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Gen McKenzie to recommend post-withdrawal plan for Afghanistan



(Last Updated On: May 20, 2021)

General Frank McKenzie, the Middle East commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM) said Wednesday he will make recommendations to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in early June on how to monitor and fight terrorist groups in Afghanistan from beyond its borders after all American forces withdraw.

McKenzie said negotiations with Afghanistan’s neighbors for overflight rights and troop basing are “moving forward” but will take time.

As a result, he said, the way the United States keeps an eye on the terrorist threat and aids the Afghan military will evolve as agreements are reached or security conditions on the ground change, The Associated Press reported.

He cautioned that this will be a “taxing time” for the Afghan military and “the risk is high.”

Speaking to reporters from The Associated Press and ABC News traveling with him to the Middle East, McKenzie declined to provide details about the recommendations he will make to Austin.

He said he will also provide cost estimates for keeping surveillance aircraft over Afghanistan regularly enough to keep track of terrorist groups after the U.S. pullout is completed.

McKenzie has made it clear that without any bases in neighboring countries, it will require far more aircraft to keep watch over Afghanistan because they will have to fly for four hours to six hours from other U.S. military installations in the Middle East.

The flight distance severely limits the amount of time the aircraft can spend in the air over Afghanistan, AP reported.

Military leaders are grappling with how best to carry out President Joe Biden’s order to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by September while still providing support to the Afghan forces and monitoring the threat that prompted the U.S. invasion of the country after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Commanders have said they will monitor threats from “over the horizon,” to ensure that terrorists cannot again use Afghanistan as a base to launch attacks against the U.S. But they have acknowledged that the U.S. does not yet have any agreements for basing or overflights from any of the neighboring countries.

McKenzie said he is confident the U.S. will get the access it needs. But as yet, there are no firm solutions or decisions.

At the same time, Pentagon leaders and Congress members have expressed concerns that once the U.S. leaves, the Afghan government and its military will be quickly overrun by the Taliban.

The Afghan military, particularly its air force, has been heavily dependent on the U.S. for maintenance and training, as well as for combat air support when its troops are under attack. McKenzie said he believes the Afghans have a “fighting chance” to be successful and defend themselves.

“It’s time for the Afghan military to stand up and show that they can fight alone,” said McKenzie.

“I think it’s going to be a very taxing time for them. I think certainly there is a path for them to preserve what they have now. The risk is high. I don’t want to minimize that.”

He said that while the Taliban have not been attacking the U.S. or coalition troops, the violence against the Afghan people and the country’s military forces has been very high.

U.S. lawmakers have said they believe there is no 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-Qaeda. Members of Congress also worry that al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group (Daesh) will take advantage of the chaos and regroup, with a goal of attacking the U.S. again.

McKenzie said that both al-Qaeda and IS have been degraded, AP reported.

“Our concern would be that ungoverned spaces open in Afghanistan and they are able to reassert themselves,” he said. “This would not be immediate. I don’t think anybody (thinks) this is something that will happen next month or even in the next six months. But eventually they will gather their strength again and they’ll be a threat to our homeland.”

Washington’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, told a House hearing Tuesday that it is unduly pessimistic to predict that the Kabul government or Afghan military will be quickly overrun by the Taliban once U.S. and coalition forces withdraw.

He said 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. He recently met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, as part of a round of consultations with interested parties.

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Afghanistan leads world in negative experiences



(Last Updated On: June 28, 2022)

Afghanistan in 2021 displaced Iraq from the top spot on the Negative Experience Index that the latter had occupied for the two previous years, Gallup said in a survey report released Tuesday.

According to the report, worry, stress and sadness soared to record levels in Afghanistan in 2021: 80% of Afghans were worried, 74% were stressed and 61% felt sadness much of the day.

No other population in Gallup’s 16 year trend has ever reported feeling this much worry, the reported noted.

Gallup said Afghans’ lives were already in a tailspin before the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) returned to power in 2021. Most Afghans were struggling to afford food and shelter, few felt safe, and they saw their lives getting worse with every passing year, it said.

Gallup surveys conducted in August and September — as the U.S. withdrew and IEA took control — reveal Afghans were losing the remaining joy that they had, the report said.

Afghanistan’s score of 59 on the Negative Experience Index was the highest score on record for the country and the highest score in the world in 2021. However, Afghanistan falls short of having the highest score on record for any country: The Central African Republic posted a score of 61 in 2017.

Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesman of IEA, rejected the report as “propaganda.”

“The reality is that after IEA’s takeover most citizens are feeling safe and have a sense of ownership and they are happy,” Karimi said on Twitter.

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UN appeals for $110 million to help Afghan earthquake victims



(Last Updated On: June 28, 2022)

The United Nations on Monday 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 funding is required over the next three months.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said 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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Chinese FM talks with Muttaqi, reaffirms support for quake victims



(Last Updated On: June 28, 2022)

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke with his Afghan counterpart Amir Khan Muttaqi on Monday in a phone conversation and reaffirmed support for the victims of last week’s devastating earthquake.

Wang expressed condolences over the tragedy and said China stands ready to provide more timely assistance to Afghanistan based on its needs and expects the country to stay united to overcome the disaster and rebuild homes as soon as possible, according to China’s foreign ministry.

He said various forces in China, from the central and local governments to social organizations and enterprises, have worked overtime to deliver emergency humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and help the Afghan people.

According to Wang, the first batch of tents, blankets and other supplies are being delivered by chartered planes, and cash and other relief supplies will follow as soon as possible.

For his part, Muttaqi thanked the Chinese foreign minister and said that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) has delivered timely food and medical assistance to quake victims. He said that now there is urgent need for shelter, according to a statement from the Afghan foreign ministry.

The statement said that the sides also discussed political relations. Wang said he was opposed to sanctions against Afghanistan and added that the Afghan embassy in Beijing is operating well and is playing a good role in bilateral relations.

Wang said that China will soon start issuing visas to Afghan traders and will facilitate the return of Afghan students to China.

He also said that the air link between Afghanistan and China will be operational soon.

Muttaqi welcomed China’s ‘positive policy’ on Afghanistan and expressed hope it would boost trade between the two countries, especially on dried fruits.

A magnitude-6.1 earthquake hit eastern Afghanistan last Wednesday, leaving over a thousand people dead and 3,000 homes destroyed.

The Chinese government has decided to provide about $7.5 million worth of humanitarian aid to the victims.

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