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Tajikistan Hands Over Dozens Of Convicts To Afghanistan

FILE: A prison in Tajikistan.

DUSHANBE -- Tajik authorities have transferred dozens of Afghan convicts to their home country to serve their sentences there, officials say.

Sayed Masoom Badakhsh of the Afghan Embassy in Dushanbe told RFE/RL that 80 inmates were handed over to Afghan authorities at the Panji Poyon-Sher Khan Bandar border crossing on July 27.

“There are some Afghan citizen left in Tajik detention centers. After their cases are completed, they might be transferred” to Afghanistan as well, he said.

In May, the Afghan Foreign Ministry said Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani had asked Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to help with the repatriation of inmates to Afghanistan and had received a positive answer.

Badakhsh said that most of them were convicted of drug smuggling and illegal border crossing.

Tajik diplomats said in July that eight citizens of Tajikistan detained in Afghanistan were returned to Tajikistan to serve their prison sentences or face trial. Most of them were facing extremism or terrorism charges.

Afghan Minister Says Kabul Could Meet Taliban Directly Within Two Weeks

FILE: Afghan State Minister for Peace Affairs Abdul Salam Rahimi

A senior Afghan official has expressed hope that direct talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators could begin within two weeks.

Such a meeting would be a crucial step in efforts to end the war in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has so far refused to speak to representatives of President Ashraf Ghani's government in any official capacity, saying it is illegitimate and a puppet of foreign states.

Recently, however, Taliban negotiators in the Qatari capital, Doha, did meet some members of Ghani's government who attended a peace summit in a "personal capacity."

Abdul Salam Rahimi, Afghanistan's state minister for peace affairs, told reporters on July 27 that a 15-member Afghan government delegation he is meant to head is now "preparing for direct talks" with the Taliban.

"We are working with all sides and hope that in the next two weeks the first meeting will take place in a European country," said Rahimi, Ghani's former chief of staff who was appointed to the ministry post in June.

Meanwhile, on July 27, Ghaniissued a decree dissolving the country's High Peace Council -- a body that had been appointed by the president and previously had been meant to lead Kabul's peace efforts with the Taliban.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban about Rahimi's announcement, which came as U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was continuing a visit to Kabul.

Khalilzad is expected to return to Doha at some point during the next week for what would be an eighth round of direct talks between U.S. officials and Taliban negotiators.

Both Washington and the Taliban have said recently that they were making progress toward reaching a deal that would end the nearly 18-year involvement in Afghanistan by U.S. military forces.

But any deal would require direct talks between the Taliban and representatives of Afghanistan's government.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa

Three Police Killed In Taliban Suicide Attack In Southeast Afghanistan

FILE: An Afghan Police officer inspects the scene of a bomb blast that targeted a police vehicle in Ghazni, June 2017.

At least three police officers have been killed and 12 wounded in a Taliban suicide bombing in Afghanistan.

A police spokesman said the July 27 explosion targeted a district police headquarters in southeastern Ghazni Province.

He said the Taliban, who control much of the province, used a stolen military Humvee in the attack in the Ab Band district.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the bombing.

The latest violence in Afghanistan comes days after more than 50 people were killed on July 25 in a string of attacks -- claimed both by the Taliban and the Islamic State extremist group (IS) -- in three provinces, including the capital, Kabul.

Violence in Afghanistan has spiked in recent weeks as both Afghan forces and Taliban militants attempt to increase their leverage in ongoing peace talks.

U.S. and Taliban representatives have held several rounds of peace talks since last year and Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, is currently in Kabul to consult on the next steps in the process ahead of a new round of talks in Qatar next week.

While no agreement has been reached, both sides have reported progress in the talks. The Taliban, however, has refused to meet with Kabul government officials whom they regard as U.S. puppets.

The Taliban control or contest around half of the country, controlling more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 ousted the group from power.

A U.S. intelligence official based in Kabul told the AP news agency that IS was an even bigger threat.

The official, who discussed terrorist threats only on condition of anonymity, said recent IS attacks in Kabul are "practice runs" for more substantial ones in the future.

With reporting by AP and dpa

Pompeo, Ghani Agree To Accelerate Afghan Peace Talks

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, right, at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, on June 25.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani have agreed that it was time to "accelerate efforts" to end the war in Afghanistan, a joint statement issued by the U.S. State Department said.

