An Unholy Alliance Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Iran after drone strike eliminates Al-Qaeda Leader

Revelations 6:3-4 “when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

Important Takeaways:

  • How Iran is Partnering With Al-Qaeda to Expand its Terror Network, And What That Means for the US
  • The US drone strike that eliminated al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri could also have put into motion an even more dangerous phase in the global war on terror – one with Iran at the helm.
  • “One might not expect that the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, that’s a Shia revolutionary regime, would partner with a Sunni terrorist group,” says Amb. Nathan Sales, former ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism under the Trump administration.
  • Iran’s connection to al-Qaeda dates back to the early 1990s when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard helped Osama bin Laden run jihadist training camps in Sudan.
  • The regime also offered safe haven to al-Qaeda leadership fleeing Afghanistan in the wake of 9-11.
  • “Al-Qaeda and Iran have common enemies. They both hate the United States. They both hate Israel. They both hate Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni Gulf monarchies. If al-Qaeda is mounting terrorist attacks against all or any of those organizations, that advances Iran strategic objectives, and it does so in a way that’s deniable,” Sales explains.
  • “Now that the Taliban is back in business and providing safe haven to senior al-Qaeda figures as we saw with Ayman al Zawahiri, who was living in the heart of downtown Kabul, presumably under Taliban protection

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Humanitarian Aid after Afghanistan Earthquake becomes complicated since Taliban takeover

Luke 21:11 “There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Afghanistan Quake Kills 1,000 People, Deadliest in Decades
  • A powerful earthquake struck a rural, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, killing 1,000 people and injuring 1,500 more in one of the deadliest quakes in decades, the state-run news agency reported. Officials warned that the already grim toll may still rise.
  • Information remained scarce on the magnitude 6.1 temblor near the Pakistani border, but quakes of that strength can cause serious damage
  • Experts put the depth at just 10 kilometers (6 miles) – another factor that could lead to severe destruction.
  • Rescuers rushed to the area by helicopter Wednesday, but the response is likely to be complicated since many international aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.
  • The Taliban are still trying to reconstitute government ministries abandoned by staff loyal to its previous Western-backed government, and it was not clear how officials arrived at the casualty tolls reported by Bakhtar.
  • The Italian medical aid group Emergency, which still operates in Afghanistan, said it sent seven ambulances and staff to the areas closest to the quake zone.
  • Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said his nation would provide help

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Pandemic Becomes Tool to Persecute Christians

Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Important Takeaways:

  • The Ignored Pandemic: 360 Million Christians Persecuted Worldwide
  • “When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, they tried to appear moderate—but there’s no sign that Christianity will be anything other than a death sentence.” — World Watch List-2022.
  • “The persecution of Christians in India has intensified, as Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence. The extremists disregard Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians, and think the country should be purified of non-Hindus…..” — World Watch List-2022.
  • In Qatar, “Violence against Christians rose sharply ….” — World Watch List-2022.
  • “The COVID-19 pandemic has offered a new weapon to persecutors. In some areas, Christians have been deliberately overlooked in the local distribution of government aid and have even been accused of spreading the virus.” — World Watch List-2022.
  • In the Central African Republic, which was “hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic … Christians were denied government aid and told to convert to Islam if they wanted to eat.”
  • In short, the persecution of Christians, which was already horrific, has increased by nearly 70% over the last five years, with no signs of abating.

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From Kabul to Kentucky: Afghans put down roots in refugee haven

By Amira Karaoud and Mary Milliken

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (Reuters) – After exhausting journeys that took them from Kabul to Qatar to European cities to U.S. military bases, Afghan families fleeing the Taliban alighted in Kentucky, in a small city well versed in receiving refugees.

Bowling Green has welcomed waves of refugees over four decades, beginning with the Cambodians in the 1980’s and then Bosnians in the 1990’s, plus Iraqis, Burmese, Rwandese and Congolese and others, who have helped make the city of 72,000 a diverse and economically thriving place.

Wazir Khan Zadran was a tribal leader who fought 20 years ago against the Haqqani network, a powerful faction within the Taliban. Although he more recently worked with a non-governmental organization, he knew the Taliban would come for him.

Zadran said the Americans saved him and his family by picking them up in a Chinook helicopter in August and taking them to the Kabul airport. After a spell at a New Mexico military base, they were sent to Bowling Green and quickly realized they had lucked out in their new American lives.

“We are so happy in Bowling Green,” said the 41-year-old father, who has secured a comfortable house and sent his children to school with the assistance of the local resettlement agency, the International Center, founded in 1981.

“Also, the local community is helping us and introducing the culture to us,” Zadran added.

