Russian Troop Movements and Talk of Intervention Cause Jitters in Ukraine

MOSCOW — Armored personnel carriers bristling with weapons line a highway in southern Russia. Rows of tanks are parked beside major roads. Heavy artillery is transported by train.

Videos of military movements have flooded Russian social media for the past month, shared by users and documented by researchers.

And Western governments are trying to find out why. The movements appear to be the largest deployment of Russian land forces toward the border with Ukraine in seven years, according to the U.S. government.

Whether it is a test of how the Biden administration might respond, retaliation against Ukraine for curbing Russian influence in domestic politics in Kyiv, or preparation for actual cross-border military action has divided analysts of Russian policies.

said Russia would intervene to prevent ethnic cleansing of Russian speakers by the Ukrainian government, a risk he compared to the ethnic massacres of the 1990s Balkan wars, though there are no signs that such violence is imminent in Ukraine today.

said Kyiv “lives with an illusion of a possible forceful settlement” of the conflict.

wrote, led Mr. Putin to warn in a speech given to the Davos Forum of an “increase in the risk of unilateral use of military force,” refraining from mentioning which country might be using that force.

published in the Insider, a Russian investigative news site.

A wide range of weaponry has been on public display. In March, for example, a train hauling Msta-C self-propelled howitzers rumbled over a bridge across the Kerch Strait separating Russia’s mainland from Crimea.

The Russian airwaves, too, have been chockablock with reports of a possible resumption of war in eastern Ukraine.

“Bad news from Ukraine,” the commentator Dmitry Kiselyov said in opening his Sunday talk show this week on state Channel 1. “The talk in Ukraine is increasingly about war.”

Mr. Kiselyov mocked war jitters in Ukraine, where the government has been trying to portray a calm resolve; the president, Volodymyr Zelensky, visited the front on Thursday.

The Russian state television report lingered on an incident in the Ukrainian Parliament this month when a lawmaker, Anna Kolesnik, after hearing a presentation from a military commander on the scale of Russia’s forces massed at her nation’s border, wrote a phone message to an acquaintance saying, “it’s time to split from this country.”

Mr. Kiselyov noted that in Ukraine, “the fear is inflating.”

Michael Kofman, a senior researcher at CNA, an analytical organization based in Arlington, Va., said the Russian buildup seems targeted more at shifting Ukraine’s stance in settlement talks than countering U.S. sanctions.

“Saber-rattling is an oversimplification,” he said. “It is coercive diplomacy with a purpose,” though for now that purpose is unstated and left open to interpretation by Ukraine and Western governments. “That is the situation we are in.”

View Source

Northern Ireland Sees Spasm of Violence as Old Tensions Resurface

LONDON — A bus hijacked, pelted with stones, then set on fire. Masked youths rioting, hurling missiles and homemade bombs. A press photographer attacked on the streets.

For almost a week, scenes of violence familiar from Northern Ireland’s brutal past have returned in a stark warning of the fragility of a peace process, crafted more than two decades ago, that is under growing political and sectarian strain.

Amid a contested fallout from Brexit, politicians have pointed to different causes for an explosion of anger from parts of the Protestant, so-called Unionist or Loyalist, community that is determined to keep its link to the rest of the United Kingdom.

But analysts agree that six consecutive nights of violence, during which 55 police officers have been injured and 10 arrests made, mark a worrisome trend.

Britain completed the final stages of Brexit on Jan. 1. That ended a system under which companies in Northern Ireland shared the same trade rules as those of Ireland, which remains part of the European Union.

During the interminable Brexit negotiations, much energy was devoted to preventing the need for checks on goods at Northern Ireland’s highly sensitive land border with Ireland.

Under an agreement in a protocol struck by Mr. Johnson, Northern Ireland was given a special economic status that leaves it straddling the United Kingdom and the European Union trade systems.

suspend the protocol by triggering an emergency mechanism in a dispute over vaccine supplies. Though the British government had also threatened to break the treaty over a separate issue — and the European Union reversed its decision within hours — that united Unionists in anger.

“Those few hours on Jan. 29 changed everything,” said Professor Hayward, who added that the decision from Brussels encapsulated Unionist suspicions about the protocol and shifted senior politicians away from grudging acceptance of it to outright opposition.

With Unionist support for the protocol disappearing, faith in the police in question, and friction over Brexit between the British and Irish governments, calming the violence could prove hard.

