Taliban Aim To Sign Deal With US By End Of January – Report

 

The Taliban are aiming to reach a withdrawal agreement with the US by the end of January and are prepared to “scale down” military operations ahead of signing the deal, according to their chief spokesman.

The statement by Suhail Shaheen to Pakistani daily Dawn comes as the group and the US held discussions in Doha this week after insurgent sources told AFP they had offered to initiate a brief ceasefire.

“We have agreed to scale down military operations in days leading up to the signing of the peace agreement with the United States,” Shaheen told Dawn in a report published Saturday.

He added that the Taliban were “optimistic” a deal with Washington could be signed before the end of the month and that the reduction in fighting across the country would also include the targeting of Afghan forces.

“It’s now a matter of days,” said the spokesman.

Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence, posing it as a condition for resuming formal negotiations on an agreement that would see US troops begin to leave the country in return for security guarantees, after a near two-decade fight.

The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year and were on the brink of an announcement in September 2019 when President Donald Trump abruptly declared the process “dead”, citing Taliban violence.

Talks were later restarted between the two sides in December in Qatar but were paused again following an attack near the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, which is run by the US.

Any agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars — an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a commitment by the insurgents not to offer sanctuary to jihadists — and would ultimately have to be given final approval by Trump.

The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was the main reason cited for the US invasion more than 18 years ago.

A deal would hopefully pave the way for intra-Afghan talks.

Many observers agree that the war can no longer be won militarily and that the only route to a lasting peace in Afghanistan is for an agreement between the Taliban and the US-backed government in Kabul.

The Taliban have until now refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime, raising fears that fighting will continue regardless of any deal ironed out with the Americans.

US Wants To Reduce Military Presence In Africa – Top Officer

(L-R) Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley arrive for briefing with members of the U.S. House of Representatives about the situation with Iran, at the U.S. Capitol on January 8, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

 

The United States wants to reduce its military presence in Africa, Washington’s top military officer said, as France hosts Sahel leaders as it seeks to bolster the fight against jihadists in the region.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said resources “could be reduced and then shifted, either to increase readiness of the force in the continental US or shifted to” the Pacific.

His comments came as he flew in for talks with NATO counterparts in Brussels.

The announcement follows President Donald Trump’s call last week for NATO to do more in the Middle East and comes as French President Emmanuel Macron gathers his counterparts from Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania.

Milley said his boss, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, had not made up his mind what changes to make.

“We’re developing options for the secretary to consider, and we are developing those options in coordination with our allies and partners,” Milley said.

After 13 French soldiers were killed in a helicopter collision in Mali last month, Macron wants the Sahel leaders to publicly restate their support for France’s 4,500-strong military presence, after local demonstrations against it.

The United States wants to reduce the number of its troops deployed across Africa over the next few years to focus more on responding to the threats posed by Russia and China.

Washington has some 7,000 special forces on rotation in Africa carrying out joint operations with national forces against jihadists, particularly in Somalia.

Another 2,000 soldiers are conducting training missions in some 40 African countries and taking part in cooperative operations, in particular with France’s Operation Barkhane in Mali, to which they provide mainly logistical assistance.

French concerns

One option would be to close a drone base in Agadez, northern Niger, which gives the US a major surveillance platform in the Sahel but has been estimated to cost around $100 million.

Milley said no decisions had been made yet and insisted Washington was not pulling out of Africa completely. “Economy of forces does not mean zero,” he said.

French officials are nevertheless alarmed, with a presidency source saying the US made “irreplaceable” contributions to Sahel operations — particularly in surveillance and air-to-air refuelling.

“We would not be able to get these from other partners, especially when it comes to intelligence,” the presidency official said. Paris would be sharing its concerns with the US “at all levels”, the source added.

NATO military chiefs will use this week’s meeting to debate the future of the alliance’s training mission in Iraq, suspended over security fears after the US killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad.

The Iraqi parliament voted on January 5 to oust foreign forces, including some 5,200 American troops, who have helped local troops beat back the Islamic State group, angering Trump and throwing international operations there in doubt.

“I can’t guarantee anything about the future and I don’t make the policy decisions,” Milley said.

“I can just say what our current policy is and what our current plans are. And my current guidance from the secretary of defense and the president is that we will stay in Iraq.”

