Afghan Taliban driven out of Helmand capital, governor says

Afghan Taliban driven out of Helmand capital, governor says
Afghan families leave their houses after fighting between the Afghan military and Taliban insurgents in Helmand province on Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Abdul Khaliq)
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Updated 17 October 2020

Afghan Taliban driven out of Helmand capital, governor says

Afghan Taliban driven out of Helmand capital, governor says
  • Insurgent group has lost 300 members in government attacks, officials say

KABUL: Afghan troops have pushed back the Taliban from the outskirts of Helmand’s provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, in the south of the country, with the insurgent group losing 300 men in recent days, Helmand’s governor said on Saturday.

“The Taliban have been driven (out) from the limits of the city and have lost over 300 men, including their commanders and senior members, in Helmand’s fighting,” Mohammed Yasin Khan told reporters, adding that 30 defense and security forces, and seven civilians also died.

The Taliban were unavailable for comment on Saturday and have remained tight-lipped about their losses in Helmand since last week.

Strikes which were thought to be by the group prompted US troops in Afghanistan to bomb advancing Taliban members, accusing them of being “inconsistent” with a peace agreement signed in Qatar in February this year.

The Taliban’s major drive to gain a foothold in Lashkar Gah contravenes the February accord, which bars it from carrying out large-scale offensives and attacks on urban areas.

Both US and NATO have called on the Taliban to immediately halt their strikes.

It follows a surge in violence elsewhere in Afghanistan and is taking place amid the withdrawal of US troops from various parts of the country, including Helmand, which is located near the border with Pakistan and Iran.

The Taliban and Kabul have accused each other of stepping up their attacks.

Meanwhile negotiators from both sides are meeting in Doha, Qatar, for intra-Afghan talks which began on Sept.12 to find a working mechanism to end decades of conflict.

Commenting on the increase in Taliban attacks and the proposed departure of US troops from Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said on Friday that the “violence will not lead the country to peace.”

He added that the Taliban should not be under any illusion that the group can re-establish an Islamic Emirate, which was toppled during the US-led invasion in 2001.

“If they are thinking of reimposing the Taliban emirate after the withdrawal of the international forces, it will not be acceptable for the people of Afghanistan under any circumstances,” Abdullah said.

Shifting stances by US leaders on the timetable for pull-out of troops from Afghanistan has confounded many.

According to the Doha deal, all American troops were expected to leave the country by spring 2021. However, to the surprise of many Afghans and officials in Washington, US President Donald Trump tweeted on Oct. 7 that he wanted all American troops home “by Christmas”.

Adding to the diplomatic and political seesaw, Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien said on Friday that US troops in Afghanistan would be downsized to nearly 2,500 in the first two months of 2021.

In the past, Afghan officials have played down the importance of a reduction or even the departure of all foreign troops from the country, arguing that national forces could fend off the insurgents’ attacks.

However, Javid Faisal, an adviser in the office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said on Saturday that the troops’ departure must be condition-based.

“Conditions on the ground and how things evolve must define any future decision more than wishes and impetuous schedules, as none of the obligations have been met and none of the subsisting threats receded,” he said.

However, Kabul respected Washington’s decision to withdraw troops, government-appointed negotiator Nader Nadery has said in Doha.

“It is a sovereign decision by them; they are a partner with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. They make a decision based on their own policy. Whatever decision they make it is entirely up to them,” Nadery said.

“What is relevant to us is a commitment to a peaceful settlement, and that is what we are engaged to (achieve) in Qatar,” he added.

Experts, however, blamed the “foundation” of the deal for the current impasse in talks and the turmoil in the country.

“The Americans laid a wrong foundation with regards to its deal with the Taliban,” Abdul Satar Saadat, a former adviser to President Ghani, told Arab News on Saturday.

“The US should have brought the Taliban with the government on the same page and then should have signed the agreement with the Taliban and pulled its troops. Now, the Taliban feel emboldened and think can capture power because the government is weak after the pull-out of the troops.”


World leaders welcome US transfer of power

World leaders welcome US transfer of power
Updated 20 January 2021

World leaders welcome US transfer of power

World leaders welcome US transfer of power

PARIS: Several world leaders said they were looking forward to Wednesday’s transfer of power in the United States, where Democrat Joe Biden will be sworn in as president after four turbulent years under Donald Trump.

President Hassan Rouhani did not miss the opportunity to hail the departure of “tyrant” Trump, with Tehran repeatedly calling on Washington to lift sanctions imposed over its nuclear drive.
Biden’s administration wants the United States back in the landmark Iran nuclear accord which Trump withdrew from, conditional on Tehran’s return to strict compliance.
A “tyrant’s era came to an end and today is the final day of his ominous reign,” Rouhani said.
“We expect (the Biden administration) to return to law and to commitments, and try in the next four years, if they can, to remove the stains of the past four years.”

Top EU officials voiced relief that they would soon have a friend in the White House again.
“Let’s build a new founding pact for a stronger Europe, for a stronger America and for a better world,” said Charles Michel, president of the European Council.
“This time-honored ceremony on the steps of the US Capitol will be a demonstration of the resilience of American democracy,” added European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
“And the resounding proof that, once again, after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House.”

NATO said it hoped to boost transatlantic ties under Biden.
“We look forward to working with President-elect Joe Biden to further strengthen ties between the United States and Europe, as we face global challenges none of us can tackle alone,” the military alliance’s chief Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter Tuesday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was looking forward to “working closely” with Biden.
Johnson, who has faced criticism over his close relationship with Trump, cited a host of policy areas in which he hoped to collaborate with Biden.
“In our fight against COVID and across climate change, defense, security and in promoting and defending democracy, our goals are the same and our nations will work hand in hand to achieve them,” he said in a statement.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called for Russia and the United States to repair their strained ties.
“The current condition of relations between Russia and the United States is of great concern,” Gorbachev said in an interview with state-run news agency TASS.
“But this also means that something has to be done about it in order to normalize relations,” he said.
“We cannot fence ourselves off from each other.”