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US lawmaker claims Biden looking to keep counter-terrorism troops in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: March 25, 2021)

The Biden administration is reportedly looking to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan past a May 1 deadline while exploring a deal in which the Taliban would allow a U.S. counter-terrorism force to remain as they confront their Islamic State foes, a top U.S. lawmaker said on Wednesday.

Reuters reported that House of Representatives Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith’s comments provided new details of U.S. President Joe Biden’s possible decision on the exit plan.

Biden has not however made a decision yet on whether all troops will leave Afghanistan by the May 1 deadline. 

In a press conference in Brussels on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed this and said he was at the NATO foreign ministers meeting (Tuesday and Wednesday) to listen, learn and consult with allies on the issue. 

Biden did however say in a recent interview with NBC News that to meet the May 1 deadline would be “tough”.

The deadline is part of the deal signed in February last year between the US and the Taliban. A deal that Biden inherited from former president Donald Trump. 

Meanwhile, speaking in an online Foreign Policy magazine forum this week, Smith said he spoke to national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the withdrawal.

“I think there’s a general feeling that May 1 is too soon, just logistically,” he said. “We’ve got … closer to 3,500 troops in Afghanistan. Our allies have around 7,000.”

“You cannot pull out 10,000-plus troops in any sort of way in six weeks,” he said. He added the administration’s “job one” is talking to the Taliban about allowing the U.S.-led force to remain for a little longer, Reuters reported.

He noted the Taliban demand that all foreign troops leave. If that remains their position, he said, “I don’t see that we have much choice but to leave,” including counter-terrorism forces.

“What the Biden administration wants to do is negotiate past May 1 and then at least explore the option: has the Taliban changed their mind as they … are fighting ISIS (Daesh) almost as much as they are fighting the Afghan government,” Smith continued.

“Might their position change about a U.S. presence? I doubt it. But I think the administration is thinking it’s worth the conversation,” he said.

While the Taliban has been fighting Daesh in Afghanistan, experts say, Islamic State remains a serious threat.

The Taliban have indicated they will resume attacking foreign forces if Biden fails to meet the May 1 deadline, and some experts doubt they would allow any U.S. force to stay.

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Talking to the IEA is the ‘only way forward’, UNAMA official

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(Last Updated On: June 24, 2022)

The devastating earthquake on Wednesday is just one of several emergencies facing Afghanistan, and continued dialogue with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) authorities remains the only way to address ongoing challenges in the country, the UN Security Council heard on Thursday. 

Before being briefed by Ramiz Alakbarov, Acting Special Representative at the UN’s Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, and Martin Griffiths, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator ambassadors stood and observed a minute of silence for the victims of Wednesday’s deadly earthquake. 

Alakbarov provided an update on the earthquake, before turning to the ongoing human rights, economic and humanitarian challenges the country is facing. 

He said despite difficulties, “we firmly continue to believe that a strategy of continued engagement and dialogue remains to be the only way forward for the sake of the Afghan people, as well as for the sake of regional and international security.” 

He also said the human rights situation in Afghanistan remains precarious. 

He stated that the economic crisis is perhaps the single most important issue in Afghanistan, and a potential driver of conflict and misery. It is estimated the economy contracted by up to 40 percent since August last year. 

Unemployment could reach 40 percent this year, up from 13 percent in 2021, while the official poverty rate could climb as high as 97 percent he said. 

“If the economy is not able to recover and grow meaningfully and sustainably, then the Afghan people will face repeated humanitarian crises; potentially spurring mass migration and making conditions ripe for radicalization and renewed armed conflict,” he warned. 

According to him, Afghanistan also remains highly vulnerable to future climate and geopolitical shocks. Drought, floods, disease outbreaks affecting both people and livestock, as well as natural disasters like the earthquake, are further deepening vulnerabilities. 

Alakbarov stressed the need to prioritize rural areas, with focus on agricultural and food systems to prevent hunger. This will also help to reduce child labour, improve health outcomes, and create the environment that will enable social development and change. 

“It will also pave the way for substitution agriculture to replace the poppy cultivation, allowing us to capitalize on the de facto authority’s recent ban on poppy and narcotic cultivation,” he said.  

“While doing so we need to continue to provide adequate attention to clearance of widely unexploded ordnance of war. This bottom-up approach to economic recovery is shared by the de facto authorities and would help the most vulnerable.” 

He said armed opposition attacks against the de facto authorities doubled in May, compared to the previous month and that while the number of Daesh attacks has generally decreased, their geographic scope has widened from six to 11 provinces.  

“We cannot exclude the possibility of increased instability if peoples’ rights are denied and if they do not see themselves in their government,” he said. 

Alakbarov said in the coming month, the UN will seek to promote political consultation and inclusion, and engagement with the IEA will continue. 

Addressing humanitarian response, Alakbarov highlighted how aid partners have reached some 20 million Afghans between January and April this year alone, including nearly 250,000 returnees and some 95,000 people affected by floods and weather-related events. 

However, the humanitarian crisis persists, and sustained support will be needed through next year, he said.

Griffiths, the UN’s relief chief meanwhile reported that more than 190 aid organizations are operating in Afghanistan, where nearly half the population, 19 million people, are facing food insecurity. 

This includes more than six million people at emergency level – the highest number of any country in the world at risk of famine-like conditions, he said. 

Griffiths also underscored the pressing need for funding. A $4.4 billion humanitarian plan for Afghanistan is only one-third funded, despite pledges of $2.4 billion made at the launch in March. 

 

 

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In major security shakeup, Iran replaces IRGC intelligence chief

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(Last Updated On: June 24, 2022)

Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the elite branch of the armed forces, has replaced its intelligence chief Hossein Taeb in a surprise shakeup.

The major shakeup in the IRGC’s intelligence apparatus comes after a series of recent incidents inside Iran, including sabotage and cyberattacks, assassinations, and the mysterious killings of IRGC members as well as scientists and engineers, RFE/RL reported Friday.

Tehran has blamed some of the incidents on Israel, its regional foe.

The IRGC said Taeb would be replaced by General Mohammad Kazemi, who was previously in charge of the IRGC’s Intelligence Protection Unit, which focuses on surveillance within the force.

The IRGC did not say why Taeb, who had held the post since 2009, was removed. It added that Taeb had been appointed as an adviser to IRGC chief Major General Hossein Salami, suggesting he was demoted, RFE/RL reported.

 

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US releases Guantanamo prisoner, hands him over to IEA officials in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: June 24, 2022)

The United States has released an Afghan national, Assadullah Haroon, detained in the Guantanamo prison and handed him over to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) in Kabul.

According to a statement issued by IEA spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Friday, Haroon was released after 15 years in the prison as a result of “efforts of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [IEA] and its direct and positive interaction with the United States”.

“IEA considers this as its duty to release Afghans detained in other countries and strives to ensure that no Afghan remains oppressed in any country of the world,” the statement said.

“We are currently in contact with some of the countries where Afghans have been detained and efforts are underway to release them soon,” the statement read.

Mujahid also thanked Qatar for “paving the ground” for the release of Haroon.

He also said the IEA is hopeful that the last remaining Afghan prisoner, Muhammad Rahim Sekundar, held at Guantanamo is also freed and able to rejoin his family in his homeland.

The prison has drawn worldwide condemnation for holding large numbers of prisoners without charging them or holding trials. Its population peaked at about 800 inmates, then declined sharply during the 2009-2017 Obama administration.

At least 37 detainees remained at Guantanamo Bay, as per a statement by the US Defence Department in April.

 

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