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Sixteen Afghan Pro-Government Fighters Killed In Taliban Attack

FILE: A U.S. Marine watches Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers during a training in Helmand province, in July 2017.

Afghan officials say a Taliban attack has killed 16 members of a pro-government militia force in the southern province of Helmand.

The officials said a checkpoint belonging to the militiamen in Gareshk district was targeted during the night of February 10.

Some reports said a Taliban infiltrator who had worked with the militia for months turned his gun on the militiamen before fleeing with their guns and ammunition.

“We know that a Taliban fighter killed 16 militiamen fighting alongside government forces, but who these forces belong to, we don’t know yet," said Omar Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor.

He added that an investigation was under way.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, with spokesman Qari Yusouf Ahmadi saying two Taliban fighters involved in the attack managed to escape.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.

After the pullback, Taliban fighters seized a sizable amount of territory, especially in Helmand, with local officials estimating that the extremists controlled some 85 percent of the poppy-growing province early last year.

In recent weeks, Kabul has been hit by several deadly assaults, including a massive suicide car bombing in a crowded central area on January 27 that killed more than 100 people and was claimed by the Taliban.

U.S. President Donald Trump in August unveiled his new strategy for the South Asia region, under which Washington has deployed 3,000 more troops to Afghanistan to train, advise, and assist local security forces, and to carry out counterterrorism missions.

The United States currently has around 14,000 uniformed personnel in the country.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

U.S. Forces Target Taliban, Chinese Militants In Afghanistan

A U.S. Marine watches Afghan soldiers during training in Helmand Province.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan have recently conducted air strikes against Taliban and Chinese militants in northern Afghanistan, the NATO-led mission said.

James B. Hecker, commander of NATO’s Air Command in Afghanistan, told reporters via satellite on February 7 that U.S. air strikes destroyed Taliban training camps that supported the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

The strikes were conducted in Badakhshan, a remote and mountainous province in northeastern Afghanistan along the border with China and Tajikistan.

"ETIM enjoys support from the Taliban in the mountains of Badakhshan, so hitting these Taliban training facilities and squeezing the Taliban's support networks degrades ETIM capabilities," Hecker said.

In a message on Twitter, U.S. Forces Afghanistan said that the February 4 air strikes involved two B-52s.

On February 8, Faqir Mohammad Jowzjani, the police chief of the northern province of Jowzjan, told the AP news agency that an ETIM fighter and three Uzbek militants were killed in the joint U.S. and Afghan air strikes in the province.

ETIM is made up of members of China's Uyghur minority, a Muslim Turkic-speaking people who inhabit the Xinjiang region in China's far west.

The United States and the United Nations have designated ETIM as a terrorist group.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

New Security Plan In Kabul After Deadly Attacks

People attend the funeral of one of the victims of a suicide bomb attack in Kabul on January 28.

The Afghan government has approved a new security plan for the capital, Kabul, following a series of deadly militant attacks there.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said on February 7 that the new plan will be implemented in the next two weeks.

Rahimi said more than 100 streets leading into the center of Kabul will be put under heavy surveillance as part of the plan.

He said it includes as many as 52 measures, most of which will not be revealed to the public.

The plan is due to be implemented in three phases, with the first focused on areas most threatened, he said.

The Western-backed government in Kabul is under growing public pressure to improve security in the capital following a series of attacks claimed by Taliban and Islamic State militants.

Since January 20, militants in the capital have attacked a luxury hotel, bombed a crowded street, and carried out a deadly raid on a military compound -- killing more than 130 people.

President Ashraf Ghani has sacked seven army officers, including two generals, for "professional negligence" over the attack on the military compound.

Based on reporting by dpa and Tolo News

Afghan Army Officers Fired For Negligence Over Kabul Attack

Afghan soldiers guard the site of an attack near the Marshal Fahim Military Academy in Kabul on January 29.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says seven Afghan army officers, including two generals, have been dismissed for "professional negligence" during a recent deadly attack on a Kabul military base.

Ghani announced the firings in a Twitter message on February 6, saying that all seven officers had been "referred for further investigations."

