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Video: US Starts Removing Troops From Syria

Meanwhile, Russia claimed earlier this week it had started doing military patrols in Manbij, tweeting out video, although sources say the Russians likely are not in Manbij proper

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FILE - U.S. soldiers gather for a brief during a combined joint patrol rehearsal in Manbij, Syria..

The U.S.-led coalition in Syria is beginning to remove troops from the country.

The coalition “has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,” said Colonel Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S. coalition fighting the Islamic State terror group. “Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements.”

There are roughly 2,000 U.S. military personnel in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is reporting that the withdrawal began late Thursday, when about 10 armored vehicles and other equipment pulled out from a U.S. base in Rmeilan in Hassakeh province. The group also is reporting there were coalition reinforcements that arrived at different bases Thursday, which is consistent with what VOA has learned from a source.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Friday in a radio interview that talks between the U.S. military and its Turkish counterparts regarding the Kurds fighting the Islamic State in Syria will continue next week in an effort to reach an agreement both countries accept. Earlier this week, Bolton’s calls for the protection of the YPG Syrian Kurdish militia as a pre-condition to a U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, causing the president to refuse to meet with the U.S. official.

The YPG is a crucial ally in Washington’s war against Islamic State, but Ankara considers it to be a terrorist group linked to an insurgency inside Turkey.

Bolton said in the interview that he, President Donald Trump, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo understood Turkey had committed “not to harm the Kurds who had fought with us against ISIS.”

“What we’re still pursuing in these military-to-military conversations are assurances and protocols and procedures so that everybody feels comfortable with how this is going to happen. And we’re hoping those discussions, which will continue next week, will produce results that are acceptable on both sides,” Bolton said.

Erdogan also warned that preparations were complete for a military operation against the YPG.

Also Read- Travel Ban Imposed on Pakistan Peoples Party Leaders Continues

“We will very soon mobilize to eliminate the terrorist organization in Syria,” he said.

“If there are other terrorists who would attempt to intervene in our intervention then it is our duty to eliminate them as well,” Erdogan added. Turkish forces have been massing for weeks along the Syrian border.

Meanwhile, Russia claimed earlier this week it had started doing military patrols in Manbij, tweeting out video, although sources say the Russians likely are not in Manbij proper. (VOA)

 

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Afghanistan Elections Conclude, IEC Criticized For Mismanagement

The presidential vote, scheduled for July 20, is also under scrutiny because of the lack of serious reforms to prevent a repetition of previous fraud-marred Afghan elections.

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Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, center, speaks to journalists after arriving to register as a candidate for the presidential election at the Independent Elections Commission, in Kabul, Jan. 20, 2019. (VOA)

The process of submitting nomination papers for the upcoming presidential vote in Afghanistan concluded Sunday, with President Ashraf Ghani and his ruling coalition partner Abdullah Abdullah among the candidates seeking the country’s top office.

Ghani and Abdullah, who was appointed chief executive in a deal mediated by the United States after the disputed 2014 election, filed their nomination papers just hours before the Independent Election Commission (IEC) closed the proceedings.

The election activity comes as an early morning suicide car bombing of a government convoy in eastern Afghan province of Logar killed at least eight security forces, underscoring serious security challenges facing the country in the wake of a raging Taliban insurgency.

The presidential vote, scheduled for July 20, is also under scrutiny because of the lack of serious reforms to prevent a repetition of previous fraud-marred Afghan elections.

IEC officials, however, dismiss concerns and insist their rescheduling of the polls from the original April 20 date has given them enough time to fix the problems and to lay the ground for a better organized vote.

“Our [candidates’] goal should be to work toward ensuring this election process results in a strong government and nation. Whatever consensus regarding any reforms is required must be achieved now to remove any doubts about the election outcome,” Ghani said in televised comments after formally registering his candidacy with IEC.

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Afghan security forces inspect the site of a car bomb blast in Kabul, Jan. 15, 2018.(VOA)

The IEC was heavily criticized for failing to prevent mismanagement and alleged rigging in the October parliamentary election. The final results are still awaited, fueling traditional mistrust and suspicions among voters about the upcoming election.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former ethnic Pashtun warlord accused of war crimes and once listed as terrorist by the U.S., has also joined the presidential race.

Hekmatyar stopped his Hizb-i-Islami group from waging insurgent attacks against foreign forces and returned to Kabul from years of hiding in 2016 after signing a U.S.-backed peace deal with President Ghani’s government.

Hekmatyar’s fighters have been blamed for committing atrocities during the Afghan civil war that enabled the Taliban to capture most of Afghanistan in 1996.

Several former officials of the Ghani-led National Unity government are also among the contestants. They include Hanif Atmar, former national security adviser; Rahmatullah Nabil, ex-chief of the Afghan intelligence agency; Zalmai Rassoul, a former foreign minister who came third in the last presidential election; and Shaida Abdali, a former diplomat.

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Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, center, shakes hands with his supporters after arriving to register as a candidate for the presidential election, in Kabul, Jan. 20, 2019.

Peace talks with Taliban

The United States, meanwhile, has intensified efforts to seek a politically negotiated settlement to the 17-year-old conflict with the Taliban, which control nearly half of the country and maintain battlefield pressure on U.S.-backed Afghan forces to capture more territory.

Chief American peace negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, and his team spent several days in neighboring Pakistan, where authorities tried to arrange the next round of U.S.-Taliban talks.

Also Read:U.S. Determined To Address ‘Legitimate Concerns’ To Achieve Peace in Afghanistan

A U.S. Embassy statement announced Sunday said Khalilzad visited Islamabad from January 17-20 where he met with Pakistani civilian and military leaders. It said that “both sides reaffirmed their commitment to advance the Afghan peace process.”

Khalilzad highlighted that all countries in the region will benefit from peace in Afghanistan, the statement concluded, though it was not clear whether Pakistani efforts to bring the two sides to the negotiating table succeeded. (VOA)