The Taliban on Sept. 6 announced that they have taken the Panjshir Valley from the incipient National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA). In an audio statement from an undisclosed location, NRFA leader Ahamd Masoud pledged to carry on the fight, and called upon Afghans to launch a national uprising against the Taliban. Another NRFA leader, Fahmi Dashti, was reported killed in the battle for the Valley. News sources in India claimed he met his death in a targeted drone strike launched by Pakistan. (Khaama, NDTV, WION, WaPo)
As the Taliban, now in full control of Kabul, pledge an "inclusive" Afghan government in prepared press statements, deadly repression against anti-Taliban protesters is reported from the eastern city of Jalalabad. On Aug. 18, the day before Afghanistan's independence day, protesters took to the streets of Jalalabad waving the black, red and green national flag—and tearing down the white and black Tawhid flag of the Taliban. Witnesses said Taliban fighters fired on protesters indiscriminately, and at least three were killed. (Khaama, Khaama, Sky News, UNILAD, TOLO News) On Aug. 19, the day Afghanistan won full independence from Britain in 1919, a similar protest was held in Khost, where social media videos again show Taliban fighters firing on demonstrators. No casualties were reported, but the city has been placed under a 24-hour curfew. (AP, CNN, Latestly)
Taliban forces dramatically stepped up their rapid advance across Afghanistan over the past days, seizing 11 capitals of the country's 34 provinces. First, on Aug. 6, Zaranj, capital of Nimruz province in the southern Taliban heartland, fell to the insurgents. But then they switched the offensive to the north, taking Sheberghan, Jawzjan province; Sar-e-Pul and Kunduz, of their respective eponymous provinces; Taluqan, Takhar province; Aybak, Samangan province; Farah, Farah province; Pul-e-Khumri, Baghlan province; and Faizabad, Badakhshan province. Herat and Ghazni, a strategic southern gateway to the national capital Kabul, were the most recent to fall, on Aug. 12. The northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif is besieged, and India's military is mobilizing an airlift to evacuate the country's nationals there. Kandahar, back in the Taliban's southern heartland, is also the scene of heavy fighting, as is Lashkar Gah, capital of adjoining province of that name.
With a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan approaching but a final peace deal stalled, the White House is said to be considering an extension beyond this date for removal of its 2,500 troops remaining in the country. The Washington Post writes that the Biden administration "is likely to postpone a full withdrawal—potentially with Taliban acquiescence—to buy more time to advance a power-sharing proposal they hope can break an impasse in talks between the militants and the Afghan government."
The world is breathing a collective sigh of relief after General Services Administration chief Emily Murphy officially contacted the team of president-elect Joe Biden, marking the Trump administration's belated initiation of the transition process. However, the widespread portrayal that Trump has blinked and is accepting Biden's victory is highly questionable at best. Both Murphy's Nov. 23 letter and Trump's tweet about it state that the decision was Murphy's, taken unilaterally, and that Trump is continuing to contest the election results. Murphy was likely facing what she thought to be the inevitable—Michigan lawmakers had that same day resisted Trump pressure and certified Biden's win in the state, while Trump's legal team got laughed out of court in Pennsylvania. However, the team continues to appeal and is conceding nothing. So no, Trump may not have blinked. And if his Plan A of a judicial coup fails, he and his cabinet may now be preparing the hypothesized Plan B....
More than a year of US-Taliban negotiations bore formal fruit Feb. 29 with the signing in Doha of what is being called a "peace deal" by Washington's envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, named as leader of the Islamist group. The pact calls for the US to withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan in 14 months if the Taliban fulfills its commitments under the agreement. Afghanistan's government must release 5,000 Taliban prisoners before March 10, after which the "intra-Afghan" talks are to start, with the aim of negotiating a permanent ceasefire. The signing of the pact follows a one-week "Reduction in Violence" by the Taliban. (Khaama Press, NPR, Al Jazeera)
Trump's Israel-Palestine "peace" plan (sic), unveiled at the White House Jan. 29 in a joint press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, has been anointed by the media with the very Trumpian epithet "Deal of the Century"—although he appears not to have used that actual phrase. Trump boasted the plan, officially dubbed "Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People," as a "win-win solution for both sides" and a "realistic two-state solution." With typical bluster, he said: "Today, Israel takes a big step towards peace. I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems." Netanyahu went on Fox & Friends the next day to hail the scheme as an "opportunity of a lifetime for Israel and the Palestinians and for peace."
The utterly surreal news that Taliban leaders were invited to Camp David—a week before the 9-11 commemoration, no less!—will further fuel the perverse fantasy that Trump is a hippie pacifist. So it is almost comforting that the meeting was axed, and on the 9-11 commemoration in Washington, Trump was back to his blustering, bellicose self. "The last four days, we have hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before, and that will continue," he boasted. The Taliban responded in kind, releasing a statement saying that Trump "will soon regret" cancelling the peace talks. (Khaama Press, CBS)