Pompeo and Ghani spoke by phone on July 25, the statement said.

Ghani had asked for clarifications following U.S. President Donald Trump's remark earlier this week that he had a plan that could win the war in Afghanistan “in a week,” but he didn't "want to kill 10 million people."

The statement said Pompeo assured Ghani that "there has been no change to President Trump’s South Asia strategy, including U.S. commitment to a conditions-based drawdown.”

Pompeo told Ghani that General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Afghan special representative Zalmay Khalizad had been sent to Kabul to "discuss in detail the next steps on the road to peace," the statement added.

The statement also said that Ghani had confirmed Afghanistan’s commitment “to working side-by-side with the United States to achieve a stable, peaceful, democratic Afghanistan that is not a center for terrorism.”

The statement was released amid a wave of attacks across three Afghan provinces that left more than 50 people dead.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa

At Least Five Killed, 10 Wounded In Blasts In Kabul

An Afghan National Army soldier stands near the site of a blast in Kabul on July 25.

Three explosions were reported in eastern Kabul on July 25 in the morning, killing at least seven people and wounding 21, officials say.

A suicide bomber blew himself up near a bus carrying Mining Ministry employees, Wahidullah Mayar, a spokesperson for the Afghan Health Ministry, told RFE/RL.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said all the victims were government workers.

Rahimi said two other blasts had occurred, including a car bomb, also in eastern Kabul.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP

Afghan Official: Four Police Officers Killed In Taliban Attack

FILE: An Afghan soldier stands guard at the entrance of a government compound in Farah Province.

An Afghan official says four police officers were killed and two others wounded when Taliban militants attacked a security checkpoint in the western province of Farah.

Mohibullah Mohib, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said two militants were killed in the incident late on July 23.

Mohib did not reveal where in the province the attack took place.

In a statement, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

The militants have launched near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces, even as peace efforts have been gaining momentum to put an end to Afghanistan's nearly 18-year war.

The Taliban control or contest around half of the country, controlling more territory than any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 ousted the group from power.

The Taliban controls large parts of Farah, which is located on the border with Iran.

Farah has been the scene of fierce fighting between the militants and government troops in recent years.

With reporting by AP

Croatia Says One Soldier Killed, Two Injured In Afghanistan Attack

Afghan boys look at the debris of suicide attacker's vehicle in Kabul on July 24.

A Croatian soldier was killed and two were seriously wounded in Afghanistan in a suicide attack on their convoy outside Kabul on July 24, Croatia's Defense Minister Damir Krsticevic told a news conference in Zagreb.

The soldiers were en route to Kabul airport when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle slammed into one of their vehicles, Krsticevic said.

It was the first fatality suffered by the Croatian military since it began deploying troops to Afghanistan in 2003. Croatia, which became a NATO member in 2009, currently has a 99-strong contingent in Afghanistan.

Croatian General Kresimir Tuskan said the troops had been working as part of a British-led special operations advisory group.

The Taliban has claimed the attack.

About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are in Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Pakistan's Imran Khan Says Taliban May Soon Release Two Hostages

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 22.

The Taliban may soon release two hostages who were captured in August 2016, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said during a three-day visit to Washington.

He told U.S. President Donald Trump that Islamabad will have “good news" soon about American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks.

Both taught at the American University in Kabul.

Speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington on July 23, Khan said he plans to meet with the Taliban to persuade the militant group to hold talks with the Western-backed Afghan government in an attempt to end the nearly 18-year war.

"I will meet the Taliban and I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government," Khan said.

Khan held talks with Trump at the White House on July 22 and met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on July 23, with Washington hopeful that Islamabad can help it find a way out of the conflict.

Pompeo’s spokesman, Morgan Ortagus, acknowledged “Pakistan’s significant role in supporting the Afghan peace process and counterterrorism,” in a July 23 statement.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, is on his way to Kabul at the start of his latest peace mission as the war in the country has heated up in recent weeks.

Based on reporting by AP

At Least Seven Civilians Killed In Air Strike In Eastern Afghanistan

FILE: Afghan soldiers take part in an ongoing operation against the Islamic State (IS) militants in eastern Afghanistan.

