Afghan conflict
November 22, 2020

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who previously served as President Trump's national security adviser, on Sunday called Trump's order to further reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan by mid-January "abhorrent."

CBS News' Margaret Brennan asked McMaster if Trump was "handing the Taliban a victory on the way out the door." McMaster answered in the affirmative, adding that Trump has "paradoxically doubled down on all the flaws of the Obama administration's approach to Afghanistan." As McMaster sees it, if the Taliban establishes control over large parts of Afghanistan, they will offer "safe haven" for terrorist groups, making the U.S. "far less safe" and more vunerabe to attacks.

But the real issue, McMaster argues, is that the U.S. would be leaving after previously "empowering" the Taliban, citing the fact that U.S.-Taliban negotiations led to the Afghan government releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners. "If we were gonna leave," he said. "Just leave." Tim O'Donnell

November 30, 2019

President Trump is stirring up some confusion.

Neither the Taliban nor the Afghan government indicated the sides were close to a cease-fire agreement, despite Trump's assertion while visiting U.S. troops in Afghanistan for Thanksgiving on Thursday that the Taliban was ready to strike a deal. "They didn't want to do a cease-fire, but now they do want to a do a cease-fire," he said. "It will probably work out that way."

Neither side seemed to mind the president's optimism, they just don't consider it an accurate assessment of where things stand.

"We are ready to talk, but we have the same stance to resume the talks from where it was suspended," the Taliban said in a statement in response to Trump's announcement. Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban's negotiating team, said it was up to the U.S. to come back to the table if they want to re-engage.

Talks between Washington and the Taliban sputtered in September without any formal conclusion. Sediq Seddiqi, a spokesman for Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, said "it is too early to comment on any changes or any perceived changes" in negotiations, though the government reportedly appreciated Trump's visit. Read more at The Washington Post and The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

September 17, 2019

A bomb blast killed at least 24 people at a campaign rally for Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, on Tuesday, The New York Times reports. At least 31 other people were wounded. Ghani was inside a building when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated the bomb outside. He was unhurt; many of the casualties were women and children, The Associated Press reports.

Ghani has been campaigning in his re-election bid mostly by video conference ahead of the Sept. 28 vote, which is taking place under threat of attacks by Taliban insurgents. The Taliban has vowed to disrupt the vote. Hours after the blast at the rally, another blast hit near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Few details on the second explosion were immediately available, and no group claimed responsibility for either blast. Harold Maass

February 24, 2019

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose by 11 percent in 2018 to hit their highest level in a decade, the United Nations reported Sunday.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) found 3,804 civilians, of whom 927 were children, were killed in their country's conflict last year. Another 7,189 civilians were injured.

"Key factors contributing to the significant increase in civilian casualties were a spike in suicide attacks" by terrorist groups including the Islamic State, the U.N. report said, as well as "increased harm to civilians from aerial and search operations" by U.S. and Afghan forces. Thirty-seven percent of the killings are attributed to the Taliban, the highest mark for an individual group cited in the report.

Per Al Jazeera, the UNAMA report was released a day before the U.S. is scheduled to meet with representatives from the Taliban in Doha, Qatar for their next round of talks centered on ending the conflict. The previous sit-down raised tentative hopes that peace will be achieved, but also concern that a U.S. withdrawal will lead to increased violence. Tim O'Donnell

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