Afghan president forms team to negotiate peace with Taliban

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani attends a two-day conference on Afghanistan at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 27, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 29 November 2018
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Afghan president forms team to negotiate peace with Taliban

  • Ghani has formed a 12-strong negotiating team to seek a peace agreement that would include the Taliban
  • Meanwhile, a rash of American combat deaths in Afghanistan is putting a spotlight on a stalemated 17-year war

GENEVA: Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has formed a 12-strong negotiating team to seek a peace agreement that would include the Taliban in a democratic and inclusive society that respects the rights of women, he told a UN conference on Wednesday.
“I’m pleased to announce today that after several months of intensive consultation with our citizens across the country, we have formulated a roadmap for peace negotiations,” Ghani said.
“We have formed the required bodies and mechanisms to pursue a peace agreement. We are now moving ahead into the next chapter of the peace process.”
Meanwhile, a rash of American combat deaths in Afghanistan is putting a spotlight on a stalemated 17-year war that is testing President Donald Trump’s commitment to pursuing peace with the Taliban.
Trump has acknowledged that his original instinct was to withdraw from Afghanistan, but last week he suggested he is willing to stick it out, asserting that the US is in “very strong negotiations” — an apparent reference to US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s efforts to get the Taliban to agree to peace talks.
On the other hand, Trump indicated he had little confidence the talks are going to succeed. “Maybe they’re not. Probably they’re not,” he said.
The human cost of the conflict rarely makes headlines in the US, leaving Trump with political room to maneuver. But that might be changing.
In early November, Brent Taylor, the mayor of North Ogden, Utah, and a major in the Utah National Guard, was killed by an Afghan soldier in Kabul. Last Saturday, Sgt. Leandro Jasso, a 25-year-old Army Ranger from Leavenworth, Washington, was mortally wounded in southern Afghanistan. On Tuesday, US officials said they had determined that Jasso probably was accidentally shot by an Afghan soldier during battle with an Al-Qaeda fighter.
The US military headquarters in Kabul announced Tuesday that three US servicemembers were killed and three wounded by a roadside bomb in Ghazni province, south of Kabul, where the Taliban has been resurgent. It was the deadliest attack on US forces in Afghanistan this year.
The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan before US forces invaded in October 2001, carry out near-daily attacks on Afghan army and police forces, and in August the insurgents overran parts of Ghazni, leading to days of intense fighting before they were driven out. Ghazni was the only one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces where parliamentary elections could not be held in October because of security worries. Voting there has been postponed for a year.

(With agencies)


Manafort ‘brazenly violated the law’ for years, says US special counsel Mueller

Updated 39 min 49 sec ago
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Manafort ‘brazenly violated the law’ for years, says US special counsel Mueller

  • Prosecutors said that “upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism”
  • Manafort is already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case
WASHINGTON: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort committed crimes that cut to “the heart of the criminal justice system” and over the years deceived everyone from bookkeepers and banks to federal prosecutors and his own lawyers, according to a sentencing memo filed Saturday by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
In the memo, submitted in one of two criminal cases Manafort faces, prosecutors do not yet take a position on how much prison time he should serve or whether to stack the punishment on top of a separate sentence he will soon receive in a Virginia prosecution. But they do depict Manafort as a longtime and unrepentant criminal who committed “bold” crimes, including under the spotlight of his role as campaign chairman and later while on bail, and who does not deserve any leniency.
“For over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law,” prosecutors wrote. “His crimes continued up through the time he was first indicted in October 2017 and remarkably went unabated even after indictment.”
Citing Manafort’s lies to the FBI, several government agencies and his own lawyer, prosecutors said that “upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism.”
The 25-page memo, filed in federal court in Washington, is likely the last major filing by prosecutors as Manafort heads into his sentencing hearings next month and as Mueller’s investigation approaches a conclusion. Manafort, who has been jailed for months and turns 70 in April, will have a chance to file his own sentencing recommendation next week. He and his longtime business partner, Rick Gates, were the first two people indicted in the special counsel’s investigation. Overall, Mueller has produced charges against 34 individuals, including six former Trump aides, and three companies.
Manafort’s case has played out in stark contrast to those of other defendants in the Russia investigation, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who prosecutors praised for his cooperation and left open the possibility of no jail time.
Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy arising from his Ukrainian political consulting work and his efforts to tamper with witnesses. As part of that plea, he agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team, a move that could have helped him avoid a longer prison sentence. But within weeks, prosecutors say he repeatedly lied to investigators, including about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who the US says has ties to Russian intelligence. That deception voided the plea deal.
The sentencing memo comes as Manafort, who led Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for several critical months, is already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case in Virginia. Mueller’s team endorsed a sentence of between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison in that case.
Prosecutors note that the federal guidelines recommend a sentence of more than 17 years, but Manafort pleaded guilty last year to two felony counts that carry maximum sentences of five years each.
Prosecutors originally filed a sealed sentencing memo on Friday, but the document was made public on Saturday with certain information still redacted, or blacked out.
In recent weeks, court papers have revealed that Manafort shared polling data related to the Trump campaign with Kilimnik. A Mueller prosecutor also said earlier this month that an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik goes to the “heart” of the Russia probe. The meeting involved a discussion of a Ukrainian peace plan, but prosecutors haven’t said exactly what has captured their attention and whether it factors into the Kremlin’s attempts to help Trump in the 2016 election.
Like other Americans close to the president charged in the Mueller probe, Manafort hasn’t been accused of involvement in Russian election interference.