“In the past these things have been mitigated by very careful, well-supported, actions by community workers on the ground, bolstered by the political environment and rhetoric and demonstrations of the success of peace at the very highest levels — including the British-Irish relationship,” said Professor Hayward.

“You look around now,” she added, “and think: all those things are really under pressure.”

View Source

U.S. Looks to Build on Secret Portions of Taliban Deal to Reduce Violence

DOHA, Qatar — U.S. diplomats are trying to build on parts of the peace deal made with the Taliban last year, specifically the classified portions that outlined what military actions — on both sides — were supposed to be prohibited under the signed agreement, according to American, Afghan and Taliban officials.

The negotiations, which have been quietly underway for months, have morphed into the Biden administration’s last-ditch diplomatic effort to achieve a reduction in violence, which could enable the United States to still exit the country should broader peace talks fail to yield progress in the coming weeks.

If these discussions, and the separate talks between the Afghan government and Taliban falter, the United States will likely find itself with thousands of troops in Afghanistan beyond May 1. That’s the deadline by which all American military forces are meant to withdraw from the country under the 2020 agreement with the Taliban and would come at a time when the insurgent group likely will have begun its spring offensive against the beleaguered Afghan security forces.

Both of these conditions would almost certainly set back any progress made in the past months toward a political settlement, despite both the Trump and the Biden administrations’ fervent attempts to end the United States’ longest-running war.

two annexes of the 2020 deal, which were deemed classified by the Trump administration, is intended to stave off an insurgent victory on the battlefield during the peace talks by limiting Taliban military operations against Afghan forces, according to U.S. officials and others familiar with the negotiations. In return, the United States would push for the release of all Taliban prisoners still imprisoned by the Afghan government and the lifting of United Nations sanctions against the Taliban — two goals outlined in the original deal.

These new negotiations, which exclude representatives from the Afghan government, are being carried out amid a contentious logjam between the Taliban and the Afghans, despite pressure from international and regional actors on both sides to commit to some form of a path forward.

first reported by Tolo News, with requests that were not fully accepted by the U.S. negotiators and included severe restrictions on U.S. air power.

Many of the delays in securing a new deal to reduce violence stem from the original February 2020 agreement.

That deal loosely called for the Taliban to stop suicide attacks and large-scale offensives in exchange for the Americans forces scaling back drone strikes and raids, among other types of military assaults. But both sides interpreted those terms differently, officials said, and both have accused one another of violating the deal. The Taliban is also supposed to cut ties with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, but the U.S. intelligence community has seen little movement toward that goal.

Under the current arrangement, U.S. forces can defend their Afghan allies if they are being attacked, but the Taliban said U.S. airstrikes have been carried out against their fighters who were not attacking Afghan forces.

Digital spreadsheets maintained by the Taliban and viewed by The Times detail hundreds of purported U.S. violations. They record in detail the group’s wounded and killed, along with civilian casualties and property damage. However, the Taliban often do not distinguish between offensive operations carried out by Afghan security forces from those by U.S. forces, and several of the events The Times was able to independently verify from June 2020 did not involve American troops.

The new terms for a reduction in violence have been a serious point of contention during the past several months, during meetings frequently held at the Sharq Village and Spa, a luxurious resort in Doha, Qatar.

Meetings between American officials and the Taliban in Doha — including with high-level officials like then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in November and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, in December — attempted to scale back Taliban attacks and stop the bloody assassination campaign wreaking havoc across the country, but made little headway.

With time running out, the Biden administration is hoping for more success, though these discussions continue to hit roadblocks.

Negotiations between the Afghans and the Taliban, which began in September, have practically come to a halt as the insurgent group has remained reluctant to discuss any future government or power-sharing deal while the United States remains noncommittal about whether it will withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1.

The Biden administration’s recent push for talks in Turkey could be promising, officials and experts said, but the Taliban have yet to agree to attend.

The insurgent group thinks Mr. Biden’s negotiators are manipulating the proposed agreement to reduce violence by asking for “extreme” measures, such as halting the use of roadside bombs and pausing attacks on checkpoints, according to people close to the negotiations.

Taliban negotiators say they believe the American requests equate to a cease-fire, while U.S. military officials say that if certain parameters are not clearly outlined, then the Taliban will shift their tactics to exploit any loopholes they can find — like they have done in the past.

Some of the more striking episodes happened in the past week when C.I.A.-backed militia forces were accused of killing more than a dozen civilians in a Taliban-controlled village in Khost Province in southeastern Afghanistan.

