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Taliban Reportedly Kill 14 Afghan Troops, Capture 21 In Herat Province

FILE: Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers march during a training exercise of a graduation ceremony at a training center in Herat Province (April 2018).

Provincial officials in Afghanistan’s western province of Herat say Taliban fighters staged a coordinated attack overnight on two Afghan army outposts, killing 14 Afghan soldiers and capturing another 21.

Najibullah Mohebi, a member of Herat’s Provincial Council, said the attack began late on December 6 in the Shindand District – a district where one of the largest Afghan Air Force bases is located about 110 kilometers from the border with Iran.

Mohebi says the fighting lasted six hours, stretching into the early morning hours of December 7, before reinforcements arrived and pushed back the attackers.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Ghafor Ahmad Jaweed put the number of Afghan soldiers killed at 10.

Shindand district chief Hekmatullah Hekmat said that as many as 200 Taliban fighters took part in the attack using rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic assault rifles.

Hekmat said 30 Taliban fighters were killed and that fighting was continuing sporadically in the area on December 7.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid posted a video on Twitter showing what he said were the captive Afghan soldiers being held inside a room.

The authenticity of the video could not immediately be confirmed.

The Taliban spokesman also claimed 14 Afghan government troops were killed in the battle.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Two Killed In Kabul During Standoff Over Court Eviction

Abdul Rahim Wardak was defense minister in 2004-2012 and a presidential candidate in 2014. He denied any connection to the violence.

An Afghan police officer and a security guard have been killed in Kabul during a 24-hour standoff between police and the stepson of Afghanistan's former defense minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak.

Six police officers and a journalist were also wounded in the gunbattle that began on December 3.

Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said on December 4 that Wardak's son, Tamim Shansab, brought parts of Kabul to a standstill during his clash with the authorities.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the standoff ended after Tamim Shansab, earlier identified as Tamim Wardak, surrendered to police on December 4 along with 13 of his private security guards.

Five of Shansab's security guards had surrendered late on December 3.

Fighting began when Kabul police arrived at Shansab's house in downtown Kabul to carry out a forcible eviction order from a Kabul court and were met by armed resistance.

Rahimi said an individual had filed a lawsuit against Shansab, claiming that the residence was his and that Shansab was living there illegally.

The individual won all three trials in the case and Shansab was told to leave the residence in early November, but had so far refused.

The office of Wardak, defense minister from 2004 to 2012, denied any link between his family and the violence.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

Taliban Killed Police Chief In Northern Afghanistan Clash

FILE: Afghan security forces during a military operation in Sar-e Pol Province.

An Afghan official says the Taliban stormed a police checkpoint in the northern province of Sar-e Pol, killing a district police chief and another police officer.

Zabi Amani, a spokesman for Sar-e Pol’s provincial governor, said the attack began late on December 3 in the Sayyad district -- setting off a gunbattle that lasted into the early morning hours of December 4.

Amani said four police officers were wounded in the fighting.

He said there also were casualties among Taliban fighters, but he didn’t provide further details.

Meanwhile, a gunbattle was being waged in Kabul early on December 4 between police and a man who was being evicted from his house under a court order.

Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for the Kabul police, said one police officer was killed in that gunbattle and six people were wounded – including a reporter.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

Afghan President Orders Investigation Into Abuse Of Female Athletes

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has ordered his attorney general to investigate allegations of sexual abuse of female athletes in Afghanistan.

In a December 4 statement, Ghani said any kind of misconduct against athletes – male or female – is not acceptable.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper on November 30 published a report detailing cases of alleged sexual abuse of Afghan female soccer players.

Ghani said the revelations were "shocking to all Afghans."

Late on December 3, the president met with authorities from the Afghan National Olympic Committee, along with male and female athletes, to discuss the situation.

Ghani promised the group that he would “conduct a thorough investigation.”

Afghan Attorney General Farid Hamedi said on December 4 that his office had already created a plan for a comprehensive and transparent investigation.

"I would like to assert in front of our athletes, the president, and people of Afghanistan that we will proceed with this investigation transparently, justly, and comprehensively," Hamedi said.