Afghan officials say a joint air strike by U.S. and Afghan forces has killed at least seven civilians.

The incident occurred during a military operation in the Baraki Barak district of the eastern province of Logar on July 21.

Hasib Stanekzai, a member of the provincial council, said the air strike targeted Taliban militants but struck two residential houses.

Stanekzai said the dead included women and children and that six others were wounded.

Didar Lawang, a spokesman for the provincial governor, confirmed that the air strike had resulted in civilian casualties, but did not provide further details.

Lawang said authorities had launched an investigation into the deadly incident.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan declined to comment.

The war in Afghanistan has intensified in recent weeks as both Afghan forces and Taliban militants attempt to increase their leverage in ongoing peace talks.

U.S. and Taliban negotiators have held eight rounds of peace talks since last year.

While no agreement has been reached, both sides have reported progress in the talks.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters

Air Strikes By Security Forces In Western Afghanistan Kill 10 Civilians

FILE: A protest against the civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Officials in Afghanistan say women and children were among 10 civilians killed in separate air strikes by security forces late on July 19.

In one incident, Abdol Aziz Beg, head of a provincial council in the western Badghis Province, said that insurgents had surrounded an army base in the area and security forces' helicopters were trying to reach the facility.

But Beg said gunmen were shooting from positions in villages nearby, making security forces' return difficult and endangering villagers if Afghan forces fired back.

Three children and two women were among the 10 victims of earlier air strikes that killed 10 and injured two others, Beg said.

Taliban fighters, who reportedly remain in control of around half of the country, were circulating images of dead children on Twitter that they said were killed by the air strikes in Badghis.

Based on reporting by AP

Four Members Of First All-Female Afghan Orchestra Missing In Slovakia

Members of Afghanistan's first all-female orchestra Zohra get ready for a performance in Modra, Slovakia, on July 15.

Police in Slovakia are searching for four members of Afghanistan's first all-female orchestra who disappeared from their hotel after participating in a local festival.

Zohra, a 35-member orchestra, performed at a concert on July 13 at the Pohoda Festival in the western town of Trencin, some 130 kilometers north of Bratislava, near the Czech border.

Four members went missing from their hotel on July 14, Slovak police said.

Pavol Kudlicka, a spokesperson for the Trencin regional police, said the musicians returned to their hotel after the concert but went missing the next morning.

"Due to legal reasons and the ongoing investigation, no names can be disclosed for now," Kudlicka added.

Local Slovak media reported that some orchestra members had said that one of the girls had a cousin in Germany.

Some members of Zohra orchestra, named after the Persian goddess of music, are orphans or from poor families.

Many of the orchestra's members have reportedly faced threats and attacks in their home country, even from their relatives.

Despite the disappearance, the orchestra, founded five years ago, played several concerts in western Slovakia this week.

They came to international prominence after performing at the closing of the World Economic Forum in Davos two years ago.

Based on reporting by AFP,, and

Twelve Killed, Scores Wounded In Taliban Car Bombing In Afghanistan

Afghan security forces arrive after a powerful explosion outside the provincial police headquarters in Kandahar on July 18.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Twelve people were killed and almost 90 wounded when Taliban militants detonated two car bombs at a gate outside police headquarters in the Afghan city of Kandahar on July 18.

After the blasts, Taliban gunmen opened fire from nearby positions, triggering a battle with security forces, said Tadeen Khan, the southern city's police chief.

The attackers targeted the counternarcotics wing of the police, Khan said.

Baheer Ahmadi, the spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor, said that 12 people had been killed, including nine civilians and three police officers. Another 89 were wounded, he added.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told RFE/RL by telephone from an unknown location that Taliban militants carried out the attack.

Afghan security forces across the country have been coming under nearly daily attacks by the Taliban.

The increase in violence comes despite reported progress in efforts by the United States to broker an end to Afghanistan's nearly 18-year war.

With reporting by Reuters and TOLOnews

Swedish Aid Group Closes Afghan Health Centers After Taliban Threats

FILE: A hospital in the central Afghan province of Maidan Wardak.

A Swedish aid group says it has closed dozens of health centers it was operating in Afghanistan following threats by the Taliban.

Khalid Fahim, a program director for the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, which runs several aid projects, told RFE/RL that the charity had closed 42 health centers in the central province of Maidan Wardak.