At least five attackers, including gunmen and suicide bombers, launched the predawn raid against the base on January 29 -- killing 11 soldiers and wounding 16.

The attack on the Afghan National Army base was claimed by Islamic State (IS) extremist militants.

Ghani's U.S.-backed government is under growing public pressure to improve security in Kabul after a series of attacks that have shown the ability of the Taliban and IS militants to strike at the Afghan capital.

Since January 20, militants in Kabul have attacked a luxury hotel, bombed a crowded street, and carried out the raid on the military compound -- killing more than 130 people.

Kabul remains on high alert for more attacks.

Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security on February 6 seized a truck that the spy agency said was carrying 2 tons of materials that could be used to make bombs.

With reporting by AFP and dpa

Seven Suspects Arrested Over Beating Of Afghan Woman

Video Shows Mob Beating Afghan Woman
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Afghan officials say seven men have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the beating of a woman since a video of the incident appeared on social media last week.

The men are relatives of the victim, a spokesman for the governor of Takhar province told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on February 5.

The beating reportedly occurred in December in a remote village in the Chah Aab district of the northeastern province.

The video shows a woman clad in a blue burqa kneeling as she is shouted at and insulted by a crowd of men that is said to have included family members.

As she kneels, she receives heavy blows to her head, back, arms, and shoulders by several, stick-wielding men.

"The men [who were arrested] are relatives of the woman, who is now in a safe house in the center of the province," the regional governor's spokesman Sunatullah Temor said.

Witnesses have claimed that the 22-year-old woman was being punished on the orders of local clerics who had decided she was guilty of having an extramarital affair while her husband was away in Iran.

The woman’s ordeal is not uncommon in Afghanistan. In recent years there have been several reports of women facing public punishment for alleged moral crimes.

The most prominent was the violent death of 27-year-old Farkhunda Malikzada, who was beaten to death by a mob in Kabul after being falsely accused of burning a copy of the Koran.

Her death in March 2015 prompted a national outcry and an outpouring of anger in the country.

German Prosecutors Seek Life Sentence For Muslim Accused Of Killing Converted Woman

FILE: The defendant, an Afghan asylum seeker, repeatedly stabbed the 38-year-old Afghan woman in front of two of her children.

German prosecutors have demanded a sentence of life in prison for an Afghan asylum seeker accused of killing a woman after she converted to Christianity.

The man repeatedly stabbed the 38-year-old Afghan woman in front of two of her children, aged 5 and 11, in April 2017, public prosecutor Oliver Moessner told the court in the southern German city of Traunstein on February 5.

Moessner likened the killing to a public execution,saying that it took place outside a supermarket in the southern town of Prien am Chiemsee.

Homicide carries a life term under German law, although convicts are usually released after 15 years.

The suspect had reportedly confessed to killing the woman, but just before the start of the trial he claimed he could no longer remember it.

Based on reporting by dpa, AFP, and dw.com

Afghan President Calls Pakistan 'Center Of The Taliban'

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has called neighboring Pakistan the “center of the Taliban” and urged Islamabad to take action against the militant group.

In an address to the nation on February 2, Ghani said his country has provided Pakistani authorities with a “complete list” of insurgents.

“We are waiting for action. Talks and process are only words on paper. Afghanistan's people demand actions and clear actions,” he said.

Ghani’s comments come after a number of deadly attacks in the capital, including a massive January 27 suicide car bombing that killed more than 100 people and was claimed by the Taliban.

“Eleven suspects have been arrested and their roots have been identified. Their roots are known. The Taliban has claimed the responsibility, of course,” Ghani said, referring to the attack.

Islamabad denies harboring militant groups that carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, dozens of angry protesters gathered outside the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul, chanting slogans such as "Death to Pakistan" and burning flags of the country.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan and Tolonews

'Dozens' Of Taliban Militants Killed In Southern Afghanistan

FILE: Afghan security personnel gather at the site of a suicide attack at a police compound in Maiwand district of Kandahar province on December 22.

An Afghan security official says 83 Taliban fighters were killed during an operation by intelligence forces in the southern province of Kandahar late on January 31.