In retaliation, the Taliban authorized their fighters to attack the American military and C.I.A. base there and publicly took responsibility for the rocket attack that followed: a first for the insurgent group since it has mostly stopped, or refused to acknowledge, attacks against U.S. bases and troops, per the terms of the 2020 deal.

Some Taliban officials believe the C.I.A.-backed forces should be disbanded and their operations stopped if the insurgent group agrees to any further reduction in violence, according to people close to the negotiations, but it is unclear if the insurgent group has raised those concerns directly. Regardless, any such request is likely to fall on deaf ears as the U.S. military and intelligence community views these forces as some of the Afghans’ most effective, despite the litany of human rights abuses leveled against them.

The Khost incident highlights the difficulty of reaching an understanding when it comes to decreasing the intensity of the war, and the need for an international third-party monitoring body, such as the United Nations, in any future cease-fires or agreements to reduce violence, experts said.

It is unlikely the United States and Taliban will reach a new deal before May 1, analysts say, unless U.S. officials are willing to make serious concessions to prevent a violent offensive this spring, one that seems to already have started given the series of large attacks and assassinations by the Taliban in recent days.

Some experts have criticized the United States’ narrow focus on a short-term reduction of violence as a distraction from the larger effort of reaching a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

“I am hard pressed to see what payoff there’s been for the amount of effort that has been put into trying to get limited violence reduction front-loaded in the peace process,” said Laurel E. Miller, a former top State Department official who worked on Afghanistan and Pakistan diplomacy under the previous two administrations. “It might be helpful for political optics in covering for an American withdrawal. But what’s going to make this stick afterward if there isn’t a real settlement? Nothing.”

Farooq Jan Mangal contributed reporting from Khost Province.

View Source

Children Trapped by Colombia’s War, Five Years After Peace Deal

PUERTO CACHICAMO, Colombia — At 13, she left home to join the guerrillas. Now, at 15, Yeimi Sofía Vega lay in a coffin, killed during a military operation ordered by her government.

Some of the youngest children in her town, Puerto Cachicamo, led her funeral procession, waving small white flags as they wound past the school, with its mildewed books and broken benches, past the shuttered health clinic and their small wooden houses.

“We don’t want bombs,” the children chanted, marching down a dusty road to the cemetery. “We want opportunities.”

Nearly five years after Colombia signed a historic peace accord with its largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s internal war is far from over.

Mass killings and forced displacement are again regular occurrences.

And young people — trapped between an often absent state, the aggressive recruitment of armed groups and the firepower of the military — are once again the conflict’s most vulnerable targets.

still grappling with atrocities committed by all sides during a conflict that left at least 220,000 dead: Did authorities know there were minors at the camp? Was the attack launched anyway?

injured civilians.

Before the peace deal, the FARC had a grip on this region, punishing petty criminals, issuing taxes and organizing work crews, all under the threat of violence. They also commonly recruited young people.

In 2016, when the FARC signed the peace deal and demobilized, its fighters left in a fleet of boats on the Guayabero River.

Three months later, the FARC dissidents arrived, said Jhon Albert Montilla, 36, the father of another girl killed in the military bombing, Danna Liseth Montilla, 16.

Voces del Guayabero, a group of citizen documentarians.

Just as the pandemic began, the government had stepped up coca eradication in the area, prompting protests from locals who saw their livelihoods in danger. Cameramen from Voces rushed to the scenes.

As the military clashed with protesters — shooting several civilians during different encounters — Danna sat in a small shop, one of the few places in Puerto Cachicamo with reliable electricity, editing the videos and uploading them to the internet over a feeble connection.

“But her desire was to be with us in the field,” said Fernando Montes Osorio, a cameraman with Voces who was shot in one clash, leaving his hand permanently mangled.

forced to resign months later, after an opposition senator revealed that he had hidden the victims’ ages from the public.

The scandal was a major test for newly installed President Iván Duque, a conservative whose party vociferously opposed the peace deal.

His critics say his post-accord strategy focuses too much on taking out big-name criminal leaders, and not enough on implementing social programs that were supposed to address the root causes of the war.

His supporters have urged patience. “We cannot undo 56 years of war in just two years,” said Mr. Duque’s high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, in an interview last year.

identified so far by the national medical examiner’s office are between the ages of 19 and 23.

he told the newspaper El Espectador. “Children must be protected when appropriate, but force must also be used.”

In Puerto Cachicamo, Custodio Chaves, 34, has not seen his daughter Karen since she disappeared two years ago, at 13.