Mohammad Nadir Nadiry, the head of the main hospital in the province, said all clinics in the province had been closed because "health workers are frightened."

Fahim said the decision followed a threat by the Taliban that came in response to a deadly night raid carried out by Afghan forces on a Swedish-run clinic that was treating Taliban fighters.

Human Rights Watch criticized Afghan special operations forces who, the group said, entered the clinic in Dai Mirdad district on the night of July 8-9, detaining staff and family members accompanying patients.

The rights group said Afghan forces "executed" a family caregiver, a lab worker, a guard, and another person caring for a patient.

A clinic run by the group in Maidan Wardak was attacked in 2016, allegedly by both international and Afghan forces. Two patients and a caretaker were killed in the incident.

The Swedish charity has been operating in Afghanistan for decades.

Roadside Bomb Kills 11 'On Way To Shrine' In South Afghanistan

FILE: Afghan men walk amidst sandals, mostly from victims of a bomb blast, strewn at the roadside on the outskirts of Kandahar city in August 2013.

Afghan officials say a roadside bomb has killed at least 11 people, including women and children riding in a truck in the southern province of Kandahar.

One local official suggested all of those killed were from a single family.

Some 35 other civilians were wounded in the explosion, which took place in Khakrez district in the afternoon on July 15, Ahmad Sadeq Essa, a deputy army spokesman in Kandahar, said.

Essa said the wounded were transferred to a medical facility at a nearby military base, while several people in critical condition were taken to hospitals in the provincial capital.

Yousof Younosi, a provincial council member, said all the victims were members of the same family and were on their way to a shrine.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast.

Younosi blamed Taliban militants, who often use roadside bombs against Afghan security forces and other targets.

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), explosives such as roadside bombs killed 53 civilians and left 269 others injured in the first three months of this year, marking a 21-percent increase from the same period last year.

The figures do not include casualties from suicide bombings, the report said.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa

Radio Journalist Killed In Eastern Afghanistan

FILE: An Afghan man looks at a vehicle damaged by a suicide attack in Gardez.

Afghan police say a radio journalist has been killed in the eastern province of Paktia.

The body of Nader Shah Sahibzada, a newsreader for Radio Gardez, was found on July 13, a day after he disappeared.

Police chief Mohammad Hosman Jahnbaz said it was not immediately clear if the killing was linked to his work or a personal dispute.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the killing.

The Taliban and the extremist group Islamic State have both attacked reporters in the past.

Afghanistan was the deadliest country for journalists worldwide last year, with at least 13 of them killedin relation to their work, according to the New York- based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Based on reporting by AP and Tolonews

Taliban Attacks Hotel In Northwestern Afghanistan, Killing At Least Three

FILE: An Afghan Nation Army (ANA) soldier keeps watch during an operation in Bala Morghab district of Badghis Province.

Taliban militants have attacked a hotel in northwestern Afghanistan, killing at least three police officers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nusrat Rahimi said at least three suicide bombers stormed a hotel in Qal-e Naw, the provincial capital of Badghis Province, around 12:30 p.m. on July 13.

He said the attackers opened fire at guests inside the hotel.

Rahimi said two of the attackers were killed in ongoing clashes with security forces.

Badghis Governor Abdul Ghafoor Malakzai gave a conflicting account, telling RFE/RL that there were four attackers. He said one had been killed, one captured, and two others were still holed up in the hotel.

Malakzai said besides the three dead police officers, two others were injured.

But Abdul Latif Rustahi, the head of the Badghis State Hospital, told RFE/RL that 16 people had been admitted to hospital, including 10 members of the security forces and six civilians, including a woman and two children.

Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL that the area was cordoned off by security forces.

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Yusef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the incident and said suicide bombers had stormed the hotel.

With reporting by Tolo News and AFP

U.S. Service Member Killed In Afghanistan

FILE: U.S. troops boarding a Chinook helicopter in the southern province of Kandahar.

The NATO-led Resolute Support mission said a U.S. service member was killed in Afghanistan on July 13.

A statement by did not provide any details surrounding the circumstances of the soldier’s death.

The statement also said the identity of the soldier would not be released until the family had been notified.

It brings the tally of U.S. service member deaths in Afghanistan to at least seven this year.