His six children are learning songs in English, sending “Dear Santa” letters off, going to the library and lapping up ice cream at Baskin-Robbins.

In the aftermath of rising anti-immigrant and refugee sentiment during the Trump administration, the United States government is now handling its biggest refugee evacuation since Vietnam. Of the nearly 75,000 expected to settle in America, Bowling Green will receive 350 Afghans in fiscal year 2022.

There are plenty of jobs for new residents of Bowling Green, an agricultural and manufacturing hub, perhaps best known for the assembly plant that makes the coveted Corvette sports car. The Bosnians, who now number around 10,000 and own several companies, attest to the good job prospects when the Afghans’ expedited work permits arrive in coming months.

“In 2000 when I came here, I arrived with a couple of suitcases and two infant children and my wife,” said Tahir Zukic, a Bosnian from Srebrenica who owns Taz Trucking, employing 100 people and 140 trucks.

“It’s absolutely an amazing place to be, with a lot of opportunity and you can just do what you like to do.”

For those who did not work with the Americans in Afghanistan, learning the language could be the toughest part of adapting to their new home, Zukic said. But they also must learn how America works, how to drive, how to get a credit card. And what to do when tornadoes approach.

The twisters that tore through Kentucky this month jolted the Afghans’ sense of security. They were confounded by the 1 a.m. sirens that reminded them of Kabul and shocked by the uprooted trees, roofs ripped off houses and deaths in one neighborhood home to many immigrants.

“We never saw a storm like this before in our life in Afghanistan, so we felt maybe we were going to another war,” Zadran said. “But God saved us.”

‘THIS IS MY PLACE’

Firas Majeed arrived in Bowling Green from Baghdad via Brooklyn, New York, in 2016. The Iraqi refugee came to visit a friend and decided “this is my place.” He now co-owns a grocery store stocked with Middle Eastern and European foods after working as a welder.

“The quality of life is higher than in the big cities,” said Majeed, who appreciates the big skies and verdant farms around Bowling Green, strong job market, low rents and medical care.

Majeed said the Afghans will get a lot of support because everyone saw the images of the chaotic evacuation from Kabul. The Iraqis can teach them things, like how to get a driver’s license.

Bowling Green is also a place that allows refugees to hold onto their identities while becoming Americans – offering a socially conservative environment to raise families and practice religions.

At the Forest Park Baptist Church, Congolese refugees have breathed new life into the community. Worship services and Bible study are translated into Swahili and sometimes held in that language.

“We love their gospel singing,” said church leader Mike Givens, and the church translates their songs so everyone hears the message.

“Our community has changed, so if we do not seek or go after the immigrant population, our church will not survive,” added Givens.

Back at the Zadran house, the children make quick progress with their new culture. The eldest, Zuleikha, teaches her siblings a song in English with the lyrics “What are you thankful for?”

As they applaud their own performance, Zuleikha declares “Finished!” and flashes a wide grin.

(Reporting by Amira Karaoud and Mary Milliken; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. authorizes certain transactions with Taliban to ease flow of aid to Afghanistan

By Daphne Psaledakis and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday formally exempted U.S. and U.N. officials doing official business with the Taliban from U.S. sanctions, clearing the way for proposed U.N. payments next year of some $6 million to the Islamists for security.

The U.S. Treasury Department announcement came a day after Reuters exclusively reported a U.N. plan to subsidize the monthly wages of Taliban-run Interior Ministry personnel who guard U.N. facilities and pay them monthly food allowances.

Some experts said the proposal raised questions about whether such payments would violate U.N. and U.S. sanctions on the Taliban and on many of their leaders, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Interior Ministry chief and head of the Haqqani network.

The Treasury Department issued two general licenses allowing U.S. officials and those of certain international organizations, like the United Nations, to engage in transactions involving the Taliban or Haqqani network as long as they are official business.

A third general license gives nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) protection from U.S. sanctions on the Taliban and the Haqqani network for work on certain kinds of projects, including humanitarian programs for “basic human needs,” rule of law and education.

A senior U.S. administration official emphasized that while the United States was issuing the licenses, the Taliban would have to make decisions about how they operate the government to prevent a complete economic collapse.

“What we can attempt to do, what we’re going to work to do, is to mitigate the humanitarian crisis by getting resources to the Afghan people, and these general licenses will allow us to allow organizations that are doing this work to do exactly that,” the official told reporters.

The Treasury, however, warned the new general licenses do not allow financial transfers to the Taliban or the Haqqani network “other than for the purpose of effecting the payment of taxes, fees, or import duties, or the purchase or receipt of permits, licenses, or public utility services.”

