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Taliban attack Afghan army bases, throwing peace talks into doubt

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The Taliban carried out more than a dozen attacks on Afghan army bases, officials said Tuesday, hours after ending a partial truce and throwing into doubt peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents.

The intra-Afghan negotiations are due to begin March 10 according to a US-Taliban deal signed in Doha on Saturday, but a dispute over a prisoner swap has raised questions about whether they will go ahead.

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The agreement includes a commitment for the Taliban to release up to 1,000 prisoners and for the Afghan government to free around 5,000 insurgent captives — something the militants have cited as a prerequisite for talks but which President Ashraf Ghani has refused to do before negotiations start.

The row has highlighted the tough road ahead, with the Taliban’s decision to end a partial truce Monday complicating matters further.

A defence ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP of overnight attacks on government forces in 13 of the country’s 34 provinces.

Two soldiers were killed in one of the attacks that happened in southern Kandahar province, a government statement said.

An attack in Logar province near Kabul — which was not included in the defence ministry official’s tally — killed five security forces, the provincial governor’s spokesman Didar Lawang told AFP.

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The halt to the limited truce, which began on February 22, ends what was a welcome reprieve for ordinary Afghans who have born the brunt of the deadly violence.

But experts said the move was unsurprising as both sides seek to exploit whatever leverage they hold to force the other’s hand.

“Of course violence will go up, was bound to happen. no surprise Ghani balking on prisoner release: 1 of his few levers,” Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tweeted.

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Kabul-based analyst Ahmad Saeedi told AFP the uptick in attacks reflected the insurgents’ belief that “they have to keep the battlefield hot to be able to win on the negotiating table, as they did with the Americans.”

– ‘So far, so good’ –

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Ghani’s government last week sent a delegation to Qatar to open “initial contacts” with the insurgents but Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen on Tuesday said the militants would not meet Kabul’s representatives except to discuss the release of their captives.

Apparent differences between the Doha agreement and a joint US-Afghan declaration released in Afghanistan underline the obstacles facing negotiators.

The US-Taliban deal committed to the release of prisoners while the Kabul document only required both sides to determine “the feasibility of releasing” captives.

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In a statement, the UN’s Afghanistan mission called for “continued reduced violence to maintain & enhance an environment conducive to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations”.

Since the deal signing, the Taliban have been publicly claiming “victory” over the US.

Speaking to Fox News, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down the militants’ comments.

“So I’ve seen lots of remarks. Just watch what really happens. Pay less attention to statements, pay less attention to things people say,” Pompeo said.

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“Watch what happens on the ground. There’s been a lot of work done at detailed levels about how this will proceed. So far, so good.”

Under the terms of the deal, foreign forces will quit Afghanistan within 14 months, subject to Taliban security guarantees and a pledge by the insurgents to hold talks with Kabul.


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Stephen Colbert hilariously mocks Oklahoma governor ‘Stitt for brains’ for catching COVID-19 after ignoring masks

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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) revealed Wednesday that he is positive for the coronavirus. It could have been the exposure he incurred at the Trump rally. Or it could have been all of those times he went out without a mask saying he was "social distancing." Either way, it was something "A Late Show" host Stephen Colbert found to be a hilarious example of schadenfreude.

"All the people in charge who told us the pandemic wasn't a big deal are looking big dumb right now like Oklahoma governor and chunky Dracula Kevin Stitt, cuz remember Trump's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma full of unmasked open mouth screamers," said Colbert. "Lots of people called it a terrible idea, said it should be canceled. Not Governor Stitt."

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The problem isn’t the campaign manager — it’s Trump: Republican analyst

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Switching up the campaign manager four months before the election when the latest poll shows you 12 points down has nothing to do with the campaign's leadership, Republican analyst Amanda Carpenter explained on CNN Wednesday.

"The problem isn't that Donald Trump has a bad campaigner," said Carpenter in an interview with CNN's Don Lemon. "They're raising tons of money. They have a boatload of surrogates. The problem is that he has a bad presidency. And no one -- no one, no spin master, not Kellyanne Conway, not Brad Parscale can spin the most important number of this election, and that's -- at present, 137,000 dead and rising. And so what we need to see if Donald Trump wants to turn this around is to turn around his white house. And I have four words of advice: More Fauci, less Kayleigh."

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Here’s what you need to know about Bill Stepien — the man who just took over Trump’s fledgling campaign

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President Donald Trump announced that his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, is being shoved out of his role given the failures the campaign has suffered over the past seven months.

In his place, for now, at least, will be Bill Stepien.

If that name sounds familiar, it may be because Stepien was part of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal, where, as punishment to Mayor Mark Sokolich, two of three toll lanes were closed during a Monday morning rush hour and weren't reopened until Friday.

The court case quoted Bill Stepien's name over 700 times, including an email in which he claimed, "It will be a tough November for this little Serbian." The mayor was born in Fort Lee, and his lineage isn't Serbian, it's actually Croatian.

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