The U.S. military said two of its service members were killed in Afghanistan on June 26.

The United States began a fresh push last September to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table to end the nearly 18-year Afghan conflict -- the longest war in U.S. history.

The U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has held eight rounds of peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.

He described the latest round that ended on July 9 as the "most productive" ever.

Rashid Khan Named Afghan Cricket Captain After Disappointing World Cup

FILE: Rashid Khan (L) celebrates after taking a wicket in a Twenty20 cricket match.

The Afghan Cricket Board (ACB) has appointed 20-year-old leg spinner Rashid Khan as captain across all the major formats.

The board on July 12 also said that former captain Asghar Afghan will be Khan's deputy.

Afghanistan recently returned home after competing in the World Cup in England and Wales, where it finished last in the 10-team field, losing all nine of its matches.

Khan and another senior member of the team, Mohammad Nabi, had criticized the ACB after Asghar Afghan was replaced as captain by Gulbadin Naib just weeks before the start of the World Cup.

Khan, ranked the No. 5 all-rounder in one-day internationals (ODI) and No. 1 bowler in Twenty20 rankings, had a poor World Cup – taking only six wickets in eight matches at an average of 69.33.

"We all play as one team and play only for the country. Whatever I am today, is because of this country and this team," Khan said at a news conference announcing his appointment.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

Envoy: U.S. Not 'Cutting And Running' From Afghanistan

FILE: U.S. special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad.

The U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the United States is not "cutting and running" from the war-torn country as it negotiates a peace agreement with the Taliban.

Khalilzad's prerecorded video statement, shown at a conference held at Georgetown University in Washington on July 11, came two days after the Taliban and a delegation representing Afghan society agreed at talks in Qatar on a road map for a future political settlement in what was seen as a major step toward ending Afghanistan's nearly 18-year war.

"We would like to leave a very positive legacy here," Khalilzad said. "We are not cutting and running. We're not looking for a withdrawal agreement. We're looking for a peace agreement. And we're looking for a long-term relationship and partnership with Afghanistan."

Khalilzad has held eight rounds of peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, describing the latest round that ended on July 9 as the "most productive" ever.

In his video statement, Khalilzad said that "we have made substantial progress" on four key issues.

Those issues include the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, a permanent cease-fire, a Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for attacks in other countries, and an inter-Afghan dialogue that leads to a political settlement.

The Taliban has so far refused to hold direct negotiations with the Afghan government, although Khalilzad said he expected those to begin in the "near future."

Khalilzad departed for China on July 9 from where he said he would return to Washington.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

U.S. General: Premature Afghan Pullout Would Be ‘Strategic Mistake’

U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley (file photo)

A premature withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan would be "a strategic mistake," U.S. President Donald Trump's nominee to be the top military officer said on July 11.

General Mark Milley, currently the Army's chief of staff and nominee to head the joint chiefs of staff, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that he believed the war would eventually be brought to an end through a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.

He said that there was "some progress" in that effort.

Milley also said the U.S. should keep a "modest number" of forces in Iraq and Syria to maintain stability.

The United States and the Taliban continue negotiations on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in return for a commitment from the militants that Afghan territory will never again be used to launch terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies.

U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has described the latest round of talks with the militant group as the "most productive" yet.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

At Least 12 Dead In Afghan Suicide Bombing Claimed By Taliban

The attack in Ghazni targeted an office of the National Directorate of Security, but many of the victims were students attending a nearby school.

Afghan officials say at least 12 people have been killed and 179 others wounded in a suicide car-bombing in a crowded area in the city of Ghazni.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the July 7 attack that comes as representatives of the militant group are taking part in a two-day all-Afghan peace conference in Doha.

The attack in Ghazni targeted an office of the National Directorate of Security, but many of the victims were students attending a nearby school, said Hasan Raza Yousafi, a provincial council member.

Afghan Public Health Ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar told RFE/RL that 13 people who were in critical condition had been transferred to hospitals in the capital, Kabul.

It’s the second attack in Ghazni in two days.

At least two people were killed and some 20 others were wounded in a bomb blast inside the Mohammadiya mosque in Ghazni’s Khak-e-Ghariban area on July 6.

Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility for that attack.