 

AFP

‘Revenge, Revenge’: Black-Clad Iranians Mourn General Killed By US

 

 

Black-clad mourners packed Iran’s second city Mashhad on Sunday as the remains of top general Qasem Soleimani were paraded through the streets after he was killed in a US strike.

“Iran’s wearing black, revenge, revenge,” they chanted as darkness fell and they followed a truck carrying Soleimani’s coffin towards the floodlit Imam Reza shrine.

The mourners threw scarves onto the roof of the truck so that they could be blessed by the “blood of the martyr”.

Soleimani, who spearheaded Iran’s Middle East operations as commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was killed in a US drone strike Friday near Baghdad airport. He was 62.

The attack was ordered by President Donald Trump, who said the Quds commander had been planning an “imminent” attack on US diplomats and forces in Iraq.

Soleimani’s remains had been returned before dawn to the southwestern city of Ahvaz, where the air resonated with Shiite chants and shouts of “Death to America” during a procession.

People held aloft portraits of Soleimani, one of the country’s most popular public figures who is seen as a hero of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

The “million-man” turnout in Mashhad, northeastern Iran, forced the cancellation of a Sunday night ceremony in Tehran, said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who urged citizens instead to attend a memorial Monday at Tehran University.

In the face of growing Iraqi anger over the strike, the country’s parliament Sunday urged the government to oust the roughly 5,200 American troops in Iraq.

Soleimani’s assassination ratcheted up tensions between arch-enemies Tehran and Washington and sparked fears of a new Middle East war.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “severe revenge” and declared three days of mourning.

Late Saturday Trump warned that America would target 52 sites “important to Iran & Iranian culture” and hit them “very fast and very hard” if American personnel or assets were attacked.

‘Terrorist in a suit’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that “targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME”.

Iran’s army chief said Trump’s threat was an attempt to distract the world from Soleimani’s “unjustifiable” assassination.

“I doubt they have the courage to initiate” a conflict, said Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi.

Iran’s communications minister, Mohammad Javad Jahromi, branded Trump a “terrorist in a suit” in a Twitter post.

Khamenei’s military adviser, Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan, told CNN that Iran’s response to the assassination “for sure will be military and against military sites”.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted there was a “real likelihood” of an Iranian attack on US soldiers, warning however “it would be a big mistake”.

In Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, insisted the “price” for Soleimani’s killing would be attacks on “US military bases, US warships, each and every officer and soldier in the region”.

US-Iran tensions escalated in 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from a landmark accord that gave Tehran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

A year on, Iran began hitting back by reducing its nuclear commitments with a series of steps every 60 days, the most recent deadline passing on Saturday.

Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Tehran would finalise the fifth step in a meeting on Sunday night, noting the nature of its move was altered by Soleimani’s killing.

In Tehran, deputies chanted “Death to America” for a few minutes during a regular session of parliament.

“Trump, this is the voice of the Iranian nation, listen,” said speaker Ali Larijani.

Soleimani’s remains and those of five other Iranians — all Guards members — killed in the US drone strike had arrived at Ahvaz airport before dawn, semi-official news agency ISNA said.

With them were the remains of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary umbrella group, who was also killed in the strike.

Soleimani’s remains are due to be flown to the capital, where Khamenei is expected to pray over them at Tehran University on Monday before a procession to Azadi Square.

They will then be taken to the holy city of Qom for a ceremony at Masumeh shrine, ahead of a funeral Tuesday in his hometown Kerman.

Cyber attack

In neighbouring Iraq, pro-Iran factions ramped up pressure on US installations with missiles and warnings to Iraq’s troops late Saturday.

In the first hints of a possible retaliatory response, two mortar rounds struck Saturday near the US embassy in Baghdad, security sources said.

Almost simultaneously, two rockets slammed into the Al-Balad airbase where American troops are deployed.

Iraq said there were no casualties. The US military also said no coalition troops were hurt.

In another possible act of retaliation, hackers claiming to be from Iran breached the website of a little-known US government agency and threatened more cyber attacks.

Iran Cancels Soleimani Ceremony In Tehran After Huge Turnout In Second City

 

Iran has cancelled a Tehran ceremony on Sunday night to honour slain general Qasem Soleimani due to an overwhelming turnout by mourners in second city Mashhad, the Revolutionary Guards said.

“Considering the glorious, intense and million-man presence of the revolutionary people of Mashhad in the ceremony to bid farewell to Islam and Iran’s great general Qasem Soleimani and since the program is still continuing… it is not possible to hold the event in Tehran,” the Guards said.