The head of military operations in Maiwand district, Sultan Mohammad, told RFE/RL on February 1 that dozens of the militants' vehicles and motorcycles were also destroyed in the operation, which he said was supported by air strikes.

"The group of insurgents were gathered to launch coordinated attacks on Afghan forces check posts in Panjwai and Maiwand districts of Kandahar Province," Mohammad said.

He didn't say whether there were any casualties among Afghan forces.

The Taliban did not immediately comment on the operation, which comes as the Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the militants since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.

In recent weeks, Kabul has been hit by several deadly assaults, including a massive suicide car bombing in a crowded central area on January 27 that killed more than 100 people and was claimed by the Taliban.

U.S. President Donald Trump in August unveiled his new strategy for the South Asia region, under which Washington has deployed 3,000 more troops to Afghanistan to train, advise, and assist local security forces, and to carry out counterterrorism missions.

The United States currently has around 14,000 uniformed personnel in the country.

Trump: 'We Don't Want To Talk With The Taliban'

U.S. -- U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks after participating in the swearing-in ceremony for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 29, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump says Washington does not want to negotiate with the Taliban, comments that follow a series of deadly attacks in Afghanistan.

"We don't want to talk with the Taliban," Trump said at a January 29 luncheon with representatives of the UN Security Council. "There may be a time, but it's going to be a long time."

Kabul in recent weeks has been hit by several deadly assaults, including a massive suicide car bombing in a crowded central area on January 27 that killed more than 100 people and was claimed by the Taliban.

Following that attack, Trump called for "decisive action" by all countries against the Taliban, saying in a statement that the "murderous attack renews our resolve and that of our Afghan partners."

Speaking at the White House on January 29, Trump said, "We're going to finish what we have to finish" in Afghanistan.

He added that "innocent people are being killed left and right," including children, and that "there's no talking to the Taliban."

Several Americans were killed and injured earlier this month in the 13-hour siege of a Kabul hotel by the Taliban.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan

Six Afghan Children, One Adult Killed By Rocket

FILE: Suspected Taliban militants patrol after they reportedly took control of Ghazni's Waghaz district in May 2017.

Afghan officials say six children and an adult civilian were killed when a rocket hit their home in Ghazni Province on January 26.

State authorities and Taliban militants blamed each other for the deaths.

Arif Noori, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the rocket was fired by the Taliban after security forces launched an operation against the militant group in the Qara Baghi area, south of the provincial capital.

"The children were between 1 and 12 years old,” Noori said. He said that one adult was killed and three other people were injured.

Police in the province southwest of Kabul also said that the rocket was fired by the Taliban.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, denied it. He said the militants did not fire the rocket and accused the government of killing the civilians in an air strike.

Noori said the Afghan Air Force killed 20 Taliban fighters but no civilians.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, and tolonews.com

Afghan Governor Quits, Citing Region's Worsening Security

Mohammad Aref Shah Jahan, the governor of Farah Province, has resigned, citing the security situation in the region.

The governor of the western Afghan province of Farah has resigned, citing worsening security in the region that he blamed on political interference and corruption among security forces.

"I have resigned from my post because of the worsening security situation in Farah," Mohammad Aref Shah Jahan told reporters on January 25, citing "interference in my responsibilities from various individuals."

The province, one of the poorest in the country, is situated on the border with Iran in the far west of Afghanistan.

Farah has experienced months of fighting, with some people accusing the security forces of collusion with Taliban militants involved in cross-border smuggling and drug trafficking.

On January 24, hundreds of people took to the streets of Farah, the provincial capital, protesting about the lack of security and calling on provincial leaders to resign. Six people were reportedly injured in the protests.

Some local officials have accused Iran of providing insurgents with funds, weapons, and explosives -- allegations that Iran denies.

"Farah has been suffering from a lot of internal issues for a long time," said Farid Bakhtawar, the head of the provincial council.

"Security forces are there but involved in corruption and selling their outposts, weapons, and fuel to the Taliban," he added.

Based on reporting by Reuters and Tolo News

U.S. Puts Taliban Members With Pakistan Links On Terror Blacklist

Supporters of militants group Al-Badar, which has ties with Afghan militant group Haqqani network, in 2015

The United States has designated as terrorists six individuals accused of supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani network in Afghanistan and is stressing their links to Pakistan.

