US to leave 8,400 troops in Afghanistan into 2017, 35 percent more than expected


The US will leave 8,400 troops through the end of the Obama administration, the president announced. Obama had planned to drop troop levels from 9,800 to 5,500 troops by the end of 2016. But the increase of Taliban attacks have intensified calls to leave more troops there.

“The security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious,” Obama said. The Afghan military still needs our help, the president added.

“It is in our national security interest, esp after all the blood and treasure we’ve invested over the years, that we give our partners in afghan the best chance to succeed.”

Flanked by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, Obama announced Washington’s new exit strategy from the White House’s Roosevelt Room on Wednesday. His remarks focused on the need for partnership between the US and Afghan militaries.



America’s combat mission in Afghanistan “came to a responsible end” a year and a half ago, Obama said. Forces there are now focused on “two narrow missions”: training and terrorism prevention. “But even these narrow missions continue to be dangerous.”

The US will leave 8,400 troops through the end of the Obama administration, the president announced. Obama had planned to drop troop levels from 9,800 to 5,500 troops by the end of 2016. But the increase of Taliban attacks have intensified calls to leave more troops there.

The security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious,” Obama said. The Afghan military still needs our help, the president added.

“It is in our national security interest, esp after all the blood and treasure we’ve invested over the years, that we give our partners in afghan the best chance to succeed.”



Sgt 1st Class Charles Martland, confirmed the Army’s decision to retain him when reached by Fox News, who has been covering the story in depth for the past eight months and first broke the story of the Army’s decision in August to kick out Martland over the incident, which occurred in northern Afghanistan in 2011.

“I am real thankful for being able to continue to serve,” said Martland when reached on the telephone by Fox News. “I appreciate everything Congressman Duncan Hunter and his Chief of Staff, Joe Kasper did for me.”

As first reported by Fox News, while deployed to Kunduz Province, Afghanistan, Martland and his team leader confronted a local police commander in 2011 accused of raping an Afghan boy and beating his mother. When the man laughed off the incident, they shoved him to the ground.

Peace talks with Taliban would resume within weeks: Afghan official


Afghan officials voiced optimism on Sunday that peace talks with the Taliban would resume “within weeks” even after the insurgents rebuffed calls for dialogue, with analysts dismissing their seemingly tough stance as a bargaining ploy.

Talks brokered by a four-country group were expected to start early this month, but the Taliban stressed on Saturday longstanding preconditions for dialogue including the departure of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Sunday he was “hopeful” about peace talks aimed at ending the Taliban’s 14-year insurgency, imploring the militant group to join the negotiating table.

“I say to the Taliban that you face a big historic test — either you stand with your countrymen or with the opposition,” Mr Ghani said in an address to the Afghan parliament. “Peace is the only way forward.”

A presidential palace official insisted that the peace process would resume. “The process may be delayed but the Taliban will show up for talks — this we are sure of,” the official said.

An official from the High Peace Council, the government body responsible for negotiating with the militants, said the Taliban were “within the sphere of influence” of the four-nation group.

Sartaj Aziz admits Pakistan housing Afghan Taliban leadership


Prime Minister’s senior aide Sartaj Aziz has said for the first time publicly that the Afghan Taliban’s leadership enjoys a safe haven inside Pakistan, which Islamabad uses as a “lever” to pressure the group into talks with Kabul.


The admission by Sartaj Aziz comes after years of official denials by Islamabad that it offers shelter or exerts any influence over the Taliban, whose 14-year-insurgency against Afghan and NATO forces has claimed tens of thousands of civilian and military lives.


Speaking at the Council on Foreign Affairs in Washington on Tuesday, he said: “We have some influence on them because their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities, their families are here.”


“So we can use those levers to pressurise them to say: ‘Come to the table’,” he added, according to a transcript on the think tank’s website.


The remarks confirm what has become an open secret in diplomatic circles, particularly since Pakistan began brokering direct peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban last summer. The negotiations faltered after Afghan intelligence leaked the news the group’s founder Mullah Omar had died in 2013.


The Taliban later confirmed they lied about Omar’s death for two years, sowing divisions among the militants and anger at his successor Mullah Akhtar Mansour for leading the cover-up.


Most of the group’s leaders are believed to be residing in the southwestern city of Quetta with others in northwest Peshawar and southern Karachi. Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and China held their fourth round of talks aimed at reviving direct peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban late last month.


The four-country group invited Taliban representatives to return to negotiations by the first week of March, though a spokesperson for the militants later said they had not yet received an invitation.


Aziz said Islamabad had used the threat of expulsion to force the Taliban into the first round of talks.


“We already — before the July 7th meeting last year — we had to use some of these levers and restricted their movements, restricted their access to hospital and other facilities, and threatened them that if you do not come forward and talk, then obviously we will at least expel you,” he said.

