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Here’s What You Need to Know About the Canceled U.S.-Taliban Peace Talks

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  • President Trump tweeted Saturday that he canceled secretly scheduled peace negotiations with the Taliban.
  • The proposed peace deal involved the U.S. taking troops out of Afghanistan and the Taliban promising to no longer engage in violence in areas where the U.S. military is present.
  • Many opposed the plan and the meeting, including officials in the Trump administration who worried the Taliban could not be trusted.
  • Afghan officials were also skeptical of the plan, arguing that it did not include input from the Afghan government and did not require the Taliban to stop attacks on Afghan civilians or the Afghan military.

Trump’s Announcement

President Donald Trump announced in a series of tweets on Saturday that he had canceled a secret meeting between U.S. officials and the Taliban.

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday” the president wrote on Twitter. 

“Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people,” he continued. “I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations.”

“If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway,” he concluded.

Here’s what you need to know about the agreement, the talks, and what comes next.

The Agreement

Under the agreement, which officials have been negotiating for almost a year, the U.S. would remove 5,400 of the remaining 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan within 135 days.

The broader goal of the deal would be to gradually withdraw the entire U.S. military presence, which has been in the country for nearly 18 years since the 9/11 attacks. In exchange for the U.S. withdrawing the troops, the Taliban would stop enacting and supporting violence in the regions of Afghanistan where the U.S. military is based.

Last Monday, the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told local media in the country that both sides had agreed to the deal “in principle.” 

However, many people in the Afghan government, including President Ashraf Ghani, were skeptical of both the peace deal and the meeting at Camp David.

Afghan critics of the agreement argued that it did not include input from the Afghan government and did not really give them a seat at the table for negotiations.

The Trump administration addressed this concern by arguing that its talks with the Taliban would pave the way for the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

But others worried that plan was problematic because the Taliban does not recognize the Afghan government, and has refused to negotiate with them in the past.

Those critical of the plan also argued that the deal only protected American troops because it did not require the Taliban to stop attacks on Afghan civilians or the Afghan military.

That is especially important because the Taliban now controls more territory in the country than it has at any time since the war started, and also because the Taliban has carried out and supported numerous deadly attacks over the last few months.

Now, Afghan officials are worried that if the U.S. pulled out, it would create a sort of security vacuum, leaving the Afghan military to fend for itself. They fear that, as a result, the Taliban would not only launch more violent attacks but also try to take over the government.

Opposition In Trump Administration

Afghan officials were not the only people who opposed the negotiations.

According to reports, multiple high-ranking officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton, also did not support the meeting. 

Bolton, among others, allegedly did not believe that the Taliban could be trusted and so the deal would just collapse anyway. 

Other administration officials who did not want the meeting reportedly worried about the optics of having an unprecedented meeting with a militant group on U.S. soil just days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

One senior administration official also told NBC that Pence had argued the meeting could also send a bad message to members of the U.S. military and their families, especially those who had fought and been killed by the Taliban.

Taliban & Afghan Government Responds

After Trump’s tweets, a leader from the Taliban told NBC they were caught off guard by the news.

“It not only shocked us it made us realize the people we were talking with were not sincere in peace talks,” the leader said.

On Sunday, the Taliban also released an official statement on the matter.

Such a reaction towards a single attack just before the signing of an agreement displays lack of composure and experience,” the statement read.

“We called for dialogue twenty years earlier and maintain the same stance today and believe America shall return to this position also,” it continued. “Our previous eighteen-year resistance should have proven to America that we will accept nothing less than the complete end of occupation and allowing Afghans to decide their own fate.”

President Ghani has not responded specifically to Trump’s tweets, but his office released a formal statement on Sunday.

“The people and the government of Afghanistan pursue a dignified and sustainable peace and are committed to putting any effort into ensuring peace in the country,” it said. “We have consistently stressed that genuine peace is possible when the Taliban stop the killing of Afghans, embrace an inclusive ceasefire, and enter into direct negotiations with the Afghan government.”

“The government of Afghanistan praises the earnest efforts of its allies and is committed to working together with the United States and other partners to ensure honorable and enduring peace in the country,” the statement continued.

Conflicts on Cancelation Reasons

While speaking to news outlets Sunday night, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Trump’s comments by insisting that the reason the negotiations were canceled was because of the most recent Taliban attack.

However, a report from The New York Times suggested there could have been other factors. Citing Pompeo’s negotiator, the Times said the Taliban wanted to go to Washington, but not until after their deal had been announced. 

Trump, however, did not want their visit to be a celebration of the deal, instead, he “wanted to be the dealmaker who would put the final parts together himself, or at least be perceived to be.”

What Next?

The breakdown of peace talks with the Taliban has left many wondering what comes next.

During Pompeo’s major news circuit Sunday, he provided some insight into that question. When asked by a Fox News anchor if Afghan talks were dead, Pompeo responded, “For the time being they are.”

However, he also told CNN that the U.S. is still interested in striking a deal, as long as the Taliban honors its commitments.

Right now for the U.S., it looks like it has three main options. It could try to come to the table with another deal, it could withdraw the troops without concessions from the Taliban, or the U.S. could just keep the troops in Afghanistan.

