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US Defense Secretary has ‘no regrets’ over chaotic US withdrawal

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(Last Updated On: March 30, 2023)

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has testified before the House Armed Services Committee and told lawmakers that he has “no regrets” about how the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan was carried out.

On Wednesday, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee grilled the defense secretary during a hearing to review the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2024 budget.

“I support [President Biden’s] decision. I don’t have any regrets,” Austin said.

GOP lawmakers also criticized what they said was a lack of accountability among civilian or military leaders for how the Afghanistan withdrawal played out.

Asked if anyone in the Pentagon’s chain of command was ever held accountable for the collapse of the 20-year war effort in Afghanistan, Austin replied, “To my knowledge, no.”

Austin, appearing with Joint Chiefs of Staff head Gen. Mark Milley, told the panel he was proud of the “tremendous work and sacrifices” that the US troops made throughout the war.

Wednesday’s testimony came amid an ongoing investigation into the chaotic withdrawal of US troops by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul.

McCaul has repeatedly requested documents from the State Department on issues relating to the lead up to the withdrawal in August 2021. However, the State Department has failed to supply the documents, leading to McCaul issuing a subpoena to this effect on Monday.

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Recognition of IEA would be decided by UNSC permanent members: Pakistan envoy

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(Last Updated On: June 6, 2023)

Recognition of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) would be a decision that five permanent members of the UN Security Council would make, Asif Ali Durrani, Pakistan’s new special envoy for Afghanistan, said.

“I think it would be a decision by the major countries, especially P 5. They are looking towards that. If the permanent five members of the Security Council do either way, so that will have an impact,” Asif Durrani, Pakistan’s special envoy for Afghanistan, said in an interview with the Center for Research and Security Studies in Pakistan.

He also called on the international community to be “compassionate” with the people of Afghanistan.

“If they are not compassionate to the ruling dispensation in Afghanistan at the moment, so at least they have to be compassionate with the people. If the UN statistics are correct, almost 95 percent of people are below the poverty line, and they can become a special liability for Pakistan if the economic situation deteriorates. Their first port of call would be Pakistan,” Durrani said.

He added that Afghanistan’s neighbors are concerned because the country is still not stable enough.

The envoy also said that Afghanistan should be allowed to evolve its own system of governance.

“On its own Afghanistan did not have the opportunity to evolve its own system. Whatever system you want to. I am no one to comment on that because I have no right to comment on that because they have their own system. Let them evolve their own system. We have examples as well in the world, there are monarchies, there are dictatorships, but the world is dealing with them,” Durrani said.

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NSIA records a drop in underage marriages in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: June 6, 2023)

The National Statistic and Information Authority (NSIA) on Tuesday announced the results of a survey, and said underage marriages have decreased in the country compared to previous years.

The survey shows that 9.6 percent of girls get married under the age of 15 and another 28.7 percent are married from the age of 18.

Based on the survey, 19 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 11 are engaged in hard labor.

“According to our statistics, child marriages have decreased in the country and 19 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 11 are engaged in hard labor,” said Esmatullah Hakimi, head of the Administrative Office of Statistics and Information.

“This survey was conducted for indicators of birth, death, child and mother health, maternal mortality and access to primary services throughout the country,” said Faqir Muhammad Ziyar, the head of NSIA.

The survey indicates that 54 percent of Afghan people are over the age of 17, of which 25.5 percent live in cities and the rest in rural areas.

Abdul Latif Nazari, Deputy Minister of Economy, also said that in order to improve people’s lives, it is necessary for various government sectors to prepare appropriate plans and policies for the future, considering these statistics.

The NSIA officials also said that more than 23,000 families, 44,000 mothers, 32,000 children under the age of 5, and more than 20,000 teenagers were interviewed in this survey.

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Afghanistan sees significant drop in opium cultivation: BBC

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(Last Updated On: June 6, 2023)

The BBC reported on Tuesday that an investigation by the media outlet has found a marked decrease in poppy cultivation across Afghanistan this year.

The BBC reported that it traveled in Afghanistan – and used satellite analysis – to examine the effects of a decree issued in April 2022 by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s (IEA) supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada that the cultivation of poppies, from which opium, the key ingredient for the drug heroin can be extracted, was strictly prohibited.

The news outlet stated that IEA leaders appear to have been more successful cracking down on cultivation than anyone ever has.

“We found a huge fall in poppy growth in major opium-growing provinces, with one expert saying annual cultivation could be 80% down on last year. Less-profitable wheat crops have supplanted poppies in fields – and many farmers say they are suffering financially,” the report stated.

Provinces visited by the BBC included Nangarhar, Kandahar and Helmand. Studies of satellite images were also done.

“It is likely that cultivation will be less than 20% of what it was in 2022. The scale of the reduction will be unprecedented,” said David Mansfield, a leading expert on Afghanistan’s drugs trade, who is working with Alcis – a UK firm which specializes in satellite analysis.

Alcis’s analysis shows that poppy cultivation in Helmand has reduced by more than 99%. “The high resolution imagery of Helmand province shows that poppy cultivation is down to less than 1,000 hectares when it was 129,000 hectares the previous year,” said David Mansfield.

Zabiullah Mujahid, the IEA’s spokesman, called on the international community to help Afghans who are facing losses.

“We know that people are very poor and they are suffering. But opium’s harm outweighed its benefits. Four million of our people from a population of 37 million were suffering from drug addiction. That is a big number,” he said. “As far as alternative sources of livelihood go, we want the international community to help Afghans who are facing losses.”

He rejected assertions by the UN, the US and other governments that opium was a major source of income for the IEA when they were fighting against Western forces and the previous Afghan regime.

The BBC asked how can they expect international organizations to help, when the IEA has jeopardized their operations and funding by banning women from working for all NGOs.

“The international community should not link humanitarian issues with political matters,” Mujahid replied. “Opium isn’t just harming Afghanistan, the whole world is affected by it. If the world is saved from this big evil then it is only fair that Afghan people receive help in return.”

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