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News, January 2020
Taliban Hand a Cease-Fire Offer to US Peace Envoy, Khalilzad, 7 Killed in Road Side Bombs, Including 2 US Soldiers
January 18, 2020
Taliban say they handed cease-fire offer to US peace envoy
By Kathy Gannon, January 16, 2020
ISLAMABAD (AP) —
The Taliban have given the U.S. envoy their offer for a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan that would last between seven and 10 days, Taliban officials familiar with the negotiations said Thursday.
The offer is seen as an opportunity to open a window to an eventual peace deal that would allow the United States to bring home its estimated 13,000 troops and end the 18-year war in Afghanistan, America’s longest conflict.
The cease-fire offer was handed to Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s envoy for talks with the insurgents, late Wednesday in Qatar, a Gulf Arab country where the Taliban maintain a political office.
Khalilzad has been pressing for a cease-fire but it wasn’t immediately clear whether the Taliban proposal would be enough to allow for the on-again off-again talks between the Taliban and the U.S. to restart, with the aim of eventually signing a peace deal.
The U.S. State Department declined to comment.
Previously, Khalilzad said a U.S.-Taliban deal would also include the start of negotiations among Afghans on both sides of the conflict to hammer out a so-called road map to a post-war Afghanistan. That road map would tackle thorny issues such as a permanent cease-fire, women’s and minority rights, and the fate of thousands of Taliban fighters as well as militias loyal to Kabul’s warlords.
But the Taliban have been refusing to talk with the Kabul government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The two are currently fighting over who won last year’s presidential elections. The initial vote count gave Ghani the win but Abdullah, who came in second, is contesting the count. A final outcome has yet to be announced by Afghanistan’s election commission.
Last September, the Taliban and the U.S. appeared close to signing a deal when an upsurge in Taliban attacks, including the killing of another U.S. soldier, prompted President Donald Trump to scrap the talks. On Thanksgiving, during his first visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Trump softened his stance, saying the Taliban were ready to make a deal, though both Kabul and Washington insisted the Taliban would have to show a sign of good faith by reducing their attacks.
In December, the Taliban leadership headquartered in Pakistan agreed to put forth a temporary cease-fire offer after weeks of consultation.
A Taliban official said mistrust has long characterized the U.S.-Taliban talks and the insurgents hesitated to offer a more permanent cease-fire without having U.S. troops pull out first. Should the truce deal fall through, returning Taliban fighters to the battlefield with the same intensity could be a problem, the official said.
“’There was a thinking within the Taliban ranks that it would be difficult for them to reorganize fighters after a break in fighting,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the talks.
Taliban fighters were also unwilling to lay down their arms, “thinking it’s their fighting that’s forcing the U.S. to come to the table,” he said.
The Taliban today control around half of Afghanistan and continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, Afghan government officials or those seen as loyal to the Kabul administration but many civilians are also dying in the crossfire of the insurgent attacks, as well as in operations against the Taliban carried out by Afghan and U.S. forces.
In Kabul, some officials have rejected any suggestion that a reduction in violence would be an acceptable alternative to a cease-fire. While the term has been tossed around, including by the U.S., it isn’t clear exactly what would constitute a reduction or how it would be defined. For example, it’s not clear if it would mean no high profile attacks or no attacks inside cities.
Afghan official: Roadside bomb hits government car, 5 killed
January 16, 2020
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) —
A roadside bombing struck an Afghan government car in southern Zabul province on Thursday, killing the driver and four passengers inside the vehicle, officials said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack though the provincial police spokesman, Mohammadullah Amiri, accused the Taliban of placing a mine on the road in the Shahr-e-Safa district that hit the car, which was completely destroyed in the explosion.
The driver and one of the passengers in the car were employees of the Afghan ministry for energy and water resources. The other three passengers killed in the bombing, two Afghans and a Pakistani, were employees of the private Netrokon KEC engineering company.
Last week, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a roadside bombing that killed two U.S. service members and wounded two others in southern Afghanistan.
The Taliban now control or hold sway over roughly half of Afghanistan. The militants continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, even as they hold peace talks with the U.S and have given the U.S. envoy a document outlining their offer for a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan. Scores of Afghan civilians have also been killed in the crossfire and by roadside bombs planted by militants.
2 US Soldiers killed in Afghanistan from Virginia, Illinois
By RAHIM FAIEZ
By Rahim Faiez and Kathy Gannon
January 12, 2020
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) —
Two U.S. service members were killed and two others injured Saturday when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan, the Pentagon said in a statement.
Military officials identified the two soldiers killed as 29-year-old Staff Sgt. Ian P. McLaughlin of Newport News, Virginia; and 21-year-old Pfc. Miguel A. Villalon of Joliet, Illinois. Both soldiers were assigned to 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina..
The Taliban took responsibility for Saturday’s attack. A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, said it occurred in the southern Kandahar province.
More than 2,400 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan. Last year was the deadliest for U.S. service members since 2014, with 23 American troops killed, even as Washington engaged in peace talks with the Taliban.
The latest attack seemed certain to stall fresh efforts to restart the on-again, off-again peace talks between Washington and the Taliban.
U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been pressing the insurgents to declare a cease-fire or at least reduce violent attacks. That would give a window in which the U.S. and the Taliban could forge an agreement to withdraw all of America’s troops. That agreement would also set out a road map for direct Afghan-to-Afghan talks, mapping out the country’s post-war future.
The Taliban leadership decided at the end of December to support a temporary cease-fire to allow for a peace deal to be signed, but they never said when it would go into effect. The final approval required from their leader, Maulvi Hibatullah Akhundzada, was never announced.
Earlier Saturday, both NATO and Afghan officials had confirmed a roadside bomb hit a U.S. army vehicle, without mentioning casualties. In a short statement, a NATO spokesman said that officials were still “assessing the situation and will provide more information as it became available.”
An Afghan official said the attack had taken place in the Dand district of Kandahar province. The official was not authorized to speak with media and requested anonymity.
The Taliban now control or hold sway over roughly half of Afghanistan. The militants continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, even as they hold peace talks with the U.S. Scores of Afghan civilians are also killed in the crossfire or by roadside bombs planted by militants.
In November, two U.S. service members were killed when their helicopter crashed in eastern Logar province. The U.S. military at the time said preliminary reports did not indicate it was caused by enemy fire, although the Taliban claimed to have shot down the helicopter — a claim the U.S military dismissed as false.
The U.S. currently has about 13,000 troops in Afghanistan. About 5,000 of them are doing counterterrorism missions. The remainder are part of a broader NATO mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces.
U.S. Ambassador John Bass left Kabul last week, ending his two-year tenure as America’s top diplomat.
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