November 13, 2018
 
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Afghan Pres: Taliban Not Winning War   11/13 06:13

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The president of Afghanistan told a U.S. audience Monday 
that his country is not losing the war to the Taliban and is not at risk of 
collapse amid escalating attacks by the militant group and an expansion of the 
territory it controls.

   President Ashraf Ghani said his administration is intent on seeking a 
negotiated peace with the Taliban, which have shown no interest in direct talks 
with a government they see as illegitimate.

   "The Taliban are not in a winning position," Ghani said by video to an 
audience at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins 
University in Washington as a suicide bombing in Kabul and a deadly militant 
assault on districts in eastern Afghanistan suggested government control was 
slipping further.

   Ghani said that more than 28,000 Afghan forces have been killed in the past 
four years but that the military will be able to retake territory as long as it 
has an air force and commando troops. He said most of the losses incurred by 
its security forces were in defending static positions, so the government was 
rethinking how it deploys its forces.

   Speaking on Veterans Day, the Afghan leader paid tribute to American 
sacrifices in Afghanistan, including the death of Brent Taylor, a Utah mayor 
serving as a major in the state's Army National Guard who was training Afghan 
commandos. Taylor, 39, was fatally shot a week ago by one of his Afghan 
trainees.

   But Ghani also offered a rare public accounting of the scale of the Afghan 
losses. He described how their casualties have risen sharply while U.S.-led 
coalition casualties have declined after Afghan forces assumed responsibility 
for combat operations in the country. He said that since 2015, 58 American 
forces have died in Afghanistan.

   "In the same period, 28,529 of our security forces have lost their lives and 
become martyrs," he said.

   U.S. military officials have previously indicated that Afghan casualties 
have been increasing, but they have avoided giving hard figures, apparently 
because of political sensitivities.

   In its most recent report to Congress, in October, the special inspector 
general for Afghanistan said Afghan casualty numbers had been reported only in 
classified form since September 2017 because the U.S. military command in Kabul 
said it had stopped making them public at the request of the Afghan government. 
However, the report said that the average number of casualties between May and 
October this year was the greatest it has ever been during similar periods.

   On Oct. 30, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Afghan forces had more than 
1,000 dead and wounded during August and September alone, "and they stayed in 
the field fighting."

   The Trump administration has marginally increased U.S. troop numbers to 
train Afghan forces and intensify military pressure on the Taliban in hopes of 
forcing the insurgents to negotiate an end to the 17-year conflict. Successes 
on the battlefield have been elusive. The inspector general report said the 
number of districts under Afghan government control and influence has declined 
and stands at just 55 percent --- down 16 percentage points in the past three 
years.

   U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is on his second tour of the region in a 
month, seeking to kick-start a peace process. The diplomatic veteran is making 
stops in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, where the 
Taliban maintain a political office. The insurgents say they met Khalilzad in 
Qatar last month. The Taliban have so far refused direct negotiations with 
Kabul, which they view as a U.S. puppet.

   On the sensitive topic of the U.S. role in talks, Ghani said there was 
"total agreement" between the U.S. and Afghan governments on moving the peace 
process forward.

   "U.S. engagement is to ensure that talks with the Taliban result not in 
negotiations with Taliban but with talks, direct talks, between the Afghan 
government and the Taliban," he said.

   He insisted that the Afghan government was seeking a negotiated peace but 
would not do so "from a position of weakness."

   In a possible sign of America's efforts, Pakistan released two Taliban 
officials on Monday, members of the militant group said. Abdul Samad Sani, a 
U.S.-designated terrorist who served as the Afghan Central Bank governor during 
the militants' rule in the late 1990s, and a lower-ranking commander named 
Salahuddin, were freed, according to two Taliban officials who spoke on 
condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.

   Ghani, however, said Pakistan has yet to demonstrate a "sense of urgency" in 
seeking an end to the Afghan conflict and a change in its policies.

   Kabul has long protested that Afghan Taliban leaders and fighters enjoy 
sanctuary inside Pakistan, which Islamabad denies.


(KA)

 
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