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Afghan army collapse ‘took us all by surprise,’ US defense secretary says

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(Last Updated On: September 29, 2021)

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress on Tuesday that the Afghan army’s sudden collapse caught the Pentagon “by surprise,” as military leaders confronted a contentious Senate hearing about how and why America lost its longest war.

Republican lawmakers accused President Joe Biden of lying about recommendations from his military that some troops should be kept in Afghanistan. Even Biden’s Democrats expressed frustration with a chaotic withdrawal that left U.S. troops dead and American citizens behind.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Frank McKenzie of U.S. Central Command also acknowledged being caught off-guard by the speed of the Taliban takeover and collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

It was their first public congressional testimony since the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) won the war in August.

“The fact that the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away – in many cases without firing a shot – took us all by surprise,” Austin, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“It would be dishonest to claim otherwise.”

McKenzie and Milley testified that they had believed it would have been best to keep a minimum of 2,500 troops in the country. In an August interview Biden denied his commanders had recommended that, saying: “No. No one said that to me that I can recall.”

Milley refused to be drawn on whether Biden had lied when pressed by Republican Senator Dan Sullivan

“I’m not going to categorize a statement of the President of the United States,” Milley said.

He said that the U.S. missed warning signs about the coming failure of “leadership and will” in its Afghan allies that ultimately led to their collapse.

Republican Senator Joni Ernst said Biden’s decision to keep former President Donald Trump’s unconditional withdrawal agreement with the IEA had squandered U.S. sacrifices for what he thought would be “a cheap political victory.”

“The loss of our service members, and abandonment of Americans and Afghan allies last month was an unforced, disgraceful humiliation that didn’t have to happen,” Ernst said.

Senator James Inhofe, the panel’s top Republican, described it as a “horror of the president’s own making.”

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said Biden’s military experts had provided “a range of viewpoints” about Afghanistan, and that Biden believed leaving troops there would “mean war with the Taliban (IEA).”

Milley, the top U.S. military officer, noted military warnings since late 2020 that an accelerated, unconditional withdrawal could precipitate the collapse of the Afghan military and government.

“That was a year ago. My assessment remained consistent throughout,” Milley said.

Austin, Milley and senators – many of whom oversaw the war effort for years – seemed full of questions about what went wrong, citing failures to appreciate the impact of corruption and damaged morale in the ranks.

“There’s a series of strategic lessons to be learned,” Milley said.

Democrats faulted Republicans for blaming Biden, who has been president since January, for everything that went wrong during the 20 years U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan, including under Trump.

“Anyone who says the last few months were a failure, but everything before that was great, clearly hasn’t been paying attention,” Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said.

Austin praised U.S. personnel who helped airlift 124,000 people out of the country.

But Milley acknowledged that while the evacuation effort was a logistical accomplishment, the withdrawal was a “strategic defeat”.

He warned that the IEA has not broken ties with al Qaeda.

A reconstituted al Qaeda in Afghanistan with aspirations to attack the United States was “a very real possibility” – perhaps in as little as a year, he said.

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IEA, US meet in Doha to discuss freeing of Afghanistan’s frozen assets

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(Last Updated On: June 29, 2022)

A senior Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) delegation, led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, headed to Qatar on Wednesday to hold talks with US officials to release some of the $9 billion of frozen reserves. 

According to a Washington Post report, US officials have tried to set up a system for assets to be managed, while simultaneously erecting safeguards to ensure the funds are not siphoned off for misuse by the IEA.

One option discussed by those close to the talks involves having a third party trust fund administer the money, according to the report.

Bloomberg also reported that the discussion will center around “creating a mechanism for releasing the frozen Afghan reserves.” 

Ahmad Wali Haqmal, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s finance ministry told Bloomberg: “We’re expecting this would be a serious round of talks.”

US officials have expressed optimism about the progress on talks but cautioned that several obstacles to the deal remain.

“It would be accurate to say negotiations are underway,” said Shah Mehrabi, an economics professor at Montgomery College in Maryland and a senior member of  Afghanistan’s central bank board since 2002. 

“We are in the process of trying to come up with a mechanism that will allow the transfer of reserves to the central bank of Afghanistan,” he said.

Mehrabi said food costs have skyrocketed by 18 percent in the past several months. Basic household goods rose in cost by 35 percent during the first few months of the year; in May, inflation for household goods hit 42 percent, Mehrabi said.

“These reserves belong to the Afghan people; they are needed to stabilize prices,” he said. “The faster it is delivered to the central bank of Afghanistan, the sooner we will see the impact of the reduction in prices that are critical to enable ordinary Afghans to afford food, cooking oil, and sugar and fuel. Now, they can’t do that.”

The delegation includes central bank Governor Mohammad Idris and Deputy Finance Minister Nazir Kabiri. They will meet with the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Thomas West and officials from the treasury department, Haqmal said.

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‘If Putin was a woman’ he would not have invaded Ukraine: UK PM

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(Last Updated On: June 29, 2022)

Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have invaded Ukraine if he were a woman, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday.

“If Putin was a woman, which he obviously isn’t, but if he were, I really don’t think he would’ve embarked on a crazy, macho war of invasion and violence in the way that he has,” Johnson said in an interview to German broadcaster ZDF.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is “a perfect example of toxic masculinity”, he said, calling for better education for girls around the world and for “more women in positions of power”.

The British prime minister acknowledged that “of course people want the war to end”, but for the moment “there’s no deal available. Putin isn’t making an offer of peace”.

Johnson’s comments come ahead of a NATO meeting where allies will discuss how to respond to future threats.

Western allies must support Ukraine to enable it to be in the best possible strategic position in the event that peace negotiations with Moscow do become possible, Johnson said.

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Grand assembly to discuss ways to improve economic, social conditions: Hanafi

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(Last Updated On: June 29, 2022)

The grand assembly of religious scholars, scheduled to begin Thursday, is expected to discuss ways to improve economic and social conditions, Abdul Salam Hanafi, deputy prime minister of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) said on Wednesday.

Hanafi said people from various ethnic groups and with different views will sit for discussion, which is a positive step in maintaining stability and strengthening national unity in the country.

 “After years, Afghans from various sections and ethnic groups and with different views sit with each other for discussion without foreign interference,” Hanafi said in an interview to RTA. “It is in itself a positive and valuable step for maintaining stability and strengthening national unity.”

He said that more than 3,000 people will participate in the gathering under the mega Loya Jirga tent in Kabul.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the IEA, also said that the gathering will be held under tight security measures.

He said that all technical preparations have been finalized and there will be several committees discussing key issues.

It will be the largest gathering in Kabul after the IEA took over in August last year. 

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