February 8, 2019

News Briefs – February 8, 2019

Taliban: Half of U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan by May 1

The U.S. has promised to withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of April, a Taliban official said Feb. 6, but the U.S. military said it has received no orders to begin packing up.
Taliban official Abdul Salam Hanafi, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting in Moscow between the Taliban and other prominent Afghan figures, said that U.S. officials promised the pullout will begin this month.
“The Americans told us that from the beginning of February to the end of April, half of the troops from Afghanistan will be withdrawn,” he said.
Spokeswoman Sgt. 1st Class Debra Richardson said in a telephone interview from the Afghan capital Kabul that the U.S. military in Afghanistan had received no such orders.
“Our mission hasn’t changed,” she said.
Hanafi said the U.S. and the Taliban will each create a technical committee that “will work on a timetable for the withdrawal of remaining troops.”
The Pentagon has reportedly prepared plans to withdraw half its 14,000 troops by the summer.
Efforts to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s longest war have accelerated in recent months since the appointment last September of Zalmay Khalilzad as Washington’s peace envoy. He has held several meetings with the Taliban.
Talks have mostly focused on a U.S. troop withdrawal and guarantees from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not again be used as a safe haven for terrorists to attack other countries, according to both Khalilzad and Taliban officials.
In his State of the Union address on Jan. 5, President Donald Trump said the U.S. has been holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban.
“As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism,” he said. AP

U.S. cuts military aid to Cameroon over human rights concerns

The United States says it’s cutting military aid to Cameroon over human rights concerns after growing allegations of abuses by security forces.
The U.S. decision comes after videos circulated online last year showing Cameroonian security forces shooting and killing civilians, including women with small children strapped to their backs. The videos were documented by Amnesty International and global media outlets.
The top U.S. diplomat for Africa said in December that he feared a separatist crisis in the central African nation could get “much, much” worse and warned against a “brutal response” to extremism. Cameroon also faces a threat from Boko Haram fighters based in neighboring Nigeria.
U.S. officials say the reduced support involves armored vehicles, boats, aircraft upkeep and parts, helicopter training and an invitation to a partnership program. AP

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