Afghan National Army soldiers keep watch outside of a military compound after a car bomb blast on the outskirts of Ghazni city. File/Reuters
Gulf Today Report
A senior US military official with knowledge of the region said on Monday that Iran may try to take advantage of America's troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the planned departure of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz from the Persian Gulf.
The US pulled back on air strikes after striking a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020. But the Afghan Armed Forces stepped up their own as they entered talks with the rebels.
According to a report on Monday deaths of Afghan civilians in air strikes jumped from 2017 after the United States loosened its criteria and escalated attacks on the Taliban.
Neta C. Crawford, co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University, said the number of civilians killed annually in US and coalition air strikes soared by 330 per cent to some 700 civilians in 2019.
While total deaths from air strikes has fallen, attacks are now coming from Kabul’s forces, and have accelerated in recent months.
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The Afghan Air Force, Crawford wrote, is now “harming more Afghan civilians than at any time in its history.”
She said that in the first six months of 2020, 86 Afghan civilians were killed and 103 injured in AAF air strikes.
In the three subsequent months, as Afghan-Taliban talks continued in Doha, the toll intensified, with 70 civilians killed and 90 injured.
She urged a negotiated ceasefire while the two sides discuss a deal, to avoid more civilian injuries.
But with the United States accelerating its drawdown of troops, some worry that the Taliban could take advantage to further pressure Kabul’s forces, sparking reprisals.
“Unless there is a ceasefire, both sides will continue trying to gain a tactical advantage while negotiations are underway. The toll on civilian lives is likely to increase,” Crawford wrote.
The two Afghan sides got bogged down on procedures for weeks but in December they reached an agreement on the process, clearing the way for them to get down to the issues when they resume their negotiations on Tuesday.
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad showed the draft of the deal to the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, earlier this week, saying it only needs President Donald Trump's approval.
The move, days after US President Donald Trump cancelled a planned meeting with Taliban leaders at his Camp David retreat, came as the movement looks to bolster regional support, with visits also planned for China, Iran and Central Asian states.
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