The secretary-general of the Afghanistan Football Federation, Sayed Alireza Aqazada, said the allegations in The Guardian report were "baseless and untrue."

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and The Guardian

Senior Afghan Taliban Commander Killed In Air Strike

Mullah Manan commanded Taliban fighters as they steadily increased their control over Helmand in the years following the end of most international combat missions in 2014. FILE: A U.S. Marine being shot at in Helmand.

A top commander of the Afghan Taliban has been killed in the southern province of Helmand.

Provincial Governor Mohammad Yasin Khan told RFE/RL that Mullah Abdulmanan was killed along with four other militants in an air strike in the Nawzad district on December 1.

Mullah Abdulmanan was in charge of Helmand Province for the militants group.

His death was confirmed by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid and by the U.S. military.

"They're going to have trouble intensifying the fight when their fighters and leaders are under constant assault,” Colonel Dave Butler, spokesman for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, said in an e-mailed statement.

Talks to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan are “the only solution," Butler added.

Mullah Abdulmanan "was the most senior Taliban commander in the south and his death will have an overall impact on security," a senior security official in Kabul was quoted as saying.

Taliban fighters increased their control over Helmand Province in the years following the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.

Last month, U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held talks with the Taliban in Qatar as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump stepped up efforts to settle the Afghan conflict.

The militants have long refused U.S. demands to directly negotiate with the Western-backed government in Kabul, which has struggled to counter attacks from the militant group since 2014.

With reporting by Reuters

FIFA Looking Into Claims Of Sexual Abuse Inside Afghan Women's National Team

Former Afghanistan women's football captain Khalida Popal (center) has spoken out previously about the discrimination women players face.

Soccer's world governing body FIFA has confirmed it is looking into claims of sexual and physical abuse inside the Afghan women’s national team.

The Afghan Football Federation (AFF) has denied the allegations, which first appearedin the British daily The Guardian.

In a statement on December 1, FIFA said it took such allegations seriously, adding that it has a "zero tolerance policy" on such matters.

In its report on November 30, The Guardian cited senior figures associated with the Afghan women's national team as saying that abuse took place inside the country, including at the federation's headquarters, and at a training camp in Jordan last February.

It quoted former captain Khalida Popal, who fled the country after receiving death threats and has spoken out previously about the discrimination women face in Afghanistan, as saying male officials had been "coercing" female players.

The paper said FIFA was investigating the matter.

"The story is not true," Sayed Alireza Aqazada, secretary-general of the AFF, told reporters in Kabul on December 1.

"No sexual harassment has been committed against any girl football player," Aqazada stated.

Based on reporting by AFP and The Guardian

UN: Air Strike In Afghanistan Killed As Many As 23 Civilians

An injured boy receives treatment at a hospital after an air strike in Afghanistan's Garmsir district on November 27.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) says as many as 23 civilians were killed in an air strike in the country's south this week, according to its preliminary findings.

The NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan said Afghan forces and U.S. advisers came under fire from Taliban fighters in a compound in the Garmsir district on November 27 and called in an air strike, but the ground forces were not aware of any civilians in or near the compound.

Local officials in Garmsir said the air strike struck a house in the area, killing at least 30 civilians.

Helmand Governor Mohammad Yasin Khan said Afghan forces had called in an air strike against Taliban fighters, causing both civilian and Taliban casualties.

But UNAMA said in a statement on November 29 that the "vast majority of the victims were women and children."

UNAMA added that it was working to verify information, indicating that another 10 children and eight women were also killed in the air strike.

The UN said last month that the number of civilian casualties from air strikes in the first nine months of the year was already higher than in any entire year since at least 2009.

Powerful Ex-Security Chief To Run In Afghan Presidential Election

FILE: Former Afghan national-security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's powerful former national-security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar has announced plans to run in the April 2019 presidential election.

Atmar, once considered the second-most powerful official in Ghani's government, will be running against his former boss, who is seeking reelection in the April 20 vote.

The 50-year-old, a former interior minister, unexpectedly quit his role as national security adviser in August, citing major policy differences with the president, including on peace talks with the Taliban.