Mr. Chaves said she was recruited by the FARC dissidents. Since the March attack, he has been consumed by worry.

“Is my daughter hurt?” he asked. “Did she suffer or not? Was she destroyed by a bomb? Is she in pieces?”

He doubts the government will ever tell him.

After “thousands and thousands of lies,” he said, “it’s impossible to believe them.”

View Source

North Korea Launches Missile Test as Tensions Rise With U.S.

SEOUL — North Korea test-fired two short-range cruise missiles over the weekend, South Korean defense officials confirmed Wednesday, adding to a series of provocations and statements in recent weeks that experts say are warnings to Washington.

The test took place off the west coast of North Korea on Sunday, just days after the country accused the United States and South Korea of raising “a stink” on the Korean Peninsula with their annual military drills. It did not violate United Nations resolutions, which ban North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missile technologies. It did, however, mark the country’s first missile test since President Biden took office in January.

When North Korea launches missile tests, they are usually celebrated through state media and quickly confirmed by the South Korean military. ​But North Korean media has not reported on Sunday’s test. South Korean officials​ said Wednesday that they had​ detected the test when it occurred, but decided not to immediately report on it. They did not elaborate on their decision.

South Korean defense officials tend to consider short-range cruise missile tests less of a provocation than ballistic launches. They also tend not to highlight what they consider minor provocations from the North when trying to promote inter-Korean dialogue. Sill, when North Korea launched short-range cruise missiles off its east coast in April last year, they were promptly confirmed by South Korea. ​In this case, South Korean officials only confirmed the test after it was first reported by The Washington Post.

extradite the North Korean businessman, who is set to face trial in an American court on charges of money laundering and violating international sanctions. North Korea accused Washington of being a “backstage manipulator” in the case, and warned that it would “pay a due price.”

It also said​ that it felt no need to respond to recent attempts by the Biden administration to establish dialogue, dismissing them as a “delaying-time trick.”

As Washington strengthens its alliances with Tokyo and Seoul​, Mr. Kim and Xi Jinping, China’s leader, have vowed to bring their two communist countries closer together.

In a message to Mr. Xi reported in North Korean media this week, Mr. Kim stressed the need to strengthen the unity between the two countries in order to “cope with the hostile forces.” In his own message to Mr. Kim, Mr. Xi vowed to ​help ​preserve “peace and stability” on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea’s latest missile test suggests Mr. Kim “will tolerate continued economic reliance on China in order to come out of the pandemic on the offensive against Washington and Seoul,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

View Source

Foes in Afghan War See a Common Threat of Islamic State’s Return

THE PECH VALLEY, Afghanistan — A valley of wood workshops and green wheat fields, torn apart by violence during two decades of war in eastern Afghanistan, is now strangely quiet — the result of an uneasy truce between the Taliban and the local Afghan government, forged by a mutual enemy.

The two sides worked practically side by side to oust the Islamic State from Kunar Province’s Pech Valley — a strip of mountains and earth that saw fierce fighting at the height of the American-led war. The Islamic State had taken root there before Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, claimed it was “obliterated” in late 2019.

Now the Islamic State attacks are rare and come only at night, residents say, by fighters from areas outside of Taliban and government control. Yet while smaller and more amorphous after its military defeat, the terror group still poses a threat to the region as it recruits both in cities and the countryside, waiting to take advantage of whatever might follow in the war’s next iteration.

The coming months could signal a shift in the group’s prominence, should the Taliban agree to stop fighting the Afghan government on a national scale and disenfranchised fighters — who have spent much of their lives at war — seek a new group with whom to ally in return for a steady paycheck.

The Hardest Place,” a recently published book on the region by Wesley Morgan, a journalist. By early last year, much of the Islamic State was wiped out.

recent report from the Afghan Analysts Network — that offered residents of the Pech a precarious return to normalcy.

Some Islamic State fighters who weren’t imprisoned instead reached out to the government and committed to lay down their arms. In return, they were promised a monthly stipend of around $100 and handed a signed letter from the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, noting they had “joined the peace process.”

But residents in the valley are concerned that the ongoing peace talks in Doha, Qatar between the government and the Taliban may upend the current equilibrium.

gunned down in Jalalabad. The Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Mr. Ali fled the city, as did dozens of other factory workers. Local government officials closed some factories, leaving the building where the seven Hazaras were killed nearly untouched since the attack.

The dead employees’ shoes had been left behind. Blood stains — despite a recent gust of rain — remained soaked into the churned white rock.

Fahim Abed contributed reporting.

