.
Aren't they (Taliban, al-Qaeda, IS) all the same, though? They're all terrorists in my eyes. The country is already being used as a base for terrorism (with the help of the US and allies).

“In 18 months if the foreign forces are withdrawn and ceasefire is implemented then other aspects of the peace process can be put into action,” a Taliban source said, quoting from a portion of the draft.
Hopefully IF the troops withdrawal goes through, perhaps Russia, China and Iran can help the country get rid of the Taliban... I'm not quite sure how the Taliban define 'peace'.
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