Testifying before the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security about the Trump administration’s Afghanistan policy, US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington and its allies were looking at an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan so that neither side’s territory would be used to attack the other.
He also said the level of violence in Afghanistan was unacceptably high and that setbacks during talks are expected.
“By any measure, current levels of violence are too high,” he told the hearing but said, “we know that reductions are possible.”
Talks between the Afghan negotiating team and the Taliban started in Doha on September 12 but few details have been given since the opening ceremony, except that both sides appear to be disagreeing on a number of basic issues.
One of the key concerns among Afghans however is that women’s rights might not be preserved under a possible peace deal.
Asked about this by the Democrats during the hearing, Khalilzad said: “I want to assure the Afghan women that we will be with them.”
He said: “While we have reasons to be hopeful, we are under no illusions about the challenges ahead. … We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles.”
He also said Washington and its allies were looking at an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan so that neither side’s territory would be used to attack the other.
“We’re hoping that by the time that these other negotiations are over, we could also achieve success in that regard,” Khalilzad said.
Afghanistan has for years accused Pakistan of supporting Taliban militants but Pakistan denies doing so and in turn, accuses Afghanistan of supporting militants fighting Islamabad.
The US signed a pact with the Taliban in February, that was conditions-based, in order to bring the Afghan government and Taliban to the talks tables.
One of the agreements on the part of the US was a gradual drawdown of troops, until a full troop withdrawal in April next year.
Since the February agreement, US troop levels are down to 8,600 from 13,000 and are to be reduced further to about 4,500 by November.
David Helvey, who is performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told the subcommittee hearing the Pentagon was carrying out “prudent planning” to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by May 2021 if conditions were met.
He added that for now, Defense Secretary Mark Esper had not issued any orders to go below 4,000 troops.
UN Security Council to meet over situation in Afghanistan
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is scheduled to hold a meeting on Tuesday that will focus on the current situation in Afghanistan.
UNSC members are expected to discuss economic, humanitarian and security concerns.
Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) spokesman Bilal Karimi said the IEA welcomed meetings that are held with the aim of cooperating with the government and people of Afghanistan.
He also said that Afghans expect cooperation and that such meetings must be held in accordance with international laws and principles.
However, the IEA still does not have a designated UN representative – one year after taking control of the country.
Instead, Naseer Ahmad Faiq, who assumed leadership of the Afghan mission to the UN in December last year, will address the security council members.
The IEA does not however recognize him as the legitimate envoy to the UN.
In a series of tweets on Monday, Faiq said that he would address the security council meeting and speak on behalf of Afghans.
“On behalf of Afghans, in this important meeting, like always, I would like to raise the voice of my nation,” he said.
In September last year, the IEA asked the UN to accredit Suhail Shaheen, the head of the IEA’s political office in Qatar, as the new ambassador.
But in December, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution in which it indefinitely delayed a decision over the rival claims to the representative seat for Afghanistan.
At the time, the IEA criticized the UN’s failure to decide on this issue, saying it was ignoring the rights of the Afghan people.
Influential Muslim cleric al-Qaradawi dies at 96
Senior Muslim cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, who was based in Qatar, died on Monday, according to a post on his official Twitter account.
The cleric was an Egyptian Islamic scholar and was chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars.
He was best known for his programme al-Sharīʿa wa al-Ḥayāh (“Sharia and Life”), broadcast on Al Jazeera, which has an estimated audience of 40–60 million worldwide.
He is also known for IslamOnline, a website he helped to found in 1997 and for which he served as chief religious scholar.
Al-Qaradawi published more than 120 books, and received eight international prizes for his contributions to Islamic scholarship, and is considered one of the most influential Islamic scholars today.
Al-Qaradawi has long had a prominent role within the intellectual leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian political organization, although he repeatedly stated that he was no longer a member. He has over the years been critical of Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
US spy satellite launched into orbit from California
A classified satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office launched into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket on Saturday.
The NROL-91 spy satellite lifted off at 3:25 p.m. from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California’s Santa Barbara County, AP reported.
It was the last launch of a Delta 4 from the West Coast. Additional launches are planned from Florida before the Deltas are replaced by ULA’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rockets.
The Delta IV Heavy configuration first launched in December 2004. This was the 387th flight of a Delta rocket since 1960 and the 95th and final launch from Vandenberg.
The National Reconnaissance Office is the government agency in charge of developing, building, launching and maintaining U.S. spy satellites that provide intelligence data to policymakers, the intelligence community and Defense Department.
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