The six include senior members of the former Taliban government in Afghanistan -- among them former Central Bank Governor Abdul Samad Sani and others said to have provided financing and weapons for militants involved in attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces.

Senior Treasury Department official Sigal Mandelker says the sanctions imposed on January 25 support President Donald Trump's strategy in South Asia. That policy is intended to turn around the 17-year war in Afghanistan.

Mandelker says Pakistan must work with Washington to deny the militants sanctuary and to aggressively target their fund-raising.

Those blacklisted are forbidden to hold U.S. property and U.S. persons are prohibited from dealing with them.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

'I'm Not Buried Yet,' Says Ukraine's Afghan Envoy

Reports of Viktor Nikityuk's demise in Kabul were premature. (file photo)

Russia's state-run Rossia TV has erroneously reported that Ukraine's ambassador to Tajikistan and Afghanistan was among the dozens of people killed in a terrorist attack in Kabul last week.

The channel's Vesti program said on its website on January 24 that seven Ukrainian citizens, including Ambassador Viktor Nikityuk, had died in the Taliban assault.

However, Nikityuk told the Dushanbe-based Asia-Plus news agency later in the day that he was not in the Afghan capital when the attack took place.

"I have not read the report that already buried me," he also said, adding that he was doing well.

On January 20, Taliban gunmen dressed in army uniforms stormed a luxury hotel in Kabul, killing at least 30 people including 14 foreigners.

Ukrainian officials said seven of them were Ukrainians.

Based on reporting by Asia-Plus

Pakistan Slams 'Detrimental' U.S. Strike On Haqqani Militants

FILE: The aftermath of a drone strike on an alleged Haqqani network hideout in Hangu district of Pakstan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Pakistani officials say a suspected U.S. drone attack on a house near the Afghan border has killed two militants from the extremist Haqqani network.

Local police chief Ameer Zaman Khan said that the January 24 strike took place in the village of Dapa Mamuzai near the northwestern Kurram tribal area.

The Pakistani Foreign Office condemned the strike inside its territory, and said it "targeted an Afghan refugee" in Kurram.

"Such unilateral actions, as that of today, are detrimental to the spirit of cooperation between the two countries in the fight against terrorism," a statement added.

Unidentified security officials earlier said that the slain militants were from the Haqqani network, which is based in Pakistan and allied with the Taliban.

One of the militants was identified as commander Ahsanullah.

The strike took place days after Taliban gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Kabul on January 20, killing at least 30 people including 14 foreigners.

The Afghan Interior Ministry blamed the attack on the Haqqani network.

Pakistan considers U.S. drone strikes on its territory a violation of its sovereignty.

Relations between Washington and Islamabad have frayed over the past weeks, with the United States accusing Pakistan of providing safe havens for militants.

Islamabad denies sheltering militants and accuses Washington of not respecting Pakistan's sacrifices in combatting extremism.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa

UN Chief Urges Tackling 'Discrimination' In Central Asia, Afghanistan

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (right) speaks while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres looks during a Security Council meeting in New York on January 18.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has told a meeting on Central Asia and Afghanistan that addressing "inequality, exclusion, and discrimination" is crucial to stemming terrorism and extremism.

Guterres made the comments at a January 19 UN Security Council meeting on partnership in the region, commending Central Asian nations for boosting security and development cooperation with Afghanistan.

The meeting was convened by Kazakhstan, which currently holds the rotating Security Council presidency.

"During my visit to Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan last June, I was encouraged to see new bilateral and regional connections and better regional dynamics," Guterres said, according to a transcript released by his office.

He added that while "sustainable development is a fundamental end in itself," such development should be "inclusive."

"Only by addressing the root causes of crisis, including inequality, exclusion, and discrimination, will we build peaceful societies resilient to terrorism and violent extremism," he said.

International rights groups have accused Western nations of failing to sufficiently confront rights abuses by Central Asian governments for strategic purposes related to energy and security.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan told the meeting that U.S. President Donald Trump's administration expects Kabul to continue down the path of reform and root out corruption.