In February, Ghani made an unconditional offer of negotiations to the Taliban, which has waged a deadly, 17-year insurgency against the Western-backed government.

Announcing his candidacy on November 28 in an interview with Tolo News, Afghanistan's largest broadcaster, Atmar said he would welcome talks with the militants but would not accept the return of a “Taliban regime” in Afghanistan.

An ethnic Pashtun, Atmar was a former intelligence officer in the communist government who lost a leg fighting the anti-Soviet mujahideen in the 1980s.

His announcement came as the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on November 29 that the election would take place in April, after election officials said earlier this week that the vote could be delayed for at least three months.

The IEC said the registration of candidates would be held from December 22 to January 2. A preliminary list of candidates is due to be announced on January 8, it said.

Based on reporting by Tolo News and Reuters

Afghanistan, International Donors Meet In Geneva For Two-Day Conference

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attends a two-day conference on Afghanistan at the United Nations in Geneva on November 27.

Afghan leaders and foreign diplomats are meeting in Geneva for a two-day conference during which international donors are expected to pledge billions of dollars in aid to Kabul.

Dozens of countries are attending the high-level talks in the Swiss city on November 27-28.

The Afghan government is expected to renew its commitment to reform and discuss aid contributions in its bid to achieve stability and security.

The United Nations, which is co-hosting the summit with the Afghan government, said the conference will be "crucial in measuring results against the $15.2 billion committed by the international community for Afghanistan" at the last funding meeting in Brussels in 2016.

The Afghan delegation is expected to present its growth strategy, ranging from maintaining security and building infrastructure to fighting corruption and female empowerment.

The conference comes at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump's administration is actively seeking to launch a formal peace process with the Taliban.

The Afghan delegation is expected to call on the international community to "support an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process" amid efforts to end the 17-year conflict.

Based on reporting by Reuters, dpa, and Al-Jazeera

Supporters Of Hazara Militia Leader Protest In Kabul For Second Day

Several hundred supporters of a detained Shi'ite Hazara militia commander took to the streets of Kabul for a second consecutive day on November 26, blocking roads in the western part of the Afghan capital.

The demonstrators are protesting the detention of Alipoor, who goes by one name and leads a Shi’ite militia in central Afghanistan.

It was not immediately clear what Alipoor is accused of.

Kabul police chief Sayed Mohammad Roshandel said the protesters set fire to police check posts and were clashing with police forces.

"I can hear sporadic sound of shooting form the area," said lawmaker Nasrullah Sadeqizada, who lives near the area where the protest is taking place.

On November 25, a number of police checkpoints were torched and several officers were wounded after a similar protest in the Dasht-e Barchi district, a predominately Hazara neighborhood in Kabul, turned violent.

Alipoor’s supporters claim that he has been fighting the Taliban in parts of Maidan Wardak, Ghor, and Daikundi provinces.

With reporting by AP and TOLOnews

At Least 20 Killed In Taliban Ambush Of Afghan Police Convoy

An Afghan Army soldier fires an artillery shell during an ongoing anti-Taliban operation in Farah Province earlier this year. (file photo)

At least 20 Afghan police officers were killed when their convoy was ambushed in the western province of Farah, the Associated Press reports.

Dadullah Qaneh, a member of the provincial council, was quoted as saying on November 26 that the attack occurred the previous day.

Several high-ranking police officials were also wounded in the ambush, according to Qaneh.

AP cited another provincial council member, Abdul Samad Salehi, as saying that the convoy was heading to the Lash wa Juwayn district for the introduction of a new police chief when it came under fire.

The newly appointed chief was killed in the attack, he added.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Afghan security forces have struggled to counter attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.

President Ashraf Ghani said earlier in November that nearly 29,000 Afghan police and soldiers had been killed since the start of 2015 when they took over primary responsibility for Afghanistan’s security.

During the same period, 58 American were killed, he said.

Based on reporting by AP

Pentagon Names U.S. Soldier Who Died From Wounds After Battle In Afghanistan

FILE: U.S. soldiers board a C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft in Helmand.