As for Afghanistan, it is set to have elections later this month, on September 28.

The Taliban does not want those elections to take place, and now, officials in both the U.S. and Afghanistan are concerned that the Taliban will have more incentive to ramp up their violent attacks as the election approaches.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (VICE) (NBC News)

International

Leaked Documents and Photos Give Unprecedented Glimpse Inside Xinjiang’s Detention Camps

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The so-called vocational schools, which China claims Uyghurs enter willingly as students, oversee their detainees with watchtowers armed with machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as guards instructed to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.


Detained for Growing a Beard

The BBC and a consortium of investigative journalists have authenticated and published a massive trove of leaked documents and photographs exposing the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims in unprecedented detail.

According to the outlet, an anonymous source hacked several police computer servers in the northwestern Xinjiang province, then sent what has been dubbed the Xinjiang police files to the scholar Dr. Adrian Zenz, who gave them to reporters.

Among the files are more than 5,000 police photographs of Uyghurs taken between January and July 2018, with accompanying data indicating at least 2,884 of them were detained.

Some of the photos show guards standing nearby with batons.

The youngest Uyghur photographed was 15 at the time of their detention, and the oldest was 73.

One document is a list titled “Relatives of the Detained,” which contains thousands of people placed under suspicion for guilt by association with certain family members. It includes a woman whose son authorities claimed had “strong religious leanings” because he didn’t smoke or drink alcohol. He was jailed for ten years on terrorism charges.

The files also include 452 spreadsheets with information on more than a quarter of a million Uyghurs, some of whom were detained retroactively for offenses committed years or even decades ago.

One man was jailed for ten years in 2017 because he “studied Islamic scripture with his grandmother” for a few days in 2010.

Authorities targeted hundreds more for their mobile phone use, like listening to “illegal lectures” or downloading encrypted apps. Others were punished for not using their phones enough, with “phone has run out of credit” listed as evidence they were trying to evade digital surveillance.

One man’s offense was “growing a beard under the influence of religious extremism.”

The Most Militarized Schools in the World

The files include documents outlining conditions inside Xinjiang’s detention camps, or so-called “Vocational Skills Education and Training Centers.”

Armed guards occupy every part of the facilities, with machine guns and sniper rifles stationed on watchtowers. Police protocols instruct guards to shoot to kill any so-called “students” trying to escape if they fail to stop after a warning shot.

Any apprehended escapees are to be taken away for interrogation while camp management focuses on “stabilizing other students’ thoughts and emotions.”

The BBC used the documents to reconstruct one of the camps, which data shows holds over 3,700 detainees guarded by 366 police officers who oversee them during lessons.

If a “student” must be transferred to another facility, the protocols say, police should blindfold them, handcuff them and shackle their feet.

Dr. Zenz published a peer-reviewed paper on the Xinjiang police files, in which he found that more than 12% of Uyghur adults were detained over 2017 and 2018.

“Scholars have argued that political paranoia is a common feature of atrocity crimes,” he wrote. “Here, it is suggested that the pre-emptive internment of large numbers of ordinary citizens can be explained as a devolution into political paranoia that promotes exaggerated threat perceptions.”

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Newsweek) (The Guardian)

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International

Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China

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Some praised the remarks for clarifying U.S. foreign policy, while others feared they could escalate tensions with China.


Biden’s Remarks Create Confusion

During a Monday press conference in Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

The remark caught many off guard because it contradicted decades of traditional U.S. foreign policy toward China.

A reporter said, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”

“Yes,” Biden answered. “That’s a commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with a One China policy. We signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there.”

“But the idea that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not appropriate,” he continued. “It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”

Beijing considers the Taiwanese island to be a breakaway province, but Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has claimed to represent the real historical lineage of China.

Since 1972, the U.S. has officially recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. However, Washington maintains extensive informal diplomatic ties with Taipei and provides military assistance through weapons and training.

Successive U.S. presidents have also committed to a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to promise or rule out a direct military intervention in case China attacks Taiwan.

The strategy is meant to deter China while avoiding a hard commitment to any action.

Biden Sparks Controversy

The White House quickly sent a statement to reporters appearing to walk back Biden’s remark.

“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the statement said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

Monday was not the first time Biden made similar remarks regarding China and Taiwan.

Last August, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”

In October, he again told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, prompting the White House to hurriedly walk back his statement.

Monday’s remark was received with support as well as criticism.

“Strategic ambiguity is over. Strategic clarity is here,” Tweeted Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University. “This is the third time Biden has said this. Good. China should welcome this. Washington is helping Beijing to not miscalculate.”

“It is truly dangerous for the president to keep misstating U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in a tweet. “How many more times will this happen?”

“The West’s robust response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan, but Biden’s statement risks undoing the potential benefit and instead helping to bring about a Taiwan conflict,” he added. “Self-injurious and entirely unforced.”

Biden also unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade agreement signed by the U.S. and 12 Asian nations.

The agreement appeared to many like another move to cut off China from regional trade pacts and supply chains in Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The South China Morning Post)

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Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

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