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Biden administration considering a 6-month extension for US forces in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: March 19, 2021)

Washington is considering a six-month extension for US forces in Afghanistan, media outlets reported on Friday.

No final decision has been made, the official emphasized. NBC News first reported that a six-month extension is under consideration.

The official noted that the US will want to get the Taliban to agree to the extension. Other options are still on the table, including a full withdrawal by May 1, but a sign of President Joe Biden’s current thinking came this week when he told ABC News he didn’t think it would “take a lot longer,” and said a full withdrawal by May 1 “could happen, but it is tough.”

“I’m in the process of making that decision now as to when they’ll leave. The fact is, that was not a very solidly negotiated deal that the President — the former President — worked out. So, we’re in consultation with our allies as well as the government, and that decision’s — it’s in process now,” Biden told ABC.

This comes after a report from an influential Afghanistan study group co-chaired by former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford recommended a more flexible timeline based on conditions such as reduced violence.

One critical problem is the current agreement with the Taliban does not acknowledge potentially hundreds of US special operations forces in the country that are not part of the current group of 2,500 US troops there. If they stay to help with counter-terrorism missions beyond a drawdown, the US may have to broadly acknowledge that presence.

Several defense officials previously told CNN that the US-led NATO alliance would like to see decisions taken no later than April 1 because of the challenges of removing US weaponry and equipment, amid concerns about some of it falling into the hands of the Taliban.

A Pentagon report said the full withdrawal could be devastating to “the survival of the Afghan state as we know it.”

But as Biden weighs his options, the US military continues its operations in the country, having conducted airstrikes there this week targeting the Taliban in Kandahar.

US airstrikes in recent days targeted “Taliban fighters actively attacking and maneuvering on (Afghan National Security Forces) positions” in Kandahar, US Forces Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said in a tweet on Wednesday.

The Taliban “strongly condemned” the US airstrikes on Kandahar, with spokesman Qari Mohammad Yusuf Ahmadi affirming that Taliban members were killed and injured, but not specifying how many.

Ahmadi called the attacks “a clear violation of the Doha Agreement, which cannot be justified in any way.”

The “Doha Agreement,” signed by the US and the Taliban just more than a year ago in Doha, Qatar, set out a series of commitments by both sides relating to troop levels, counterterrorism and the intra-Afghan dialogue aimed at bringing about “a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”

Currently Washington official reports there are 2,500 US troops in the country but last week New York Times reported there are at least 3,500 US soldiers in Afghanistan.
That’s 1,000 more than Washington has disclosed.

The NYT reported the “cloudy accounting” around troops numbers results from some Special Forces units having been put “off the books”.

According to a senior US official, the presence of some temporary and transitioning units also accounted for the additional troops.

A second official told NYT that these troops include Joint Special Operations Command units, some of them elite Army Rangers, who work under both the Pentagon and the CIA while deployed to Afghanistan.

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US to provide $55 million in additional aid for immediate earthquake assistance: Blinken

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(Last Updated On: June 28, 2022)

In response to the deadly earthquake that struck eastern Afghanistan last Wednesday, the United States, through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), will provide nearly $55 million in immediate humanitarian assistance to meet urgent needs of people affected. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday the United States would provide the additional funds for immediate humanitarian assistance. 

The new funding brings total US humanitarian assistance to over $774 million in the last year, Blinken added.

According to a statement issued by USAID on Tuesday, this additional assistance includes support for USAID partner the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to continue to reach earthquake-affected people with urgently needed shelter materials, water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies, and other relief items. 

“These vital supplies include emergency shelter kits, cooking pots, jerry cans for water collection and storage, blankets, solar lamps, clothing, and other household items. In addition, this support will provide hygiene kits, menstrual hygiene supplies, and water treatment kits. 

“Given that the area impacted by the earthquake was already experiencing an acute watery diarrhea outbreak, this relief will help mitigate a larger waterborne disease outbreak in the aftermath of this disaster, when there is greater risk given the lack of access to safe water,” the statement read. 

The US response came just hours after the United Nations launched an emergency appeal for $110 million to provide lifesaving assistance to more than 360,000 Afghans who were affected by last week’s earthquake in Paktika and Khost provinces.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said early Tuesday that the new appeal is part of this year’s Humanitarian Response plan, which calls for $4.4 billion, but is massively underfunded at just over one third.

“We and our partners are borrowing supplies, personnel, and resources from other humanitarian programmes,” UNOCHA said in a statement.

Wednesday’s earthquake killed over a thousand people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes in Paktika and Khost provinces.

“I’m appealing to the world — please help. We need money. We need funding. We need support to resolve this tragedy,” Ramiz Alakbarov, UN resident relief coordinator for Afghanistan, said in a video message while visiting an area in Paktika province.

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IEA to hold ‘Grand Assembly’ in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: June 28, 2022)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) is scheduled to hold a Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, for three days starting Wednesday, and will bring together almost 3,000 mainly religious scholars from across all 34 provinces. 

According to IEA officials, the participants, which include two religious scholars and one further representative from every district, are expected to present suggestions to the leadership of the IEA on ways to resolve challenges currently facing the country.

The assembly will be held in the Loya Jirga hall in Kart-e-Mamourin in Kabul city.

So far the agenda of this Loya Jirga has not been announced officially but according to sources, a number of issues will be tabled including that pertaining to matters of national importance, and maybe the issue of reopening girls’ schools.

“In such gatherings we can solve many problems and the participation of women is essential to address their rights and problems; girls’ schools must be reopened and the current crisis in all sections must be solved,” said Dewa Patang, a women’s activist. 

The main agenda will reportedly focus on finding solutions to current crises in the country, sources said.  

“Based on the information that I have, all participants who are invited to this gathering are scholars and patriots who are committed to their country and Islam,” said Toryali Hemat, a political analyst.

Members of the public meanwhile feel the Loya Jirga members should present possible solutions to resolving problems in the country – both economic and social – in order to draw a clear road map for the future of the country. 

Historically, a Loya Jirga has been convened in order to elect a new head of state, approve a new constitution or resolve critical issues.

Loya jirgas have reportedly been organized since the rise to power of the Hotak dynasty in the early 18th century. 

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Pakistan to pay for imported coal from Afghanistan in rupees

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(Last Updated On: June 28, 2022)

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has approved the import of coal from Afghanistan in rupees instead of US dollars, saying the move will help the country save precious foreign exchange.

Sharif on Monday chaired a meeting on improving the transportation system of coal imported from Afghanistan in the country, the Express Tribune reported.

He expressed deep concern over the rising price of coal on the international market, saying it was the main reason for generating expensive electricity from coal-fired power plants in the country.

“The coal imported from Afghanistan in rupee terms will not only generate cheap electricity but also help save the country’s precious foreign exchange,” Sharif said.

The prime minister was informed that import of coal from Afghanistan would save more than $2.2 billion annually.

Sharif also directed the Ministry of Railways to take all necessary steps to ensure prompt delivery of coal imported from Afghanistan to power plants.

The PM ordered the formation of a committee of all officials concerned headed by the defence minister to expedite the import process.

Esmatullah Burhan, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, told a press conference on Tuesday that Pakistan was a good market for coal exports, which should not be lost.

He said that revenue from coal exports under IEA rule were far higher than under the last government.

Ahmad Wali Haqmal, finance ministry spokesman, said tax on coal exports was increased to 30% from 20%.

The official said that until now coal was being sold at $90 per ton, but from now on it will be sold at $200 per ton.

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