The US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said Tuesday predictions that the Taliban will quickly overrun Afghan government forces and conquer Kabul once U.S. and coalition forces have withdrawn are unduly pessimistic.
Testifying before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Khalilzad said: “I personally believe that the statements that their (Afghan) forces will disintegrate and the Talibs will take over in short order are mistaken.”
His comments came as committee members expressed concern that President Joe Biden’s decision to fully withdraw all troops by September 11 will lead to chaos and intensified civil war.
AP reported that Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and withdrawal critic, asserted that there is “zero chance” the Taliban will abide by the commitments their leaders made in a February 2020 agreement with the Trump administration, which included engaging in sustained peace negotiations and severing all forms of cooperation with and support for al-Qaida.
“It seems all but certain the Taliban will try to overrun the country and return it to a pre-9/11 state after we have withdrawn,” McCaul said.
“They’ve already ramped up their attacks, taking new territory and bases since the (Biden) announcement was made. Without a military presence in country, the U.S. is giving them room to deepen their relationship with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, who may seek to launch external attacks on us and our allies from the country once again.”
Khalilzad argued that the Taliban have reason not to push for a military victory and instead pursue a negotiated political settlement that could give them international legitimacy and removal from certain American and United Nations sanctions.
“They say they seek normalcy in terms of relations — acceptability, removal from sanctions, not to remain a pariah,” Khalilzad said.
Khalilzad said the U.S. military withdrawal is proceeding “so far so good,” and added: “We expect that to continue.”
He said diplomatic efforts are underway to seek agreements with neighboring countries to position U.S. counterterrorism forces within strike distance of Afghanistan to be able to respond to future threats.
Cholera cases rising in Takhar
Cholera and diarrhea cases are rising among children and adults in Afghanistan’s northern Takhar province, local officials said.
Abdul Qahar Ahadi, provincial health director, said that more than 20,000 patients suffering from various diseases visited public health facilities during the past two months, which is unprecedented.
Takhar’s main hospital meanwhile said that most of the visitors were treated for cholera and diarrhea.
Hayatullah Imami, an official at Takhar hospital, said that 30 percent of patients visiting the facility daily were suffering from diarrhea.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with Vibrio cholerae bacteria.
People can get sick when they swallow food or water contaminated with the cholera bacteria. The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe and life-threatening.
India records spike in daily COVID cases and 21 deaths in 24 hours
India logged 17,073 new COVID-19 cases early Monday morning, raising its tally to 43,407,046, and 21 deaths in the past 24 hours, the health ministry reported.
The death toll now stands at 525,020.
The national COVID-19 recovery rate was 98.57 percent, the ministry said.
Pakistan’s ministry of health meanwhile reported Monday that it had recorded 382 new cases in the last 24 hours.
This took Pakistan’s COVID-19 total case count to over 1.53 million. Two deaths were also reported in the past 24 hours.
However, experts say Pakistan may potentially witness another COVID-19 wave as the country continues to see an uptick in new cases.
Polio vaccination campaign rolls out in western Afghanistan
More than one million Afghan children are expected to be vaccinated over the next few days in the latest polio vaccination campaign that was launched in western Afghanistan on Sunday.
Officials said the campaign will run for four days and be conducted across four provinces in the western region.
Waheed Rahmani, head of the vaccination campaign, said that 1.1 million children under the age of five are expected to receive the polio drops, including 720,000 in Herat province.
He said that so far there are no obstacles in the way of rolling out the campaign.
Volunteers said that they hope to reach all the children who need to be vaccinated.
“I along with my team will work honestly to make Afghanistan free from polio virus,” said Fina Nezami, a volunteer.
“I hope that Afghanistan becomes polio-free and we are happy to go door to door for vaccinations,” said Yagana Nabizada, another volunteer.
Local health officials have assured the public that all areas will be covered by the campaign.
“We have not forgotten areas, and while planning vaccination programs, all the areas are reviewed and if any area is left out, it will be immediately covered,” said Mohammad Asif Kabir, provincial deputy health director.
Around 728,000 children received polio drops in the previous campaign in Herat. Around 5,000 volunteers are involved in the current campaign in Herat.
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