With reporting by AP,, and Reuters

Bomb Blast In Afghan Mosque Kills At Least Two People

FILE: An Afghan man surveys the damaged caused by the a suicide bomb attack in Ghazni in May.

At least two people have been killed and some 20 others wounded in a bomb blast inside a Shi’ite mosque in the Afghan city of Ghazni, officials said on July 6.

The explosion occurred late on July 5 when the Mohammadiya mosque in Ghazni’s Khak-e-Ghariban area was packed with worshipers attending evening prayers, provincial governor’s spokesman Arif Noor said.

Up to 70 people were present at the time of the explosion, according to Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, the head of Ghazni provincial council, and councilor Amanullah Kamran.

The explosive device was thought to be planted ahead of the prayers.

Ghazni has recently been the scene of heavy clashes between government forces and Taliban militants.

However, the Taliban denied involvement in the mosque attack and condemned the bombing.

The officials from the provincial council suspected the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group was behind the attack.

IS, which has a limited presence in Ghazni, is also suspected by locals of destroying a shrine known as Shams Sahib in the west of the city in May.

In recent months, Ghazni police have arrested several people on suspicion of having links to IS.

With reporting by dpa,

Thousands Of Internally Displaced Afghans Return Home

A man distributes free food during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jalalabad on May 7.

More than 2,000 families who had left their villages in eastern Afghanistan amid military operations and militant attacks have returned home as the security situation improved, local authorities in the province of Nangarhar say.

Ataullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar, told RFE/RL that the internally displaced people returned to their villages in Bati Kot, Kot, Momand Dara, and Shinwar districts.

“In total, some 14,000 families have expressed willingness to come back to their homes,” Khogyani said late on July 4.

He said fighting in their villages forced the residents to flee to the provincial capital, Jalalabad, and neighboring provinces.

Both the Taliban and a local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State (IS) group remain active in Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The IS affiliate has carried out a string of suicide bombings and attacks on government offices, police, schools, and aid groups in Jalalabad since it first emerged in Nangarhar in 2015.

Trump Describes Afghanistan As 'Lab For Terrorists'

U.S. President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump has described Afghanistan as a "lab for terrorists," saying in a television interview that if the United States withdrew its military forces from the country, he would still leave a "very strong intelligence" presence behind.

"I call it the Harvard of terrorists," Trump said about Afghanistan and referring to the prestigious private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Trump made the remarks in an interview conducted during the weekend with Fox News that was broadcast on July 1.

The interview was recorded before a truck-bomb attack by Taliban fighters in Kabul on July 1 that killed at least six people and wounded 105.

It was broadcast after U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met on July 1 for a seventh round of peace talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar.

The focus of the talks has been a Taliban demand that foreign forces leave Afghanistan and a U.S. demand for a guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for attacks elsewhere.

Trump told Fox News he wanted to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

But he said he was concerned that without a U.S. military presence there, Afghanistan could be used as a base for terrorist attacks on the United States.

He described conversations he had with U.S. military officials who warned him it would be better to fight terrorists in Afghanistan than at home.

"'Sir, I'd rather attack them over there, than attack them in our land,'" Trump said one general had told him.

"It's something you always have to think about," Trump said about the general's remarks.

Based on reporting by Reuters, Fox News, and AP

U.S. Military: Two Service Members Killed In Afghanistan

FILE: U.S. troops boarding a Chinook helicopter in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

The U.S. military says two of its service members have been killed in Afghanistan.

A statement said the killings occurred on June 26, but it did not provide any details surrounding the circumstances of the deaths, which bring the tally of U.S. service member deaths in Afghanistan to at least six this year.

The death of the two service members came less than 24 hours after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a previously unannounced visit to the Afghan capital, Kabul, during which he said Washington was hopeful of a peace deal with the Taliban “before September 1.”

The United States began a fresh push last September to bring the militant group to the negotiating table to end the nearly 18-year Afghan conflict -- the longest war in U.S. history.

The U.S. envoy seeking a peace deal, Zalmay Khalilzad, has held six rounds of talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha. The next round is scheduled to begin on June 29.

The talks are expected to focus on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and on a Taliban guarantee that militants will not plot attacks from Afghan soil.

"All sides agree that finalizing a U.S.-Taliban understanding on terrorism and foreign troop presence will open the door to intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiation," Pompeo said.

About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are deployed in Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

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