American Caitlan Coleman, family freed from Afghanistan captors

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An American woman, her Canadian husband and their three young children — who had been held captive since 2012 by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network — were freed after an operation involving Pakistani forces, officials announced Thursday.

Caitlan Coleman, 32, was seven months pregnant when she and her husband, Josh Boyle, were abducted.

The operation that set Coleman, Boyle and their children free was undertaken by Pakistani forces based on actionable intelligence provided by U.S. authorities, according to a statement by the ISPR. U.S. intelligence agencies had been tracking the hostages and shared the location with Pakistani counterparts when the hostages shifted into Pakistani territory Wednesday.

President Trump appeared to hint at the news of Coleman’s release during a speech in Coleman’s home state of Pennsylvania on Wednesday.

“Something happened today, where a country that totally disrespected us called with some very, very important news,” Trump said. “And one of my generals came in. They said, ‘You know, I have to tell you, a year ago they would’ve never done that.’ It was a great sign of respect. You’ll probably be hearing about it over the next few days. But this is a country that did not respect us. This is a country that respects us now. The world is starting to respect us again, believe me.”

Coleman and Boyle were last seen in a hostage video in December 2016 pleading for their governments to intervene.

The two vanished after setting off in the summer of 2012 for a journey that took them to Russia, the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then to Afghanistan.

Coleman’s parents, Jim and Lyn Coleman, last heard from their son-in-law on Oct. 8, 2012, from an internet cafe in what Josh described as an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan.

The announcement of the release comes a month after President Trump announced a new strategy to deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying the Taliban and other militant groups would no longer find safe haven in Pakistan.

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford told Congress last week Pakistan would no longer be a sanctuary for terrorism.

In the 2016 YouTube video, Coleman refers to “the Kafkaesque nightmare in which we find ourselves” and urges “governments on both sides” to reach a deal for their freedom. She then adds: “My children have seen their mother defiled.”

Two young children appear in the video with them, and Coleman has told her family that she gave birth to two children in captivity. It was revealed Thursday that Coleman had a third child.

“Please don’t become the next Jimmy Carter,” Coleman says in the 2016 video, reading a prepared statement and making a plea to former President Barack Obama. “Just give the offenders something so they and you can save face so we can leave the region permanently.”

The video came to public attention through the Site Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online. SITE said it was dated Dec. 3.

“We are deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of Joshua Boyle, Caitlan Coleman and their young children and call for their unconditional release,” Canadian Global Affairs spokesman Michael O’Shaughnessy said. The State Department also said at the time that it was reviewing the footage.

The Haqqani network has orchestrated a vast array of brutal attacks in Afghanistan in recent years, against both locals and the U.S. military, but unlike their Taliban associates, they are deemed to be more motivated by money than faith.

Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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U.S. acknowledges more troops in Afghanistan than previously stated

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – About 11,000 U.S. troops are serving in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, thousands more than it has previously stated.

The announcement by Pentagon officials at a news conference did not represent an increase in troops in Afghanistan and came after U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis expressed frustration with the method of counting U.S. troops in conflict zones.

The Pentagon said previously that there were roughly 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, under a cap set during President Barack Obama’s administration.

While the Pentagon said the move was a step in increasing transparency, it did not provide counts of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.

“This is not an attempt to bring more forces in, but it is an attempt to actually clarify a very confusing set of reporting rules that has the unintended consequence of forcing commanders to make readiness trade-offs,” said Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, joint staff director.

“So what it does is, it actually lets the American people know what their sons and daughters are doing in Afghanistan,” McKenzie said.

Previously disclosed troop numbers did not reflect the extent of the U.S. commitment on the ground since commanders sometimes brought in forces temporarily to get around the Obama-era limits.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. troops walk outside their base in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan July 7, 2017.Omar Sobhani/File Photo

Mattis has said that he would wait for a complete count of U.S. troops in Afghanistan before making a decision on how many additional troops to send, calling the accounting system strange.

Mac Thornberry, the Republican chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, welcomed the change.

“The Obama Administration did not shoot straight on how many people they sent to Afghanistan, which added cost to the mission and made it harder to succeed,” Thornberry said.

On Iraq and Syria, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said accounting for troop numbers was still under review.

