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US conducts first air strike against Taliban since peace deal

The United States has carried out an air raid against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, a US forces spokesman said a day after President Donald Trump spoke to a senior Taliban leader by phone. “The US conducted an air strike on March 4 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an ANDSF…

US conducts first air strike against Taliban since peace deal

The United States has carried out an air raid against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, a US forces spokesman said a day after President Donald Trump spoke to a senior Taliban leader by phone.
“The US conducted an air strike on March 4 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an ANDSF [Afghan National Defence and Security Forces] checkpoint,” said Colonel Sonny Leggett in a tweet on Wednesday, adding that it was a “defensive strike”.
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The raid, the first against the Taliban in 11 days, comes days after the US and Taliban signed a deal aimed at ending the nearly 19-year-old war in Afghanistan – the US’s longest.
The Taliban leadership promised the international community it would reduce violence, Leggett said, referring to the deal signed in the Qatari capital, Doha, on February 29.
He said, however, the US was committed to peace but called on the Taliban to stop “needless attacks” and uphold their commitments.
According to Leggett, Taliban fighters had carried out 43 attacks on checkpoints in Helmand on Tuesday.
“In the past two days we have witnessed the most intense Taliban attacks in Helmand,” Provincial police spokesman Mohammad Zaman Hamdard told AFP news agency:
“They have attacked several districts and many military bases,” he added.

The Taliban had, earlier on Wednesday, killed at least 20 Afghan soldiers and policemen in a string of overnight attacks, government officials told AFP news agency.
“Taliban fighters attacked at least three army outposts in Imam Sahib district of Kunduz last night, killing at least 10 soldiers and four police,” a member of the provincial council, Safiullah Amiri, said.
The Taliban also attacked police in central Uruzgan province on Tuesday night.
The violence has cast a pall on the nascent Afghan peace process, with the armed group clashing with Kabul over a prisoner exchange dispute before talks that are due to begin on March 10.
‘Very good talk’
The agreement in Doha, which was finalised after more than a year and a half of negotiations, paves the way for the withdrawal of all US and NATO troops from Afghanistan and a commitment by the Taliban that Afghan territory will not be used to launch attacks on other countries.
President Trump on Tuesday said he held a “very good talk” with a Taliban leader in what may be the first direct discussion between a US leader and a senior Taliban official.
Taliban’s chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and Trump held a 35-minute telephone call, a Taliban spokesman said, with Trump later confirming the call to reporters at the White House.
In an emailed statement later, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Trump told Baradar that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would soon speak to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani “so that the barriers against the inter-Afghan talks get removed”.
At least three people were killed on Monday in a football stadium blast in Khost province after President Ghani rejected prisoner swap deal that would see the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
The Taliban has said it will not begin talks with the Afghan government as envisaged in the agreement until the prisoner release takes place.
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission expressed concern about the prisoner release in a letter to US officials, the Taliban and the Afghan government.
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China

China conducts more exercises near Taiwan as US official visits |NationalTribune.com

China said on Friday it is conducting military exercises near the Taiwan Strait, as the most senior official from the United States’ State Department to visit Taiwan in 40 years prepared to meet the island’s president. Defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang told reporters the live-fire drills were in response to the “current situation” and designed to…

China conducts more exercises near Taiwan as US official visits |NationalTribune.com

China said on Friday it is conducting military exercises near the Taiwan Strait, as the most senior official from the United States’ State Department to visit Taiwan in 40 years prepared to meet the island’s president.
Defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang told reporters the live-fire drills were in response to the “current situation” and designed to safeguard China’s “national sovereignty”.
Beijing claims Taiwan as its own and has been alarmed by the increasing willingness of the US to defy China’s attempts to isolate the democratically-ruled island. Last week, it held two days of mass air and sea drills.
Keith Krach, under secretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, arrived on the self-ruled island on Thursday and is due to attend a dinner with President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday evening. He will also go to a memorial service for Taiwan’s former president Lee Teng-hui on Saturday.
Ren gave few more details about the drills, which he said began in the Taiwan Strait on Friday and involved the People’s Liberation Army’s eastern theatre command.

PLA’s Eastern Theater Command conducts a live-fire drill in the Taiwan Strait starting from Friday, Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Ren Guoqiang said Fri, adding that the action is necessary to safeguard national sovereignty due to the current situation in the region. pic.twitter.com/lTOT6Q6WXi
— People’s Daily, China (@PDChina) September 18, 2020

“They are a reasonable, necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ren said, adding that Taiwan was an internal Chinese affair.
“Recently the United States and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities have stepped up their collusion, frequently creating disturbances,” Ren said, referring to Taiwan’s ruling party.
When US Health Secretary Alex Azar visited the island last month, Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait.

Keith Krach, the US under secretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, who arrived in Taiwan on Thursday, is due to meet President Tsai Ing-wen in a visit that has angered China [Pei Chen/ AFP]

Krach’s visit was swiftly condemned by China, which baulks at any recognition of Taiwan and has mounted a decades-long policy designed to marginalise the island on the diplomatic stage, which has intensified since Tsai first won office in 2016. She was returned for a second term in a landslide election in January.
‘Lawless bully’
Announcing the trip, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the visit was to “honour President Lee’s legacy” and stressed “shared political and economic values”. 
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Krach, who is accompanied by assistant secretary Robert Destro, would also discuss “how to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation” during his three-day visit.
It described him as the highest-ranking State Department official to visit Taiwan since 1979, when Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei. 
The United States, like most countries, only has official diplomatic ties with China, but it is Taiwan’s main arms supplier and most important international backer. 
The top US diplomat for East Asia, meanwhile, said on Thursday China’s recent actions around the world were not those of a responsible global actor, but of a “lawless bully”. 

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In prepared testimony for a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, David Stilwell said the United States was not asking other countries to choose sides, but to stand up against China’s “malign” behaviour and to protect their own sovereignty and economic interests.
At the same time, Stilwell said US competition with China need not lead to conflict, and that the US sought to cooperate with Beijing where interests aligned, for instance on North Korea.
Stilwell said in the past several months there had been “particularly egregious examples of Beijing’s conduct”.
These included violence on its border with India and “aggressive” moves in the South China Sea, around Taiwan, and in waters China disputes with Japan.
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