The Pentagon has named a U.S. soldier who died on November 24 in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand and confirmed that the soldier had been critically wounded during a firefight against "enemy forces" in a neighboring province.

In a statement issued on November 25, the Pentagon said 25-year-old Army Ranger Sergeant Leandro Jasso sustained his fatal wounds during combat in the Khash Rod district of Nimruz Province.

He died after being evacuated to the Garmsir district of Helmand Province, where U.S. forces operate an expanded forward operations base known as Camp Dwyer and a smaller military installation known as Camp Garmsir.

Jasso was the ninth U.S. soldier to die in Afghanistan in 2018.

Some 14,000 U.S. soldiers are currently serving in Afghanistan, where the United States and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in 2014.

The remaining Western forces mainly train and advise the Afghan security forces, which have been struggling against attacks from a resurgent Taliban and other militant extremist groups.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said earlier in November that 58 Americans had been killed in Afghanistan since the start of 2015 when Afghan troops took over primary responsibility for Afghanistan’s security.

During the same period since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops from Afghanistan, Ghani said nearly 29,000 Afghan police and soldiers have been killed -- a figure far higher than anything previously acknowledged by the government in Kabul.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa

Kabul Protest Turns Violent Over Arrest Of Hazara Militia Leader

Hundreds of demonstrators protesting against the detention of a Shi'ite Hazara militia commander have clashed with police in the Afghan capital.

Reports said that at least one officer was wounded in the clashes, which saw protesters throwing stones at police. Officers reportedly fired into the air to disperse the crowd.

A number of police checkpoints were also said to have been torched.

The demonstration erupted in the Dasht-e Barchi district, a predominately Hazara neighborhood in Kabul, after security forces in the city arrested Alipoor.

It was not immediately clear what the man, who leads a Shi’ite militia in central Afghanistan, is accused of.

With reporting by AP, Khaama Press, and TOLOnews

Scores Killed In Blast At Afghan Army Base

FILE: An Afghan National Army parade in Khost.

An explosion inside a mosque at an Afghan military base in the volatile eastern province of Khost has killed at least 27 people and wounded 50, officials say.

The blast occurred on November 23 in the Ismail Khel district of Khost. The victims had all gathered to attend Friday Prayers, officials said.

Abed Ahmad Zia, a provincial government official, said there were fears the death toll could rise further.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, but Khost is a stronghold of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network.

The Taliban, however, has in the past decried attacks on religious gatherings.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Trump Hints He May Visit Afghanistan

U.S. President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump hinted on November 22 that he may visit American troops in Afghanistan for the first time.

Delivering a Thanksgiving holiday message by teleconference to troops in Afghanistan, Trump told one colonel: “I'll see you back when you're in the United States or maybe I'll see you over there. You never know what's going to happen."

Questioned later by journalists on whether he would make the trip, Trump said: "At the appropriate time we'll be doing some very interesting thing."

Recent U.S. commanders-in-chief have routinely visited U.S. troops in active war zones. Almost two years into his presidency, Trump has been criticized for failing to do so.

By this point in his presidency, President Barack Obama had made a trip to Iraq and two to Afghanistan. President George W. Bush traveled to Afghanistan twice and Iraq four times during his two terms in office.

Trump also said that the United States is currently in "very, very strong negotiations" regarding Afghanistan. But he didn’t say if those negotiations were directly with the Taliban.

Taliban officials say they have had at least three meetings with U.S. representatives in Qatar in recent months, but Washington has neither confirmed or denied these direct talks.

The United States has some 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. They serve in the NATO-led Resolute Support training and advisory mission as well as in separate counterterrorism operations against militant groups like Islamic State.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

Four Afghan Troops Killed In Taliban Attack; Air Strike Kills 10

FILE: Afghan Officials inspect the aftermath of a suicide attack in the the province of Logar.

A Taliban attack on an Afghan military convoy in the southwestern Badghis Province left four soldiers dead, officials said on November 22.

Seven soldiers were also wounded in the Taliban ambush early on November 22, which occurred as the military convoy traveled through the provincial capital of Qalay-e Now, Muhammad Nasir Nazari, a member of the Badghis provincial council, said.

