Is America’s longest war finally coming to an end?
That’s the question President Biden is confronting before a May 1 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, where they have been deployed since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. I spoke to my colleagues Helene Cooper and T.M. Gibbons-Neff about Biden’s three basic options, and the potential risks.
1. Withdraw now. Biden’s history suggests he might personally favor a quick drawdown, Helene, who covers the Pentagon, says. As vice president, Biden argued for a smaller U.S. presence in Afghanistan than Barack Obama’s military advisers wanted. (He lost that argument.)
Now that Biden is in a position to decide, his outlook seems to have shifted. He has said that bringing the roughly 3,500 U.S. soldiers home by May — a deadline Biden inherited from Donald Trump — would be logistically difficult. “Think about how you move into an apartment and you live there for a year, how much it takes to move out,” T.M., who is based in the Afghan capital, Kabul, says. “Imagine going to war for two decades.”
A hasty departure could also have consequences for Afghanistan. The Trump administration agreed to withdraw as part of a deal it struck last year with the Taliban, the repressive militant group that ruled much of the country before the U.S. invaded. The Taliban are already supporting targeted killings against Afghan civilians and soldiers. If American forces leave, some Afghans and U.S. officials fear the Taliban will attempt a military takeover.
women’s education and democracy the country has made since 2001.
think they have the upper hand.
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The children’s section of YouTube is lucrative: Half of the 10 most popular videos on the platform are for children, and the catchy kids’ song “Baby Shark” is its most-viewed video. But as Bloomberg Businessweek reports, Kaji’s success goes far beyond the ad money from his videos. Like the Olsen twins and JoJo Siwa before him, he has an empire built on merchandising.
Kaji’s parents have made deals with Walmart and Target for toys and clothes, as well as TV deals with Amazon and Nickelodeon. A footwear line with Skechers is in the works. The bulk of Kaji’s revenue now comes from the licensing side.
Other children’s YouTube channels are also cashing in: Cocomelon, which has more than 100 million subscribers, has a line of toys. Pinkfong, the educational brand behind “Baby Shark,” has merchandise and a Nickelodeon series.
For more on Kaji, read the rest of Bloomberg’s story.
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KABUL, Afghanistan — Three health workers, all women, working for the government’s polio vaccine campaign were shot dead in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, local officials said, only weeks after three women working in television were killed in the same city.
The women, all in their 20s, were going about their jobs in the bustling town near the border with Pakistan when they were gunned down in two separate attacks.
Semin, 24, and Basira, 20, who like many Afghans both went by only one name, were shot and killed by two gunmen as they entered a house in Jalalabad to vaccinate the children who lived there, the governor’s office said.
The two were going door to door in the city, a practice the Taliban have banned in the past in areas under their control.
Global Polio Eradication Initiative, is one of two countries where the disease has not been eradicated, trailing behind Pakistan.
Around the same time as Tuesday’s shootings, there was an explosion at the city’s regional hospital, officials said, in front of the compound where the vaccines are stored. There were no casualties, but windows were shattered.
has yet to definitively say whether it will meet the May 1 deadline for withdrawing all American forces, per an agreement the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in February 2020.
“My niece Basira was a poor girl,” said Haji Moqbel Ahmad, a tribal elder in Jalalabad, who added that the woman had not been threatened before. “She was shot and killed while she was doing her job.”
Basira, a vaccine worker since her teens, had been enlisted for a five-day vaccine campaign for which she would be paid less than $30, officials said.
The month began with the assassination of three women who worked for a television station in Jalalabad. A female television and radio presenter from the same station was gunned down in much the same way in December. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for both incidents.
The New York Times documented the deaths of at least 136 civilians and 168 security force members in such targeted killings in 2020, more than nearly any other year of the war. So far, 2021 has not seen any reprieve from the same kind of violence.
The Taliban are increasing pressure on government and society, asserting dominance as stuttering, intermittent negotiations take place to settle the Afghan conflict.
wrote on Twitter. “My deepest condolences for the victims’ families as we call for justice,” he wrote. “Attacking vaccinators is as heartless as it is inexplicable.”
Zabihullah Ghazi contributed reporting from Jalalabad and Fahim Abed contributed from Kabul, Afghanistan.
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.
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.
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.”
—Ehsanullah Amiri in Kabul contributed to this article.
Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at email@example.com and Ann M. Simmons at firstname.lastname@example.org
MOSCOW — Russia recalled its ambassador to the United States and unleashed a storm of derision aimed at President Biden after he said in a television interview that he thought President Vladimir V. Putin was a killer.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said late Wednesday that it had summoned its envoy in Washington, Anatoly I. Antonov, to Moscow “in order to analyze what needs to be done in the context of relations with the United States.”