View Source

Israel’s Budding Ties With U.A.E. Are Soured by Electioneering

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel presents himself as a global leader who is in a different league than his rivals — one who can keep Israel safe and promote its interests on the world stage. But strains in his relations with two important Arab allies, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, have dented that image in the fraught run-up to Israel’s do-over election.

Mr. Netanyahu’s personal ties with King Abdullah II of Jordan have long been frosty, even though their countries have had diplomatic relations for decades, and recently took a turn for the worse. And the Israeli leader’s efforts to capitalize on his new partnership with the United Arab Emirates ahead of the close-fought election on Tuesday have injected a sour note into the budding relationship between the two countries.

Senior Emirati officials sent clear signals over the past week that the Persian Gulf country would not be drawn into Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign for re-election, a rebuke that dented his much-vaunted foreign policy credentials.

Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, has always portrayed himself as the only candidate who can protect Israel’s security and ensure its survival in what has mostly been a hostile region. He has touted peaceful relations with moderate Arab states, including Jordan and the Emirates, as crucial to defend Israel’s borders and as a buttress against Iranian ambitions in the region.

on trial on corruption charges.

The first signs of trouble came after plans for Mr. Netanyahu’s first open visit to the Emirates were canceled. Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached a landmark agreement last August to normalize their relations, the first step in a broader regional process that came to be known as the Abraham Accords and which was a signature foreign policy achievement of the Trump administration.

Mr. Netanyahu was supposed to fly to the Emirates’ capital, Abu Dhabi, on March 11 for a whirlwind meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the country’s de facto ruler. But the plan went awry amid a separate diplomatic spat with Jordan, one of the first Arab countries to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

The day before the scheduled trip, a rare visit by the Jordanian crown prince to the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem — one of Islam’s holiest sites — was scuttled because of a disagreement between Jordan and Israel over security arrangements for the prince.

wrote on Twitter.

“The UAE will not be a part in any internal electioneering in Israel, now or ever,” he added.

flooded into Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the country, despite pandemic restrictions. Now, analysts said, the honeymoon is over even though there has been no indication the normalization deal is in danger of collapse.

The relationship is essentially “on hold,” said Oded Eran, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and a former Israeli ambassador to the European Union and Jordan.

Beyond Mr. Netanyahu’s electioneering, Mr. Eran said, the Emiratis were upset because as part of the normalization deal, Israel dropped its opposition to the Emiratis’ buying F-35 fighter jets and other advanced weaponry from the United States, but that transaction is now stalled and under review by the Biden administration.

In addition, he said, the Emirati leaders were concerned about what might happen after the election in Israel. Mr. Netanyahu has said his goal is to form a right-wing coalition with parties that put a priority on annexing West Bank territory in one way or another.

“They are not canceling the deal, but they don’t want more at this point,” Mr. Eran said of the Emiratis. “They want to see what the agenda of the new government will be.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s political opponents have seized upon the diplomatic debacle.

“Unfortunately, Netanyahu’s conduct in recent years has done significant damage to our relations with Jordan, causing Israel to lose considerable defensive, diplomatic and economic assets,” said Benny Gantz, the Israeli defense minister and a centrist political rival.

“I will personally work alongside the entire Israeli defense establishment to continue strengthening our relationship with Jordan,” he added, “while also deepening ties with other countries in the region.”

Mr. Netanyahu has said that four more countries are waiting to sign normalization agreements with Israel, without specifying which ones.

View Source

At Least 9 Dead in Afghan Helicopter Crash, After Clashes With Local Militia

KABUL, Afghanistan — Nine security personnel were killed after an Afghan military helicopter was downed, likely by militia forces, in eastern Afghanistan early Thursday, signaling a drastic rift between the Afghan government and the regional forces supposedly under its control.

The fighting occurred in Wardak, a mountainous province that borders Kabul in the country’s east. There, militia forces led by Abdul Ghani Alipur, a local warlord with a spotty rights record, have been engaged in a tense, sometimes violent, standoff with government troops since January.

The latest clashes have pushed the uneasy relationship to its breaking point as the country moves toward an uncertain future.

“There was fighting, helicopters were targeting us, and when the helicopter was firing rockets, we had to shoot at it,” Mohammad Hussain Tawana, an aide for Mr. Alipur, said of the attack that occurred in Hisa-e-Awal Behsud district. He added that it wasn’t clear whether the crash was caused by the shooting or by technical problems.

Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and more than 30 were wounded.