In a separate incident, Afghan special forces called in a NATO airstrike during an operation late on November 21 against Taliban fighters in the eastern province of Logar.

Provincial council chief Muhammad Nasir Ghyrat says 10 people were killed in that air strike but that it isn't immediately if or how many civilians were among the dead.

The Logar governor's spokesman, Khalid Safai, says an investigation is under way.

NATO did not immediately comment on the air strike.

A resurgent Taliban movement has been staging near-daily attacks on Afghan forces, causing multiple casualties.

Based on reporting by AP and

Trump Criticizes Retired U.S. Navy Admiral Over Bin Laden Raid

U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven

U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized a retired Navy admiral, as he repeated earlier assertions that U.S. military and political leaders erred by not capturing Osama Bin Laden sooner.

Trump on November 19 doubled down on comments he made in a Fox News interview, when he asserted that Admiral William McRaven, a former commander of U.S. Special Operations, was a supporter of Trump's 2016 Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

In a post to Twitter, Trump said that Bin Laden should have been captured much sooner than 2011, when U.S. Navy SEALs killed him at a compound in Pakistan.

"Of course we should have captured Osama Bin Laden long before we did," Trump said.

"I pointed him out in my book just BEFORE the attack on the World Trade Center," he wrote.

Trump's criticism of McRaven, and other decisions, prompted angry retorts from administration officials of both presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

In his Fox News interview Trump also said he had canceled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of aid to Pakistan because "they don't do anything for us, they don't do a damn thing for us."

That comment drew a sharp response from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who said his country had suffered 75,000 casualties and lost billions during the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan.

As part of Trump's effort to resolve the 17-year war in Afghanistan, Washington has escalated pressure on Islamabad, whose assistance the U.S. believes is needed to compel the Taliban to agree to negotiate with the government in Kabul.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Top U.S. Military Officer Says Taliban 'Not Losing' In Afghanistan

U.S. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (file photo)

U.S. General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Taliban "are not losing" and there is no "military solution" to ending the war in Afghanistan.

Dunford's remarks came amid U.S. and Afghan attempts to launch peace talks with the Taliban, which controls more territory than it has at any time since the U.S.-led invasion of the South-Asian country in 2001.

"They are not losing right now, I think that is fair to say," Dunford said of the Taliban during a discussion at a security forum in Halifax, Canada on November 17.

Dunford, the top U.S. military officer, said the United States and its NATO allies were working to leverage military, political, and economic pressure to convince the Taliban to negotiate an end to the war.

"We do believe the Taliban know that at some point they do have to reconcile," he said. "The key to success is to combine all that pressure to incentivize the Taliban" to negotiate.

After more than 17 years of war, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has stepped up efforts to settle the conflict peacefully.

U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was appointed to start a peace process with the Taliban. He met with Ghani on November 10 after meeting with a Taliban delegation in Doha in October.

Based on reporting by CNN and Tolo News

Attacks On Afghan Security Forces Mount, At Least 38 Killed In Farah Base Attack

FILE: Residents look at an Army vehicle which was damaged during battle between Afghan security forces and Taliban in Farah Province in May.

Taliban insurgents attacked a joint police and army outpost in Afghanistan’s western Farah Province, killing at least 38 officers and soldiers, as the onslaught against the country’s security forces mount, officials say.

Provincial council member Khair Mohammad Noorzai told the dpa news agency that the four-hour attack occurred in the early morning of November 15 and killed nearly all of the soldiers and police officers stationed at the joint base.

In Kabul, lawmaker Samiullah Samim told the Associated Press that air strikes killed 17 of the Taliban attackers but most managed to flee.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack and said about 80 weapons and several vehicles were captured by militants.

Meanwhile, fighting with Taliban militants in two districts of central Ghazni Province has displaced thousands of people, most of them from the minority ethnic Shi’ite Hazara population.

Some 100 Afghan security forces have been killed in those battles.

The resurgent Taliban have mounted increasing numbers of provincial attacks in their battle to bring down the Western-backed government in Kabul and force out foreign troops.