The force levels, which are officially at 5,262 in Iraq and 503 in Syria, are believed by U.S. officials to be more than a couple of thousands troops shy of the actual number of U.S. forces in both countries.

“We are reviewing Iraq and Syria and the same guiding principals will govern how we roll out those numbers as well,” White said.

U.S. officials have suggested that the delicate political situation in Iraq could be one reason why the United States is cautious in releasing a full picture of forces in the country.

Reporting by Idrees Ali and Warren Strobel; editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Pakistani, Chinese officials discuss Afghanistan amid tension with U.S.

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary met China’s special envoy on Afghan affairs on Monday, a foreign office spokesman said, a day after Islamabad cancelled a scheduled visit by a top U.S. official.

The decision by Pakistan to postpone the visit of Alice Wells, acting assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, came a week after President Donald Trump said Islamabad was prolonging the war in Afghanistan.

Trump had accused Pakistan of harbouring “agents of chaos” and providing safe havens for militant groups waging an insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

Pakistani officials responded by saying the U.S. should not “scapegoat” Pakistan and accused the American military of failing to eliminate militant sanctuaries inside Afghanistan.

Wells had been due to discuss Trump’s new Afghan policy during her time in Islamabad.

During Monday’s visit, Chinese envoy Deng Xijun and Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua discussed “efforts for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan,” Pakistan’s foreign office said in a statement.

“The Chinese special envoy lauded Pakistan’s contribution and sacrifices made in the fight against terrorism … he said Pakistan’s efforts towards eliminating the scourge of terrorism should be fully recognised by the international community,” the foreign office said.

Beijing has pledged to spend $57 billion on infrastructure projects in Pakistan as part of its “Belt and Road” initiative.

China’s spending in Pakistan has helped to revive the country’s sputtering economy.

The deepening ties between the two nations have turned Pakistan into a key cog in China’s plan to build a modern-day “Silk Road” of land and sea trade routes linking Asia with Europe and Africa.

Reporting by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Andrew Bolton

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Afghanistan bomb attack: 13 killed in car blast in Helmand

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Afghan security personnel inspect the site of a suicide attack near the main police headquarters in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, 23 August 2017Image copyright
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A similar car bomb attack in Lashkar Gah last week targeted the city’s police headquarters

At least 13 people have been killed and many more injured in a car bomb attack in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand, officials say.

The attack on Sunday targeted a military vehicle in the district of Nawa, an area that has seen heavy fighting in recent weeks.

The victims included both soldiers and civilians, a government spokesman said.

It comes one month after Afghan security forces said they had recaptured Nawa from the Taliban.

At least 19 people were reported to have been injured in the blast near a market in the district on Sunday, Omar Zwak, the spokesperson for the Helmand governor, said.

The dead and wounded were taken to a hospital in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

It is not yet clear who was behind the attack.

The blast comes just days after a deadly car bomb attack near the main police headquarters in Lashkar Gah.

In June, dozens of people were killed in a similar explosion outside the New Kabul Bank in the same city.

Members of the security forces were among the casualties, as well as shoppers who were preparing for the Eid religious festival.

The Taliban later said that they had planted the explosives at the gates of the bank in Lashkar Gah in the southern Afghan province.

There has been a series of attacks in Afghanistan in recent months, since the Taliban launched its so-called spring offensive.

On 31 May, a huge bombing in central Kabul killed more than 150 people, the deadliest militant attack in the country since US-led forces ousted the Taliban from power in 2001.

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7.5 Magnitude Earthquake Rocks Northern Afghanistan | Mashable News



More than 100 people are dead after a magnitude 7.5 earthquake hit northern Afghanistan, with the effects of the tremor also felt in Pakistan and India. The death …

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Sebastian Gorka Resigns, and Blasts Trump Afghanistan Policy

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UPDATED: Sebastian Gorka, a controversial adviser to President Trump, exited the White House on Friday.

The Federalist ran an alleged resignation letter from Gorka late Friday afternoon. Later, however, a White House official said, “Sebastian Gorka did not resign, but I can confirm he no longer works at the White House.”

Gorka, who has been linked to far-right groups in Hungary, blasted the Trump administration’s new Afghanistan policy in the letter reported by the Federalist. Gorka is focused on counterterrorism policy, and objected that references to “radical Islamic terror” were removed from the president’s Afghanistan address.