The statement called on people to attend a ceremony scheduled to take place at Tehran University on Monday.

Erdogan Says Turkish Soldiers Are Deploying To Libya

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan / AFP

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said Turkish soldiers had begun deploying to Libya after parliament approved such a move last week.

“Our soldiers’ duty there is coordination. They will develop the operation centre there. Our soldiers are gradually going right now,” he told CNN Turk broadcaster during an interview.

The Turkish parliament passed a bill allowing the government to send troops to Libya aimed at shoring up the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.

The Tripoli government has come under sustained attack since military strongman general Khalifa Haftar launched his offensive in April.

Haftar is backed by Turkey’s regional rivals, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, while the UN-backed government has the support of Ankara and its ally Qatar.

Erdogan said Turkey’s objective was “not to fight”, but “to support the legitimate government and avoid a humanitarian tragedy”.

Turkey’s move comes after the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord made a formal request for military support.

Libya and Turkey signed security and maritime agreements in November last year, angering Mediterranean countries including Greece and Cyprus who also seek to exploit energy resources in the region.

‘Nigeria Is Not At War,’ Buhari Explains Rationale Behind Planned Troops Withdrawal

A file photo of President Muhammadu Buhari.

 

 

Four days after the Federal Government says the Nigerian Military will be withdrawing troops from some parts of the country, the President has explained why the decision was taken.

President Muhammadu Buhari, in a statement on Friday, clarified the government’s decision, saying there was no cause for alarm.

He believes the nation is not at war and, therefore, the military would withdraw some of the troops in parts of the country.

READ ALSO: Military To Withdraw Troops From Parts Of Nigeria In 2020

The President assured Nigerians, especially those living in areas where there were security challenges that the government would not forsake them.

“You don’t need to worry. We will not expose our people and their communities to harm or danger,” he was quoted as saying in a statement by his spokesman, Garba Shehu.

He added, “The withdrawal is to allow the military focus on its primary duty of defending the nation against external aggression. It is the duty of the police to handle internal security since Nigeria is not at war.

“The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps will support the police to provide internal security. When it is time to withdraw, nothing will be rushed.”

 

A Careful Pullout

According to the statement, President Buhari was reacting to concerns and appeals from governors and community leaders over the proposed withdrawal.

He stressed that his “administration will not abandon citizens in need of protection.”

The President reassured Nigerians that withdrawal of the military from areas where peace had been restored would not be done in a manner that would expose communities to more risks of attacks.

He explained that the withdraw exercise would be gradual and carefully planned, not abrupt or arbitrary to jeopardise the success already recorded by the military.

President Buhari, however, urged public affairs analysts and others to carefully study the statement following the Security Council meeting with the nation’s Service Chiefs.

The withdrawal of troops, according to him, will be done after an “assessment” to determine areas where peace had returned to enable civil authorities assume full control.

President Buhari where it was determined that the withdrawal would not in any way jeopardise peace already achieved, the military pullout would be in a careful and gradual way.

Following the security meeting held on Monday, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, had announced the plan to withdraw troops during a briefing with State House correspondents in Abuja.

He noted that the withdrawals would be done only after an assessment of the situation on the ground.

The naval chief conceded that the activities of insurgents in the North East was a concern but gave the assurance that the military would comply with the President’s directive to intensify efforts in 2020.

Military To Withdraw Troops From Parts Of Nigeria In 2020

A file photo of a soldier sitting on a military truck in the Mpape area of Abuja on December 28, 2019. PHOTO: Channels TV/ Sodiq Adelakun.

 

 

With effect from the first quarter of 2020, the Nigerian Military will be withdrawing troops from some parts of the country.

The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, disclosed this to State House correspondents at the end of the security meeting which held on Monday in Abuja.

He explained that the withdrawal was to enable civil authorities to take over the duties of ensuring the security of lives and property in such places.

The naval chief, however, noted that the withdrawals would be done only after an assessment of the situation on the ground.

He conceded that the recent activities of insurgents in the North East was a concern but gave the assurance that the military would comply with the President’s directive to intensify efforts in the coming year.

READ ALSO: FG Puts Debt Stock At $83bn, Says Nigeria Not In Trouble

Ibas was also confident that the military would soon take possession of some equipment that would enable it to react more promptly to any situation of any security breach in the country.

He spoke to reporters after the Service Chiefs briefed President Muhammadu Buhari on the security situation in the country.

The Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (rtd), led the services chiefs to the meeting.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, was absent but a senior officer of the Nigerian Army sat in his place.

Those present include the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin; and the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar.

Others are the Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu; and Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mr Yusuf Bichi, among others.

Government officials also present were the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha; and the National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno.

See photos from the meeting below:

IS Claims Responsibility For Deadly Niger Attack

 

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for an attack on a military camp in Niger which left 71 military personnel dead, the SITE intelligence group said Thursday.

“The Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) claimed credit for the deadly raid on the Inates military base in Niger,” SITE, which monitors jihadist media, said in a statement. It added that ISWAP said it had killed “over a hundred soldiers”.

Tuesday’s attack in Inates in the western Tillaberi region was the deadliest on Niger’s military since the country’s Islamist militant violence began in 2015.

AFP

The Military That Conquered Nigeria In 1966 Still In Effective Control – Opadokun

 

 

Elder statesman Ayo Opadokun has faulted governance in Nigeria following the recent development in the country.

Opadokun, a prominent activist of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), gave his view on the journey, challenges, and future of human rights of the Nigerian people during his appearance on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily.

He believes the effect of the military is still evident in the governance of the country, despite 20 years since the return to civilian rule.

“We don’t have democracy, what we have is civilian governance. The totality of the thing is that the military that conquered Nigeria in 1966, they are still in effective control,” Opadokun said on Thursday.

The elder statesman added, “Nigeria has been so pauperised by the prolonged military dictatorship and you will have elements who are not well-meaning, I dare say, who will tell us you now have 20 years of so-called democracy, I don’t share that.”

Elder statesman, Ayo Opadokun.

 

[READ ALSO] Rights Violation: We Are Not Answerable To You, Nigerian Govt Tells UK, US, EU

He stressed the need for Nigerians to hold their leaders accountable for their actions and remind them always that they won’t be in office forever.

 

Fight For Your Rights

The elder statesman recalled how some democrats in the country under the aegis of NADECO fought the battle to return Nigeria back to the civilian rule.

According to him, this was not achieved overnight and a lot of prices were paid while some members of the coalition were forced to go on exile.

Opadokun, however, called on Nigerians to take their stand and live up to their responsibility of making their voices heard when they notice any wrongdoing by the government.

He said, “Nigerians have stopped realising the fact that every day of your life, you must fight for your rights. The day you stop fighting for your rights, those who are misgoverning will continue to seize the moments out of you, to supress you.

“It is a life struggle. It is as if election is everything; election is not everything. Nigerians are not ready to take their destinies into their hands, to make sure and enforce the attitude of those who are in governance to be responsible, to be responsive to the yearning and aspirations of the people.”

“They (the leaders) are there for a time and they must perform in accordance to the promise that they made to the people, they are not doing that,” the elder statesman added.

US Navy Defies Trump, Proceeds In Effort To Expel SEAL

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 21, 2019 Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher walks into military court in San Diego, California. SANDY HUFFAKER / AFP.

 

The US Navy will proceed in its effort to oust a member of its elite SEAL commando unit, an official said Saturday, defying the wishes of President Donald Trump.

Edward Gallagher had been accused of war crimes in a high-profile case but was found guilty only of a lesser offense. On November 15, Trump reversed the demotion handed down to the 40-year-old under his conviction.

The Navy this week launched a procedure under which a peer review board could strip him and three other members of his unit of their Trident pins — effectively booting them from the SEALs.

READ ALSO: US Vice President Visits Troops In Iraq

A rankled Trump declared on Twitter on Thursday that “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin.”

On Saturday, however, a senior Pentagon official who requested anonymity in order to speak freely said the “peer review board is proceeding.”

Whether Gallagher can remain in the unit or not will be determined by a panel of Navy SEAL officers that is set to convene in December.

The move came as multiple US news outlets reported that Navy Secretary Richard Spencer had threatened to resign over the affair, a claim he sharply denied.

“Contrary to popular belief, I am still here. I did not threaten to resign,” Spencer said, speaking at a forum in Halifax, Canada.

The US Navy chief said he did not consider Trump’s tweet to be a formal order.

“I need a formal order to act,” Spencer told reporters on the sidelines of the forum.

According to the US Constitution, the president is the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces.

Gallagher, a 15-year Navy SEAL, had been accused in the stabbing death of a wounded Islamic State prisoner in Iraq in 2017, attempted murder of other civilians and obstruction of justice.