The economic crisis in Afghanistan accelerated when the Taliban seized power in August, as the former Western-backed government collapsed and the last U.S. troops withdrew.

The United States and other donors cut financial assistance on which the country became dependent during two decades of war with the Islamist militants, and more than $9 billion in Afghanistan’s hard currency assets were frozen.

The United Nations is warning that nearly 23 million people – about 55% of the population – are facing extreme levels of hunger, with nearly 9 million at risk of famine as winter takes hold in the impoverished landlocked country.

While the U.S. Treasury has provided “comfort letters” assuring banks that they can process humanitarian transactions, concern about U.S. sanctions continues to prevent passage of even basic supplies, including food and medicine.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Exclusive-World Bank works to redirect frozen funds to Afghanistan for humanitarian aid only: sources

By Jonathan Landay and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The World Bank is finalizing a proposal to deliver up to $500 million from a frozen Afghanistan aid fund to humanitarian agencies, people familiar with the plans told Reuters, but it leaves out tens of thousands of public sector workers and remains complicated by U.S. sanctions.

Board members will meet informally on Tuesday to discuss the proposal, hammered out in recent weeks with U.S. and U.N. officials, to redirect the funds from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which has a total of $1.5 billion.

Afghanistan’s 39 million people face a cratering economy, a winter of food shortages and growing poverty three months after the Taliban seized power as the last U.S. troops withdrew from 20 years of war.

Afghan experts said the aid will help, but big gaps remain, including how to get the funds into Afghanistan without exposing the financial institutions involved to U.S. sanctions, and the lack of focus on state workers, the sources said.

The money will go mainly to addressing urgent health care needs in Afghanistan, where less than 7% of the population has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, they said.

For now, it will not cover salaries for teachers and other government workers, a policy that the experts say could hasten the collapse of Afghanistan’s public education, healthcare and social services systems. They warn that hundreds of thousands of workers, who have been unpaid for months, could stop showing up for their jobs and join a massive exodus from the country.

The World Bank will have no oversight of the funds once transferred into Afghanistan, said one of the sources familiar with the plans.

“The proposal calls for the World Bank to transfer the money to the U.N. and other humanitarian agencies, without any oversight or reporting, but it says nothing about the financial sector, or how the money will get into the country,” the source said, calling U.S. sanctions a major constraint.

‘NOT A SILVER BULLET’

While the U.S. Treasury has provided “comfort letters” assuring banks that they can process humanitarian transactions, concern about sanctions continues to prevent passage of even basic supplies, including food and medicine, the source added.

“It’s a scorched earth approach. We’re driving the country into the dust,” said the source. Crippling sanctions and failure to take care of public sector workers will “create more refugees, more desperation and more extremism.”

Any decision to redirect ARTF money requires the approval of all its donors, of which the United States has been the largest.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed that Washington is working with the World Bank and other donors on how to use the funds, including potentially paying those who work in “critical positions such as healthcare workers and teachers.”

The spokesperson said the U.S. government remains committed to meeting the  critical needs of the  Afghan people, “especially across health, nutrition, education, and food security sectors … but international aid is not a silver bullet.”

BYPASSING TALIBAN

Established in 2002 and administered by the World Bank, the ARTF was the largest financing source for Afghanistan’s civilian budget, which was more than 70% funded by foreign aid.

The World Bank suspended disbursements after the Taliban takeover. At the same time, Washington stopping supplying U.S. dollars to the country and joined in freezing some $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets and halting financial assistance.

A World Bank spokesperson confirmed that staff and executive board members are exploring redirecting ARTF funds to U.N. agencies “to support humanitarian efforts,” but gave no further details. The United Nations declined to comment.

Initial work has also been done on a potential swap of U.S. dollars for Afghanis to deliver the funds into the country, but those plans are “basically just a few PowerPoint slides at this point,” one of the sources said. That approach would deposit ARTF funds in the international accounts of Afghan private institutions, who would disburse Afghanis from their Afghan bank accounts to humanitarian groups in Afghanistan, two sources said.

This would bypass the Taliban, thereby avoiding entanglement with the U.S. and U.N. sanctions, but the plan is complex and untested, and could take time to implement.

One major problem is the lack of a mechanism to monitor disbursements of funds in Afghanistan to ensure Taliban leaders and fighters do not access them, a third source said.

