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Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in Kabul for high-level military meeting

15 February 2018

Trump has accelerated a bombing campaign against the radical Islamist group as part of his wider battle against jihadis in the Middle East.

The significant uptick in American military operations and the record number of airstrikes under President Trump have failed to translate into gains for the Afghan government, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog agency, argues in its latest assessment prepared for Congress.

According to the USA military, terrorist groups, primarily the Taliban, controlled or contested about 45 percent of Afghanistan as of October 2017, marking a slight increase from where the group's reach stood in August 2017.

At a time when Pakistan's relations with both the United States and Afghanistan are tense, Islamabad has offered an olive branch to Washington and Kabul, seeking a "collaborative and persistent approach" to deal with regional security challenges.

The militants only mentioned the Afghan government to deride it on various grounds.

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In a teleconference briefing from the Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian said A-10s, MQ-9s and HH-60s have been shifted to Afghanistan to "provide increased air support to the South Asia strategy, as well as ongoing counterterrorism efforts in Afghan-led operations".

Mr Trump's generals hope to break the military stalemate with the Taliban, and push insurgents to the negotiating table.

Commander US CENTCOM, Commander Resolute Support Mission (RSM) and Afghan Army Chief are also attending the conference.

"The success of the Afghan operations around the country, supported by Resolute Support and U.S. forces, have caused the enemy high casualties everywhere", he said.

Both Afghan and U.S. officials are ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan to close Taliban sanctuaries on its soil, while Islamabad denies charges that it harbors militants.

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General Bajwa has forcefully raised the issue of repatriation of 2.7 million Afghan refugees and the need for a cooperative strategy for border management as without addressing these two core issues it would be naïve to expect durable peace in the region. There was no word either when the next round of talks would take place.

The attacks, including a suicide auto bombing, targeted the Intercontinental hotel in the Afghan capital and the city's old interior ministry building, killing around 140 people, mostly civilians.

A spokesman for Ghani, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, responded sharply to the letter, saying, "We never negotiate with groups who resort to crime and the brutal killing of people and then claim responsibility for it".

"The Taliban statement alone does not show willingness to engage in peace talks".

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Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in Kabul for high-level military meeting