The Afghan government suspended Allah Dad Fedayi, the provincial police chief of Wardak, for overseeing the forces that attacked the demonstrators. But Mr. Tawana, the aide, still cited him as a reason for the fighting that reignited late Wednesday night, as the police chief was simply reassigned to another province earlier this week.

“The people understand that there would be no action taken by the government because of the incident, so they finally decided to take action themselves,” Mr. Tawana said.

interview with ABC News that aired Wednesday, President Biden said it would be “tough” to meet the deadline, publicly hinting at a prolonged troop presence in the country that could scuttle last year’s U.S.-Taliban deal as the insurgent group has strictly opposed any such extension.

Mr. Biden added that he was consulting with allies on the drawdown, and said that if the deadline were to be extended, it would not be by “a lot longer.”

Fatima Faizi and Fahim Abed contributed reporting.

View Source

U.S. Joins Russia in Calling on Kabul, Taliban to Speed Up Power-Sharing Talks

Four countries including the U.S. called on the Afghan government and the Taliban to reduce violence and begin discussions on sharing power, in a fresh effort to end the two-decade war as a deadline for the full withdrawal of American troops draws closer.

At a peace conference hosted by Moscow on Thursday, the U.S., Russia, China and Pakistan added that they would not support the restoration of an Islamic Emirate under the Taliban, and that any peace settlement must protect the rights of all Afghans, including women and minorities.

Kabul’s chief peace envoy, Abdullah Abdullah, called for “an end to targeted killings and a comprehensive cease-fire to begin the next rounds of the talks in a peaceful environment.”

The summit took place amid intensifying international efforts to end fighting ahead of a May 1 deadline for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad represented the Biden administration at the conference, which underlined foreign countries’ desire to have a hand in shaping Afghanistan’s future, from curbing the threat of Islamist militants to securing nearby borders against drug smuggling and human trafficking.

The conference is aimed at jump-starting a peace process that has stalled since launching in Qatar in September. It comes ahead of a major peace summit in Istanbul, slated for April and initiated by the Biden administration.

In Doha, Qatar, U.S. and Taliban leaders signed a deal that aims to end years of fighting. (Originally published Feb. 29, 2020)

Alongside the peace talks, violence in Afghanistan has escalated. Over the past year, the Taliban have attacked government forces across the country and seized larger parts of the countryside and vital highways. The government has accused insurgents of orchestrating an assassination campaign against government workers, civil society activists and journalists.

In February last year, the Trump administration agreed to draw down the remaining American troops in Afghanistan as part of a deal with the Taliban. President Biden has said he also intends to withdraw the remaining 2,500 troops from America’s longest war. In a television interview aired Wednesday, Mr. Biden said that even if the May deadline proved challenging to meet, it wouldn’t be extended by very much.

The U.S. and the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani concur that the Taliban hasn’t done enough to reduce violence. But the Biden administration is also butting heads with Mr. Ghani, who has refused to be replaced by an interim government hashed out a negotiation table, insisting that any new administration must be democratically elected.

“If the Taliban are ready to participate in elections tomorrow, we are ready. But without elections, I am not ready to transfer the power to my successor,” Mr. Ghani said Tuesday.

A senior Afghan government official said that if Taliban leader Maulavi Haibatullah was to attend the Istanbul conference in April, and a positive outcome was expected, Mr. Ghani would also attend.

Thursday’s summit highlighted international concerns that a collapsed peace process may escalate violence beyond Afghanistan’s borders.

Photo: russian foreign affairs ministry/Shutterstock

The Kabul delegation traveling to Moscow differed from the one in Qatar, featuring only one woman—Afghanistan’s first female governor, Habiba Sarabi—compared with four in Doha. The delegation also comprised strongmen who were excluded from Doha, including Abdul Rashid Dostum and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, both of whom were accused by rights groups of war crimes in past decades.

Russia holds little sway over either the Taliban or the Afghan government, analysts say, but the meeting shows the heightened international concerns that a collapsed peace process may escalate violence beyond Afghanistan’s borders.

Other militant groups in the country pose a threat to regional powers, including Russia. Some of the most active Islamist fighters belong to Central Asia-rooted groups such as the Islamic Movements of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Uyghur militants from the Turkistan Islamic Movement potentially threaten China. Al-Qaeda also still maintains hundreds of fighters in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials and the United Nations.

“Americans are leaving Afghanistan sooner or later,” said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank. “In this situation, Russia can ignore Afghanistan only at its peril.”

Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at and Ann M. Simmons at

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

View Source