Unofficial reports have estimated that some 45 Afghan police officers or soldiers are killed daily in attacks by the Taliban and other militants.

Afghan security forces have struggled to counter attacks from militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014. The remaining Western forces mainly train and advise the Afghan military, although some are still occasionally caught in firefights.

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is involved in an effort to persuade Taliban officials to take part in peace talks with Kabul to end the decades-long war. Separately, Russia held peace talks in Moscow on November 9 that included Taliban representatives, but little progress was reported.

Based on reporting by dpa, Reuters, and AP

Suicide Blast Targets Protesters In Kabul

FILE: Afghan security officials inspect the scene of a suicide bomb attack in Kabul on October 31.

Afghan officials say a suicide bombing has rocked Kabul close to the area where scores of people had been protesting against what they called the government's failure to protect the country’s mainly Shi'ite Hazara minority from Taliban attacks.

Security officials told FRE/RL that a suicide bomber detonated his suicide vest on November 12 before he was able to reach the protesters.

There was no immediate news on casualties.

Hundreds of people had marched through the night from the western parts of Kabul to the Presidential Palace, in the city center, to protest against the lack of security in districts in Ghazni and Oruzgan provinces that are inhabited mainly by ethnic Hazara.

The districts have been under Taliban attacks for almost one week.

The total number of casualties was not clear, but officials earlier said that the militants killed 15 civilians and 10 members of the special forces in Ghazni Province on November 11.

In the western province of Farah, at least 37 members of the Afghan security forces were killed in attacks late on November 11 by Taliban fighters on checkpoints that triggered hours of fighting, according to local officials.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa

Taliban Says It's Not Ready For Talks With Kabul

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai (R), head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow November 9

The Taliban are not ready to negotiate with the Afghan government, a Taliban member said at talks in Moscow on November 9.

A Taliban delegation attended a diplomatic conference in Russia for the first time, but the Kabul government sent no official representative, and the sides reported no progress.

At the end of the talks in the Russian capital, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, who led the Taliban delegation, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying the militants are not ready for direct talks with Kabul and will negotiate with the United States instead.

Opening the meeting earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia hopes "through joint efforts to open a new page in the history of Afghanistan."

The first Russian initiative to hold the conference in September was abandoned after the Afghan authorities refused to attend.

This time, the Afghan government sent only members of the government-appointed High Peace Council to attend the event.

Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry on November 9 issued a statement stressing that the High Peace Council is taking part in the talks "in its own capacity as a national but nongovernment institution, with a view to discuss the dynamics and details of initiating direct negotiations."

The High Peace Council (HPC) is a body of the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, established by former President Hamid Karzai to negotiate with elements of the Taliban.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the militant group was sending five representatives, who will not hold "any sort of negotiations" with the Peace Council delegation.

Informal contacts between the Taliban and members of Afghanistan's Peace Council have taken place at various forums in the past.

Based on reporting by AP, TASS, and Interfax

U.S. Peace Envoy Heading To Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar

FILE: U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad will visit Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar this month to push for peace negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, the State Department says.

A statement said Khalilzad will travel to the region from November 8 to 20 and meet with Afghan government officials and "other interested parties to advance the goal of an intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations that include the Taliban and lead to a sustainable peace."

For years, the United States has been trying to persuade the Taliban to agree to negotiate an end to the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan, as the Afghan security forces continue to struggle to counter stepped-up attacks by the militant group in its drive to force the Western-backed government in Kabul from power.

U.S. efforts foundered over the militants' insistence on negotiating directly with Washington rather than the Afghan government, which it calls a "puppet" of the United States.

Khalilzad, Trump's special adviser on Afghanistan, last visited the region in October.

The State Department said he had been "encouraged" to see that both the government in Kabul and the Taliban are "taking steps" toward organizing "authoritative negotiating teams."

"A sustainable peace requires that all Afghans have a say in their country's future," it also said.

"The United States remains committed to a political settlement that results in an end to the war and to the terrorist threat posed to the United States and the world," the statement added. "A peaceful Afghanistan can play a catalytic role in regional trade and development."

