NATO chief says Afghan mission future depends on peace talks

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. (File/Reuters)
Updated 14 March 2019
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NATO chief says Afghan mission future depends on peace talks

  • US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the sides reached “draft agreements”
  • It has been the longest direct talks ever held between the US and the Taliban

BRUSSELS: The future of NATO’s 15-year-long military operation in Afghanistan will depend on the outcome of peace talks involving Taliban insurgents, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday, after a US envoy reported important progress from the latest round of negotiations.
The longest direct talks ever held between the United States and the Taliban concluded this week. US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the sides reached “draft agreements” covering the withdrawal of US troops and guarantees that Afghanistan would not become a haven for terrorists once a settlement is found.
The United States has around 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. Around half of them carry out counter-terror operations while others lead NATO’s military training and mentoring mission.
US President Donald Trump has said that about 7,000 US troops would leave, but it’s unclear which ones would stay. Most of NATO’s European allies depend on US air and logistical support to carry out their mission.
“The future force level of NATO troops is very much dependent of course on the outcome of those talks,” Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels, but he underlined that the negotiations are far from over.
“It’s too early to pre-empt the outcome of the talks,” Stoltenberg said. “There’s still much to be done before a peace deal is in place.”
NATO took charge of the international military effort in Afghanistan in 2003 in its most ambitious operation ever. It launched a military training effort in 2015 once it had phased out overt combat operations, but after a reduction in force strength, troop numbers have gradually climbed again to more than 16,000 personnel.
Despite the presence of US and NATO troops, the conflict remains at a stalemate.
The progress in peace talks appears to offer the United States and its allies a way to end their presence after one of the most expensive wars in US history, costing between 800 billion and one trillion dollars, according to various estimates.
The website icasualties says the conflict has also cost the lives of around 3,400 troops — some 2,300 of them from the US — since 2003.
NATO military officers decline to say whether they have begun planning for a withdrawal.
Whatever the outcome of the peace talks, Stoltenberg said: “We went in together, and we will make future decisions on our posture together.”


Quake shakes NW Japan, causes 21 injuries and minor damage

Updated 15 min 57 sec ago
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Quake shakes NW Japan, causes 21 injuries and minor damage

  • The earthquake struck 50 KM southwest of the city of Sakata, centered at about 14 KM below the sea’s surface
  • Public broadcaster NHK showed people using flattened cardboard boxes as mattresses to sleep on in a school gym
TOKYO: A powerful earthquake jolted northwestern Japan late Tuesday, causing minor injuries to 21 people and a brief evacuation of coastal homes until the risk of a tsunami passed.
Store floors were littered with goods that fell off shelves, and roofs of homes showed bare spots where tiles had shaken loose. But business was returning to normal Wednesday morning, with trains mostly running as usual and electricity restored to thousands of homes that lost power temporarily.
There were no reports of serious damage from the magnitude 6.7 quake. Minor sea level changes were detected by several coastal cities, but the tsunami warning was lifted after about 2 ½ hours.
Japan’s Meteorological Agency said the earthquake struck off the western coast of Yamagata about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of the city of Sakata. It was fairly shallow, about 14 kilometers (9 miles) below the sea’s surface. Shallow quakes tend to cause more damage.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 21 people were injured, most of them in Yamagata prefecture and that most injuries had minor injuries.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga urged residents to be prepared for possible aftershocks.
Tsuruoka city crisis management official Takehiko Takahashi said in a televised interview that city officials helped coastal residents evacuate to higher ground as a precaution before the tsunami warning was lifted.
More than 1,500 people took shelter at evacuation centers in Murakami city and elsewhere in Niigata prefecture, but many of them left Wednesday morning to check their homes. Public broadcaster NHK showed people using flattened cardboard boxes as mattresses to sleep on in a school gym. Many others, including children, were still awake and sitting against the walls.
Bullet train service was suspended in parts of the region because of power outages and for safety checks, but were functioning normally Wednesday morning. About 9,000 households in Yamagata and Niigata lost power, according to Tohoku Electric Power Co.
All seven reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata were offline and no abnormalities were reported. Two other nuclear power plants in the affected region were also intact, according to the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
NHK showed broken glasses and dishes scattered on the floor of a bar in Tsuruoka which was empty after customers rushed out, leaving behind their half-eaten food on the counter.
Japan is one of the most earthquake- and tsunami-prone areas in the world. On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 quake offshore caused a tsunami that triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The quake and tsunami heavily damaged coastal neighborhoods and took more than 18,000 lives.