“[G]iven recent events, it is clear to me that forces that do not support the MAGA promise are – for now – ascendant within the White House,” Gorka wrote, according to the Federalist. “As a result, the best and most effective way I can support you, Mr. President, is from outside the People’s House.”

Gorka was a close ally of Steve Bannon, Trump’s strategist who was forced to resign last week.

“Regrettably, outside of yourself, the individuals who most embodied and represented the policies that will ‘Make America Great Again,’ have been internally countered, systematically removed, or undermined in recent months,” Gorka wrote. “This was made patently obvious as I read the text of your speech on Afghanistan this week.”

Gorka also objected that the Afghanistan policy — which marks an escalation of the 16-year-old conflict — lacked strategic focus.

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New Zealand to increase military personnel in Afghanistan by three

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WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Just days after the United States said it would increase troop numbers in Afghanistan and ask its allies to do the same, New Zealand on Friday announced an extra three non-combat military personnel, boosting its military commitment to 13.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday unveiled his strategy to end the conflict in Afghanistan, committing the United States to an open-ended conflict and signalling he would dispatch more troops to America’s longest war.

U.S. officials have said Trump had signed off on plans to send about 4,000 more U.S. troops to add to the roughly 8,400 now deployed in Afghanistan. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has since said exact troop numbers are yet to be decided.

Trump said he would ask coalition allies to support his new strategy, with additional troops and funding, to end the 16-year conflict.

New Zealand Defence Minister Mark Mitchell’s announcement boosting the country’s Kabul-based troops to 13 follows a request for NATO (National Atlantic Treaty Organization) to send more troops to Afghanistan earlier this year.

New Zealand has had troops in Afghanistan since 2001. Its presence has been decreasing since 2013 but it has kept some personnel on the ground to train local officers.

“New Zealand will continue to stand alongside our partners in supporting stability in Afghanistan and countering the threat of international terrorism,” said Mitchell.

Prime Minister Bill English said the government has ruled out making a decision on sending combat troops to Afghanistan before New Zealand’s election on Sept. 23.

Opposition leader Jacinda Ardern told local media this week she would not back sending troops to Afghanistan at the moment but was not privy to intelligence such decisions were based on.

Reporting by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Michael Perry

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Top U.S. general in Afghanistan says Trump’s plan means long-term U.S. commitment

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KABUL (Reuters) – The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said on Thursday President Donald Trump’s new strategy is a sign of a long-term commitment to what is already America’s longest war and called on Taliban insurgents to agree to peace talks.

“The Taliban cannot win on the battlefield, it’s time for them to join the peace process,” General John Nicholson told reporters in the Afghan capital, Kabul. “We will not fail in Afghanistan, our national security depends on that as well.”

Critics, including Trump himself during the 2016 campaign for the U.S. presidency, have argued that Afghanistan is no closer to peace despite billions of dollars spent on aid and nearly 16 years of U.S. and allied military operations.

In February, Nicholson told the U.S. Congress he needed “a few thousand” more troops in Afghanistan, mostly to help advise Afghan security forces that are battling Taliban, Islamic State and other Islamist insurgents.

Trump has now approved an extended American presence in Afghanistan, although neither he nor his military leaders have provided any specifics about troop numbers or timelines.

The current U.S. force for the predominantly advise-and-assist mission in Afghanistan stands at around 8,400, well down from around 100,000 during the “surge” decided on by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

Several thousand more troops are often in the country on “temporary” or other uncounted missions.

Nicholson said new advisers from the United States and NATO coalition allies would increase the training missions, including at specialised military schools and expanding the Afghan air force and special forces.

He also praised Trump’s decision not to impose “arbitrary” deadlines on the American mission in Afghanistan.

“This policy announcement … is proof of our continued commitment,” he said.

The Taliban government was overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001 but U.S. forces have been bogged down there ever since. About 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan.

U.S. military and intelligence officials are concerned that a new Taliban victory would allow al Qaeda and Islamic State’s regional affiliate to establish bases in Afghanistan.

That could allow them to plot attacks against the United States and its allies, they fear, just as Osama bin Laden had done with the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes that triggered the war in Afghanistan.

Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Paul Tait

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