He said Washington would not allow Afghanistan to serve as a "safe haven" for terrorists like it had before the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

In August, Trump announced his strategy for ending the nearly two-decade-long war in Afghanistan. He said it would include deploying more U.S. troops to the country and intensifying pressure on neighboring Pakistan not to harbor terrorists.

Islamabad has reacted angrily to Trump's accusation that it is not doing enough to combat terrorism.

German Authorities Charge Afghan Suspected In Taliban Killing

FILE: An Afghan police officer checks people on a highway in the southern city of Kandahar in November

German prosecutors have filed terrorism and murder charges against a suspected member of Afghanistan's Taliban accused of participating in the killing of an Afghan police officer.

Federal prosecutors said on January 18 that they filed the indictment against the Afghan national, identified as 20-year-old Omaid N., at the Munich state court.

He was charged with membership in a terrorist organization, war crimes, and violation of war-weapons-control laws.

Prosecutors say the suspect joined the Taliban in early 2013, underwent training, recruited new members, and helped transport weapons for the Islamist militant group on at least one occasion.

He is also accused of savagely beating a captured police officer and then shooting him.

The suspect, who arrived in Germany in November 2013, was arrested in May last year.

He is now in detention pending trial.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Five Killed In Afghan Market Attack

FILE: A displacement camp in Faryab

At least five people have been killed in a mortar attack on a market in northern Afghanistan.

Officials said that 45 people, including women and children, were also wounded in the attack in Faryab Province on January 16.

A local police spokesman said three mortar shells slammed into the weekly bazaar in Khwaja Sabz Push district in the morning attack.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the incident, although local officials suspected the Taliban.

A spokesman for the provincial governor was quoted as saying that the attack may have targeted a provincial delegation, including the governor, which has been in the district since January 15 to assess an ongoing military operation.

Elsewhere, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry said that security forces arrested three suspects following a rocket attack late on January 15 on Wazir Akbar Khan, a central neighborhood in Kabul that houses many diplomatic missions, news agencies, and non-governmental groups.

The spokesman said no casualties were reported in that attack.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.

U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled in August his new strategy for the South Asia region, under which the United States has deployed 3,000 more troops to Afghanistan to train, advise, and assist and to conduct counterterrorism missions.

The United States currently has about 14,000 uniformed personnel in the country.

Based on reporting by dpa and AP

Afghan Government Employee Accused Of Spying For Iran

FILE: A prisoner exchange along the border between Iran and Afghanistan.

Afghan officials say the country's main intelligence agency has arrested a government employee in the western province of Herat for alleged spying for Iran.

Jilani Farhad, the spokesman for Herat's governor, told RFE/RL on January 15 that the man, identified as Assadollah Reza'i, was detained more than 10 days ago by agents of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and sent to Kabul for further investigation.

Reza'i had worked for nearly two years as a provincial expert on municipal affairs in Herat Province, which borders Iran, according to Farhad.

A senior provincial government officials said Reza'i had been under surveillance for several months.

Reza'i is said to be accused of transferring classified government documents to Iran's intelligence services.

He had previously held top posts in Farah Province.

UN Security Council Diplomats Travel To Kabul For Firsthand Look

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley (file photo)

The Afghan government says President Ashraf Ghani has met with a top-level UN Security Council delegation that included the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.

The statement on January 15 said Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah met with the UN diplomats at the Presidential Palace in Kabul to discuss Afghanistan's security situation and how to move the country forward.

It said Ghani asked the UN delegates to keep pressure on neighboring Pakistan, which Kabul accuses of providing sanctuary for Taliban fighters and members of the militant Haqqani network.

U.S. President Donald Trump has taken a tough stand on Pakistan.

Islamabad has responded by accusing the United States of making Pakistan a scapegoat for its own failure to bring peace to Afghanistan after more than 16 years of troop deployments.

Afghanistan’s presidential office said diplomats from China, Russia, and Britain also took part in the meeting.

Kairat Umarov, Kazakhstan's ambassador to the UN and the current president of the UN Security Council, also was with the UN delegation.