Afghan Taliban Refuse Peace Talks With Government

The Taliban said Saturday they will not participate in a peace process with the Afghan government until foreign forces stop attacking their positions and leave the country.

A statement emailed to The Associated Press by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents “reject” peace talks and that reports of their participation were “rumors.”

Face-to-face talks were expected to take place in Pakistan in early March, but Afghan officials said in recent days that they have been postponed for at least a week. Senior government officials had characterized the meeting as the first real step in a peace process aimed at ending the war, now in its 15th year.

Javid Faisal, a spokesman for Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, said the government “has no problem holding the first round of direct peace talks.”

The Taliban have meanwhile accused the United States of boosting troop numbers and carrying out airstrikes and night raids on residential compounds. They also accuse Afghan forces of stepping up operations.

Mujahid said the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, had not given any order to take part in talks and that the “leadership council of the Islamic Emirate” had not discussed the matter.

Taliban reject invite to Afghanistan peace talks

The Taliban are invited to the negotiating table, but they aren’t coming.

The Islamist militant group made that clear Saturday, refuting reports that it would send representatives to upcoming talks involving the Afghan government, Pakistan, the United States and China in the Pakistani city of Islamabad.

“We reject all such rumors and unequivocally state that the esteemed leader of the Islamic Emirate has not authorized anyone to participate in this meeting, and neither has the Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate decided to partake in it,” the Taliban said, using another name for itself.

The announcement appears to be a significant blow to the peace talks and is a reversal from what the Taliban reportedly have done in the past.

Taliban representatives met with their Afghan government counterparts, as well as with U.S. and Chinese officials, last summer in Pakistan, officials said.

But just weeks later, the Taliban’s reported new leader (Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour) deniedin an audio message that his Sunni Islamist group was trying to work toward peace with Afghanistan’s government.

Such pronouncements haven’t stopped other parties from talking, or from trying to include the Taliban.

After conversations in Kabul on February 23, the Afghan government sent out a news release noting President Ashraf Ghani’s “strong commitment … for peace and reconciliation with Taliban groups and Hezbi Islami Hekmatyar,” the latter being another nationalist militant group.

Characterizing it as a “national priority,” Ghani called “on the Taliban and other groups to join early direct talks with the government of Afghanistan.”

And the Afghanistan, Pakistani, Chinese and U.S. governments together “invite(d) all Taliban and other groups to participate … in the first round of direct peace talks” slated for early March in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Taliban Militants Cast Doubt on Peace Talks With Afghan Government


Afghanistan’s Taliban militants are casting further doubt on prospects for peace talks with the Kabul government.

In a Pashto language statement given Saturday to VOA, the Taliban said their leadership had not yet decided to engage in talks with Kabul. They said they believed talks could not be productive until all foreign forces had left Afghanistan, sanctions on insurgent leaders had been removed and Taliban prisoners had been freed.

The statement said U.S. night raids in Afghanistan were continuing. It added that fresh American forces had been deployed to the battlefield and that Afghan forces had also intensified their operations. The Taliban said that in the light of those developments, peace talks would be meaningless.

Taliban conflict: Militants refuse fresh Afghan peace talks


Direct talks were expected to begin in Pakistan next week between the Taliban and Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US.

The Taliban have been waging an insurgency against the Afghan government since being ousted in 2001.

Talks between the two have been on hold since last year.

The Quadrilateral Coordination Group, made up of representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US, had insisted in February that talks would take place in early March.

But in a statement released on Saturday, the group rejected those reports.

“We reject all such rumours and unequivocally state that the leader of Islamic Emirate has not authorised anyone to participate in this meeting,” the group said in a statement.

“(Islamic Emirate) once again reiterates that unless the occupation of Afghanistan is ended, black lists eliminated and innocent prisoners freed, such futile misleading negotiations will not bear any result”, the statement added.

Austria: 18-year-old Afghan asylum seeker sentenced to 20 months in prison for anal rape of 72-year-old woman


On Wednesday at the State Court in Vienna’s Neustadt an 18-year-old Afghan was sentenced to 20 months in prison without parole for rape. He also has to pay 5000 euros compensation to the 72-year-old woman, who has been very marked by the attack.

The incident on 1 September last year created a sensation: the penioner was walking her old dog in the Schwechat meadow near Traiskirchen in Lower Austria, when she encountered two young asylum seekers swimming in the river. According to an acquaintance of the victim in the witness stand, the boys were “also very nice” at first, they even helped the woman over an embankment. “But then one them fell upon her from behind.”

What exactly happened that afternoon in the meadow that is much loved by pet-owners, we did not learn at the trial, because the public was excluded during the testimony of the victim and the accused.

However, DNA traces confirmed that the pensioner was anally raped. The then 17-year-old Afghan was quickly caught. He does not dispute the crime, but says he was drunk. His friend says he wasn’t aware of the rape.