“We are interested in preventing an irreversible deterioration in relations, if the Americans become aware of the risks associated with this,” the Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria V. Zakharova, said in a statement.
Ms. Zakharova did not specify whether a specific event had prompted the decision to recall Mr. Antonov, but the rare move came as Russian officials reacted with fury to an interview with Mr. Biden aired by ABC News. In the interview, when asked whether he thought Mr. Putin was a “killer,” Mr. Biden responded: “Mmm hmm, I do.”
post on Facebook on Thursday in reference to Mr. Biden’s interview. “Any expectations for the new U.S. administration’s new policy toward Russia have been written off by this boorish statement.”
Mr. Kosachev warned that Russia would respond further, without specifying how, to Mr. Biden’s comments “if explanations and apologies do not follow from the American side.”
quipping in December that if Russian agents had wanted to kill the opposition leader, “They would have probably finished the job.”
The Russian government has also been linked to attacks on foreign soil, including the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England, in 2018 and the shooting death of a former commander of Chechen separatists in Berlin the following year.
Mr. Putin signed a law in 2006 legalizing targeted killings abroad — legislation that Russian lawmakers said at the time was inspired by American and Israeli conduct.
The council member reacted angrily and told colleagues he blamed Mr. Aymaq for the entire investigation, according to officials and journalists.
Two weeks after the reporter was killed, Mr. Bik was dead, too.
He died of wounds suffered during a shootout on Jan. 14 with National Directorate of Security agents who went to arrest him at his home in connection with Mr. Aymaq’s death, the police said. Three of Mr. Bik’s bodyguards were wounded in the clash, said Fazlulhaq Ehsan, head of Ghor’s provincial council.
The National Directorate of Security office in Ghor declined to comment.
Then came the targeted killings on Feb. 25 of the slain reporter’s relatives in what the police said was a revenge attack.
Provincial officials blamed the Taliban. Ehsanullah Bik, Mr. Bik’s brother, is a commander for the insurgent group, said Amirdad Parsa, the police spokesman for Ghor Province.
This type of vendetta killing is a pattern, said Abdul Basir Qadiri, a member of the Ghor provincial council. “When people see a rival tribe become powerful, they join the Taliban or kill the leader of the rival tribe so they can remain the only powerful family in that area,” he said.
Mr. Aymaq’s brother, Sebghatullah, 28 — a police officer — and his cousin, Gol-Ahmad, 35, were shot and killed during the attack on Sebghatullah’s home in the village of Tigha-e-Timor, the police said. Also killed was Mr. Aymaq’s 13-year-old niece Arefa.
Five other relatives, including a 3-year-old niece, were shot and wounded. The gunmen abducted three male relatives, including Mr. Aymaq’s 11-year-old nephew, police said. They have not been heard from since.
Though she noted that she was unaware of the station receiving any threats specific to the murdered women or female employees generally, “Being a journalist in Afghanistan is a risk. There’s no other way to put it,” she said. “Even just going to work or walking home from work, as we saw happen yesterday, can pose a risk.”
Since 2018, more than 30 media employees and journalists have been killed in Afghanistan, according to a recent United Nations report. It has been particularly bad for them, and for other civil society figures, during an increase in targeted killings documented by The New York Times since peace negotiations started in September 2020.
“I feel like we’re living in a horror movie these days,” said Rada Akbar, a Kabul-based photojournalist and artist. “So many people left the country. A lot of people got killed. And everyone else who is in the city is just …” she trailed off, then continued. “Everyone is so silent. It’s very scary.”
‘A Warning to Me’
Mariam Alimi, a Kabul-based photojournalist, remembers the precise moment she heard that the three media workers in Jalalabad had been killed. “I was at my brother’s house,” she said. “I heard that three journalists had been killed, so I switched on the TV, and saw the story.”
The news, she said, was “a warning to me.” She travels throughout the country for her work, often alone. For years, she said, she felt safe enough doing so that she preferred to drive to assignments across the country rather than fly, which she considered a hassle. More recently, however, she has been threatened and followed by unknown men while on assignment. Her clients have canceled assignments and warned her not to travel.
And then came the killings on Tuesday, which felt like a message she couldn’t ignore.
The New York Times documented the deaths of at least 136 civilians and 168 security force members in such targeted killings and assassinations in 2020, more than nearly any other year of the war.