As recently as late October, U.S. and Taliban officials conducted preliminary talks in Qatar, where the militants have a political office that serves as a de facto embassy.

UN Reports Record Level Of Taliban Violence Against Afghan Elections

Afghan security personnel inspect at the site of a suicide attack near the election commission office in Kabul on October 29.

The United Nations says attacks and intimidation by the Taliban against last month's parliamentary elections in Afghanistan resulted in a record number of civilian casualties.

In a November 6 report, the UN said militants had waged "a deliberate campaign intended to disrupt and undermine the electoral process."

It said at least 435 civilian casualties were recorded -- 56 people killed and 379 wounded -- during the October 20 election and subsequent days when delayed polling took place.

The Taliban, fighting to force foreign troops out of Afghanistan and defeat Kabul’s Western-backed government, issued a series of threats against the elections that included three separate warnings in the days leading up to the vote.

There also were several attacks on voter-registration centers in the months before the election, some claimed by the Islamic State group.

The UN said attacks by antigovernment elements, mostly the Taliban, were carried out with rockets, grenades, mortars, and improvised explosive devices.

The United Nations also noted to a campaign of threats, intimidation, and harassment, including abductions before the election.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

Mysterious Outbreak Kills 12 Newborns In Northeastern Afghanistan

FILE: A woman takes care of her newborn baby at Cure International's hospital in Kabul.

Twelve newborns have died at a health center in northeastern Afghanistan amid an outbreak of "an unknown and as yet not determined origin," the Italian nongovernment organization running the facility says.

The Emergency NGO said on November 5 that the babies all died the previous day at its maternity hospital in Panjshir Province's Anabah district.

A statement said the newborns, who were in critical condition and on antibiotic therapy, passed away at the hospital's neonatal intensive-care unit due to apparent sepsis -- a serious complication of an infection.

Emergency said it immediately informed the Afghan health authorities regarding the ongoing outbreak and tasked a private laboratory in the capital, Kabul, to carry out microbiological tests.

The group said it will communicate the results of the tests as soon as they are available.

Dejan Panic, Emergency's program coordinator for Afghanistan, told the dpa news agency that the 12 babies all experienced the same symptoms.

Two other newborns were in critical condition, Panic also said, adding that the neonatal ward was "on lockdown."

Meanwhile, Emergency said its staff had applied measures to contain the outbreak and treat the affected patients, insisting that it excluded "any medical negligence in what has happened."

The medical coordinator of the maternity center was in constant contact with the provincial and district officials, it also said.

The center offers gynecological, obstetric, and neonatal assistance to the population of the Panjshir Valley, and the provinces of Parwan, Kapisa, and Kabul, according to Emergency.

It has provided treatment and health care to more than 300,000 mothers and newborns since it was opened in 2003, the NGO added.

With reporting by dpa

At Least 13 Afghan Security Personnel Killed By Taliban Attack On Ghazni Checkpoint

FILE: Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers keep watch at a checkpoint on the Ghazni Province.

Afghan officials say at least 13 members of Afghanistan's security forces have been killed in a battle in Ghazni Province about 150 kilometers southwest of Kabul.

Mohammad Arif Noori, a spokesman for Ghazni’s provincial governor, told RFE/RL that the battle began early on November 5 when Taliban militants attacked a checkpoint in the Khogyani district near the provincial capital.

Noori said six Afghan police and seven soldiers in the Afghan National Army were killed in the fighting. He said at least four other police officers were wounded.

He said at least six Taliban fighters were killed and 10 wounded in the three-hour battle.

Noori said the checkpoint had been set up in a strategic area on November 3 in an attempt to cut off a supply route used by the Taliban.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed in a statement sent to media that the Taliban were responsible for the attack.

The fighting comes three months after hundreds of Taliban militants launched a major assault on Ghazni city and briefly took control of parts of the provincial capital.

U.S. warplanes, drones, and helicopters were deployed in that battle to help Afghan government forces repulse the earlier Taliban assault -- which included fighting on the outskirts of the city in the Khogyani, Khwaja Omari, and Zanakhan areas.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

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