In July, he was acquitted of charges related to those accusations, but was convicted of a lesser charge — posing with the slain fighter’s body in a group picture with other SEALs.

As a result, he was demoted one rank, from chief petty officer to petty officer first class.

Gallagher’s case had been championed by Fox News, which the president follows closely.

Britain’s Top General Warns Of ‘Reckless’ Russia Threat

 

Britain’s top military adviser accused Russia on Sunday of “reckless” behaviour that violated international norms and risked sparking a war.

Chief of Defence Staff General Nick Carter said Moscow was operating in a “grey zone” that weaponised information and used unattributable proxies in conflicts.

He pointed to covert operations by the Wagner Group — a private army the Kremlin denies funding — in Syria and Africa as well as disinformation campaigns as two types of new threats.

READ ALSO: Spain Votes In Repeat General Election Amid Catalonia Tensions

“Russia is much more assertive than it was 10 years ago. It’s got some self-confidence now as it reasserts itself as a global power,” Carter told BBC television.

“Cyber is part of that, what happens in space is part of that, disinformation, subversion, manipulation, assassinations, and of course the use of mercenaries, which are very easily undeclared and non-attributable,” he said.

“Reckless behaviour and the lack of respect for international law relating to these new types of ‘weapons’ risks escalation that could easily lead to inadvertent miscalculation,” Carter separately wrote in The Sunday Telegraph.

Russian President Vladimir Putin flatly denies the Kremlin’s involvement in cyber and ground operations that Western intelligence agencies and analysts pin on Moscow.

But Carter said this “deniability” is a tactic now being perfected by Britain’s main foes.

His media appearances are timed to remind Britons of the challenges they still face on Remembrance Sunday — the day the country honours those who fought and died in World War I and subsequent conflicts.

It also comes with US President Donald Trump wavering on Washington’s commitment to the NATO military alliance and French President Emmanuel Macron promoting the idea of a European army.

Britain wants to preserve NATO as it prepares to leave the European Union after nearly 50 years.

“I have seen absolutely no evidence of any military planning to suggest that we are going to have a European army, and no declaration to that end has been made,” Carter told the BBC.

Military Hands Over 86 Boko Haram Child Fighters To Borno Govt

 

The Operation Safe Corridor (OPSC) has handed over 86 Boko Haram child fighters who voluntarily surrendered to troops of Operation Lafiya Dole to the Borno State Rehabilitation Centre in Bulumkutu.

The Acting Director of Defence Information, Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu, disclosed this in a statement forwarded to Channels Television on Thursday.

He explained that this was in an effort to ensure that minors and other repentant Boko Haram fighters in the North East were given the necessary support and opportunity to embrace peace through the auspices of OPSC.

“Following the handover, the repentant child fighters would undergo comprehensive Child Care Programme sponsored and organised by United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in conjunction with Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development,” he said.

According to Nwachukwu, the handover ceremony was witnessed by the Borno State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Zuwaira Gambo, and a UNICEF official, Mr Clement Adams, among others.

Gambo and Adams congratulated the repentant children for laying down their arms and urged them to take advantage of the Deradicalisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DRR) programme to turn a new leaf and abandon the senseless struggle.

 

The spokesman for the Defence Headquarters noted that the minors were considered suitable for the six months DRR programme after thorough profiling and screening.

He also revealed that arrangement was ongoing to transfer another set of 500 repentant insurgents to OPSC for the programme.

OPSC is a military-led non-kinetic multi-national and multi-agency humanitarian operation conducted in tandem with extant international humanitarian laws to encourage willing and repentant Boko Haram terrorists in the North East to shun violent extremism.

It is designed to also deradicalise, rehabilitate and reintegrate repentant Boko Haram combatants who willingly surrender to troops.

The operation, according to Nwachukwu, is a global model that enjoys collaboration and support from local and international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), as well as multi-national organisations such as UNICEF, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Department for International Development (DFID), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), and North East Regional Initiative (NERI).

He conveyed the call by the military to willing Boko Haram insurgents to abandon the “futile struggle” and surrender to troops of Operation Lafiya Dole.

The DHQ spokesman gave assurance that those who voluntarily surrender to troops would be guaranteed safety and benefit from the DRR programme.

He said the military remains committed to strict adherence to the rules of engagement and other extant laws, especially as it relates to minors in conflict situations.