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US and Taliban agree to briefly suspend talks about troop withdrawal from Afghanistan
KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. and Taliban officials decided on Saturday to put their ongoing peace talks on hold for two days to allow for a meeting between rival Afghan groups to be held in Qatar, a Taliban official said.
The warring sides started a seventh round of peace talks last week, aiming to hammer out a schedule for the withdrawal of foreign troops in exchange for Taliban guarantees that international militant groups will not use Afghanistan as a base for launching attacks.
Agreement on the timetable has been elusive so far, but in a sign of progress the Taliban agreed on the sidelines of the peace talks to hold separate discussions with a group of Afghan delegates.
U.S. officials are demanding a ceasefire agreement and on direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government before a peace deal is finalised.
Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Qatar's capital, Doha, said the U.S.-Taliban dialogue would resume after the two-day Intra-Afghan conference.
A previously planned meeting between Afghan representatives in April collapsed before it started amid disagreement over the size of the proposed 250-strong Afghan delegation as well as over its status as a representative body.
This time, about 40 high-profile Afghan figures and activists will fly to Doha but will not have any official status -- a condition made necessary by the Taliban's refusal to deal directly with the Western-backed government in Kabul.
A senior Taliban official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said ensuring the protection of the rights of women and minorities would be discussed in the Doha talks, which have been facilitated by German and Qatari officials.
Despite intensified diplomatic efforts to end the 18-year long war in Afghanistan, deadly violence has surged across the country.
Last week, the Taliban claimed a truck bomb attack in Kabul that killed six people and wounded 105 civilians, many of them children.
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Former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, whom President Donald Trump recently pardoned of his 2013 murder conviction, claims he was nothing more than a pawn whom generals sacrificed for political expediency.
The infantry officer had been sentenced to 19 years in prison for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men in 2012. Two of the men were killed.
During a Monday interview on Fox & Friends, Lorance accused his superiors of betraying him.
"A service member who knows that their commanders love them will go to the gates of hell for their country and knock them down," Lorance said. "I think that's extremely important. Anybody who is not part of the senior Pentagon brass will tell you the same thing."
"I think folks that start putting stars on their collar — anybody that has got to be confirmed by the Senate for a promotion — they are no longer a soldier, they are a politician," he continued. "And so I think they lose some of their values — and they certainly lose a lot of their respect from their subordinates — when they do what they did to me, which was throw me under the bus."
Fifteen years after the U.S. military toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Army's massive two-volume study of the Iraq War closed with a sobering assessment of the campaign's outcome: With nearly 3,500 U.S. service members killed in action and trillions of dollars spent, "an emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor.
Thanks to roughly 700 pages of newly-publicized secret Iranian intelligence cables, we now have a good idea as to why.
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressed confidence on Sunday in the U.S. military justice system's ability to hold troops to account, two days after President Donald Trump pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan.
Trump also restored the rank of a Navy SEAL platoon commander who was demoted for actions in Iraq.
Asked how he would reassure countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the pardons, Esper said: "We have a very effective military justice system."
"I have great faith in the military justice system," Esper told reporters during a trip to Bangkok, in his first remarks about the issue since Trump issued the pardons.
For one veteran who fought through the crossfires of German heavy machine guns in the D-Day landings, receiving a Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of his service and that of his World War II comrades would be "quite meaningful."
Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to award the Army Rangers of World War II the medal, the highest civilian award bestowed by the United States, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
An airman at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base was arrested and charged with murder on Sunday after a shooting at a Raleigh night club that killed a 21-year-old man, the Air Force and the Raleigh Police Department said.