Ghani’s office said the talks also covered Afghanistan’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Insurgents Killed In U.S. Air Strike After Attack On Afghan Forces

Afghan mourners carry the coffin of one of the victims of a U.S. air strike in the Achin district of Nangarhar province on January 12

U.S. forces killed 10 insurgents in a compound in eastern Afghanistan in an air strike that was triggered by an insider attack on U.S. and Afghan soldiers, the U.S. military said on January 12.

U.S. Navy Captain Tom Gresback said the insurgents baited a coalition team, inviting them to a security shura meeting in the compound in the eastern province of Nangarhar on January 11. The coalition sent an Afghan militia leader, a U.S. service member, and an interpreter.

When the meeting ended, Gresback said the Taliban-linked insurgents opened fire, killing the militia leader and wounding the American service member and the interpreter. The Taliban quickly claimed credit for the attack.

The Taliban said the attack was carried out by two insurgents disguised as local militiamen. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press the attackers had infiltrated the local force months earlier.

In Afghanistan, local militias are often paid by the United States to act as partners with U.S. troops in operations in remote regions.

Gresback said that after the wounded were moved to safety, a coalition air strike targeted the compound, killing 10 insurgents. The Taliban and local militia said as many as 13 fighters were killed in the air strike.

The incident occurred in Mohmand Valley, in Afghanistan's remote Achin district of Nangarhar province.

The incident was the lastest in a series of insider attacks against U.S. forces, including an attack in Achin district in June in which an Afghan commando opened fire, killing three U.S. personnel and wounding another.

U.S. and Afghan forces have been battling not only the Taliban but an affiliate of the Islamic State extremist group in the region.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

UN Security Council Considers Visit To Afghanistan

Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Kabul on January 5.

The president of the UN Security Council says members are considering a visit to Afghanistan to get a better understanding of the war-torn country's prospects and needs.

"We think it's important for Security Council members to get the update of the situation from the ground," Kazakh Ambassador Kairat Umarov said on January 11.

Umarov did not give any date for the visit, which he said would be the first to Afghanistan by the full council in seven years.

"We would like them to feel the situation there and work with the Afghan government on what the needs are," said Umarov, the 15-member Security Council's president for this month.

Earlier this week, U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster briefed ambassadors of the Security Council in New York following a series of high-profile U.S. visits to Afghanistan.

Umarov said the members of the council agree on the need for a "more comprehensive approach" that puts a stronger focus on development in Afghanistan and is not limited to increasing security.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.

U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled in August his new strategy for the South Asia region, under which the United States has deployed 3,000 more troops to Afghanistan to train, advise, and assist and to conduct counterterrorism missions.

The United States currently has about 14,000 uniformed personnel in the country.

The White House says Trump and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev will discuss Afghanistan among other things when they meet at the White House on January 16.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Seventy-Five Prisoners Loyal To Hekmatyar Pardoned In Afghanistan

Prisoners line up at the Pul-e Charkhi prison after their release in Kabul on January 11.

Afghan officials say the country’s president has issued pardons to 75 prisoners loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord who signed a peace deal with the Kabul government in 2016.

The 75 pardoned convicts were released on January 11 from the Pul-e-Charkhi prison east of Kabul, prison press officer Shah Mir Amirpoor said.

Under the 2016 agreement, President Ashraf Ghani agreed to release the followers of Hekmatyar in an effort to encourage insurgent groups to lay down their arms.

The release has been delayed for months. Human rights groups criticized Kabul for agreeing to the move that allowed prisoners suspected of being involved in attacks on civilians to go free.

An initial group of 55 prisoners were released in May 2017.

Hekmatyar battled U.S. and Afghan forces after the U.S. invasion in 2001 and was known as the "Butcher of Kabul" for actions during the country’s civil war of the 1990s.

The deal gave him and his followers immunity for past deeds and gave them full political rights.

The United Nations in 2017 removed Hekmatyar’s name from its sanctions list.

Nadir Afghan, a spokesman for Hekmatyar's Hizb-i Islami party, claims that more than 2,200 party members remain in jail in Afghanistan.

Other warlords have been reluctant to sign on to the deal offered by Ghani.

