All U.S. troops in Afghanistan should be “home by Christmas,” President Donald Trump said on Wednesday, just hours after his national security adviser said Washington would reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 2,500 by early next year. A landmark deal between the United States and the Taliban in February said foreign forces would leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban.
A violent flash flood killed more than 70 people and destroyed hundreds of homes just north of Afghanistan’s capital on Wednesday, officials said. The floods swept through Parwan province, which borders Kabul, in the early hours of the morning, washing away men, women and children and destroying 300 homes, according to Ministry of Disaster Management spokesman Tamim Azimi.
Afghanistan’s government has started releasing the last 400 Taliban prisoners, paving the way for long-delayed peace talks. Eighty prisoners were set free Thursday, officials said, some whose crimes include attacks on Afghans and foreigners. The release was a condition to begin negotiations to end 19 years of conflict in the country. Peace talks are expected to start in Qatar within days of the full release.
Afghanistan agreed on Sunday to release 400 Taliban prisoners, raising hopes that peace talks between the government and the Taliban can finally begin, following a peace deal the insurgents signed with the U.S. earlier this year. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he would sign the decree after a meeting of the council of elders, known as Loya Jirga, approved the Taliban’s demand to release the 400 prisoners.
Afghan security forces laid siege to a prison seized by Islamic State fighters in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Monday, with at least 24 people killed after the militants’ overnight assault led to a mass jailbreak. After detonating a car bomb at the entrance on Sunday evening, IS gunmen overran the prison where many IS militants captured during a campaign in the past month were being held, along with Taliban fighters and common criminals.
Gunmen disguised as police attacked a hospital in the Afghan capital Kabul on Tuesday, killing 16 people including two newborn babies from a maternity clinic run by the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders. In a separate attack the same day, a suicide bomber struck the funeral of a police commander, in the eastern province of Nangahar, killing at least 24 people and injuring 68.
The Taliban have rejected an Afghan government call for a ceasefire for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and to let authorities focus on tackling the coronavirus. Hopes for an end to Afghanistan’s decades of war were raised in late February when the Taliban and the United States struck a deal on the withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign forces in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced a $1 billion cut in U.S. aid to Afghanistan after he failed to convince Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political foe to end a feud that has helped jeopardize a U.S.-led peace effort. Pompeo’s statement came as he flew home from a fruitless day-long effort in Kabul to end competing claims to the presidency by Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah.
The US has started withdrawing troops from Afghanistan as part of a deal with the Taliban aimed at bringing peace to the country. The US agreed to reduce its troops from about 12,000 to 8,600 within 135 days of signing the agreement. Drawing back troops was a condition of the historic peace deal signed by the US and the Taliban on 29 February.
Two political rivals in Afghanistan – who both claim they won the presidential election – plan to hold inauguration ceremonies on Monday. Abdullah Abdullah said he would postpone his ceremony – but only if incumbent Ashraf Ghani followed suit. But Mr Ghani’s team said their inauguration would go ahead this afternoon, suggesting both ceremonies will still take place. Mr Ghani has been president since 2014. Afghanistan’s election commission said he won the election.