With reporting by AP and Tolo News

Brother Of Late IMU Chief Says He's Out Of Prison After 23 Years

Zohid Yuldoshev

In a newly released video, a long-jailed brother of the late former leader of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) says he was released from prison in October after 23 years behind bars.

Zohid Yuldoshev's video statement, carried by several Uzbek media outlets on January 11, was the first public indication that he is out of prison.

The founding leader of the IMU, Tohir Yuldosh, whom the late Uzbek President Islam Karimov considered his personal nemesis, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in 2009.

He and his associate, Juma Namangani, created the IMU in early 1990s after fleeing to neighboring Afghanistan and said toppling Karimov and creating an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia were their main goals.

Between 2000-03, the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, and Russia officially designated the IMU a terrorist organization.

Yuldosh's three brothers -- Zohid, Muhammad, and Mamadin -- were arrested in Uzbekistan in the 1990s and sentenced to long prison terms on various charges, including terrorism.

Their mother, Karomathon, was forced several times to publicly denounce her sons on television in their native city of Namangan.

In the video, Zohid Yuldoshev praised President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who came to power after the death of the long-ruling Karimov in 2016.

Yuldoshev said that Mirziyoev "is taking care of our people" and "opening the eyes of people like me, who have strayed."

Mirziyoev has taken some steps to open up Uzbekistan, which Karimov ruled with an iron fist, but the country and the media remain under tight control.

Dozens of activists and politicians widely seen as political prisoners have been released under Mirziyoev.

It was not immediately clear whether Yuldosh's other brothers were released.

Pentagon Watchdog Sharply Critical Of Afghan Air Force Reform Efforts

FILE. A ceremony marking the handover of Black Hawk helicopters by the United States to Afghanistan in October 2017.

The Pentagon’s inspector-general has released a report sharply criticizing NATO-led, U.S. supported attempts to reform Afghanistan’s air force, citing gaps in training, support, and a lack of a coherent overarching strategy that has left coalition advisers insufficiently prepared.

The report, dated January 4, was broken down into six main conclusions, five of which contained highly critical remarks on the mission and the Afghan Air Force.

The NATO-run Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air’s (TAAC-Air) “efforts to train, advise, and assist the Afghan Air Force have resulted in notable accomplishments,” according to the report’s executive summary.

However, it “does not have a plan defining the terms of its mission statement to develop the Afghan Air Force into a ‘professional, capable, and sustainable’ force. TAAC-Air cannot track the Afghan Air Force’s progress because they have not defined the intended end state and related metrics for determining the capabilities and capacities of the Afghan Air Force,” it added.

The report states that support and maintenance personnel for the Afghan Air Force are not receiving standardized or consistent training and that the coalition has failed to help develop “the institutional training capability to augment existing Afghan National Army training by incorporating air force-specific requirements.

“The lack of standardized and consistent training limits the development of the Afghan Air Force into a professional, capable, and sustainable air force,” it said.

Recommendations contained in the report include improving contract awards and tracking mechanisms for logistical and maintenance operations to help in the goal of turning the operations over to Afghan Air Force maintenance personnel.

U.S. Soldier Killed In Afghanistan Identified As Member Of Special Forces

FILE: U.S. soldiers take up positions during an operation against Islamic State (IS) militants in Achin district of Nangarhar province in April 2017.

A U.S. senator’s office and news media have identified the soldier killed during a “combat engagement" in eastern Afghanistan on New Year’s Day as Sergeant First Class Mihail Golin, a member of the Special Forces.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker on January 3 confirmed that the slain soldier was from his state of New Jersey, saying he was from the city of Fort Lee and that the “death is a loss that will be felt across” the state.

The Pentagon on January 2 said one U.S. soldier was killed and four others were wounded in a battle in Achin in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar.

The Pentagon did not immediately identify the soldiers involved but said two of the wounded were being treated at a nearby medical treatment facility and were in stable condition. The two others were returned to duty, it added.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our own," said General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. "At this very difficult time, our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of our fallen and wounded brothers."

Golin, 34, was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group out of Fort Carson, Colorado, according to press reports.

Based on reporting by The Washington Post and The Fort Lee Patch

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