Two former U.S. officials familiar with internal administration deliberations said that some U.S. officials contend that U.S. and U.N. sanctions on Taliban leaders bar financial aid to anyone affiliated with their government.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

Taliban release media guidelines, ban shows with female actors

KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban administration has released a set of restrictions on Afghan media, including banning television dramas that included female actors and ordering women news presenters to wear “Islamic hijab”.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue set out nine rules this week, a Taliban administration spokesman said on Tuesday, largely centered on banning any media that contravened “Islamic or Afghan values”.

Some edicts were targeted specifically at women, a move likely to raise concerns among the international community.

“Those dramas…or programs in which women have acted, should not be aired,” the rules said, adding that female journalists on air should wear “Islamic hijab” without defining what that meant.

Though most women in Afghanistan wear headscarves in public, the Taliban’s statements that women should wear “Islamic hijab” have often in the past worried women’s rights activists who say the term is vague and could be interpreted conservatively.

The rules drew criticism from international rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said media freedom was deteriorating in the country.

“The disappearance of any space for dissent and worsening restrictions for women in the media and arts is devastating,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at HRW, in a statement.

Though Taliban officials have sought to publicly assure women and the international community that women’s rights will be protected since they took over Afghanistan on Aug. 15, many advocates and women have remained skeptical.

During the Taliban’s previous rule, strict curbs were placed on women’s ability to leave the house, unless accompanied by a male relative, or to receive education.

(Reporting by Kabul bureau; additional reporting by Jibran Ahmed in Peshawar; writing by Charlotte Greenfield)

Taliban to purge ‘people of bad character’ from ranks

By Jibran Ahmad

KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – The Taliban have formed a commission to purge “people of bad character” from their ranks to protect Afghanistan’s reputation, the group said on Tuesday, in the latest sign it is trying to change from an insurgency into a regular government.

The Taliban operated as insurgent fighters for two decades before toppling a Western-backed government in August. Their membership has grown over the last two years, particularly after it became apparent that they would return to power in some form.

In an audio recording, Taliban deputy chief and Afghan interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani said: “We are learning that people of bad character had entered (Taliban) ranks and had been causing a bad name to the Islamic Emirate (Afghanistan) and serving their vested interests.”

“It is our humble wish that there should be a small number of people but they should be pure and sincere so that this movement should not get damaged,” he said in the audio, whose authenticity was confirmed to Reuters by Taliban officials.

Reports on social media have alleged that people identifying themselves as Taliban members have carried out a number of attacks on civilians and former members of the security forces of the ousted government since August, despite the Taliban leadership announcing a general amnesty. Taliban officials have repeatedly denied sanctioning these acts.

Haqqani, a shadowy figure who has never been pictured in public, is also the head of the Haqqani Network that carried out some of the most brutal attacks of the 20-year insurgency.

The commission – called the commission for the purification of the ranks – has been formed under the Ministry of Defense, which is headed by Mullah Yaqoob, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar.

Haqqani said the commission’s formation was urgently needed.

“I would like to ask our brothers to cooperate with the commission and don’t protect or support any individual of bad character on the basis of personal friendship,” Haqqani said.

The message was the latest indication of efforts the Taliban have been forced to make to adapt the movement from a guerrilla insurgency to a full civilian administration since August.

Taliban forces held a military parade in Kabul on Nov. 14 using captured U.S.-made armored vehicles and Russian helicopters in a display that showed their continuing transformation from an insurgent force to a regular standing army.

(Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Gibran Peshimam in Kabul, Editing by William Maclean)

Exclusive-Qatar to act as U.S. diplomatic representative in Afghanistan – official

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States and Qatar have agreed that Qatar will represent the diplomatic interests of the United States in Afghanistan, a senior U.S. official told Reuters, an important signal of potential direct engagement between Washington and Kabul in the future after two decades of war.

Qatar will sign an arrangement with the United States on Friday to assume the role of “protecting power” for U.S. interests to help facilitate any formal communication between Washington and the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which the United States does not recognize.

The move comes at a time when the United States and other Western countries are grappling with how to engage with the Taliban after the hardline group took over Afghanistan in a lightning advance in August as U.S.-led forces were withdrawing after two decades of war.

Many countries including the United States and European states are reluctant to formally recognize the Taliban as critics say they are backtracking on pledges of political and ethnic inclusivity and not to sideline women and minorities.

But with winter approaching, many countries realize they need to engage more to prevent the deeply impoverished country from plunging into a humanitarian catastrophe.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will announce the deal with his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani at a news conference after their meeting on Friday.

According to the arrangement, which will come into effect on Dec. 31, Qatar will dedicate certain staff from its embassy in Afghanistan to a U.S. Interests Section and will coordinate closely with U.S. State Department and with U.S. mission in Doha.

The U.S. official said the United States would also continue its engagement with the Taliban through the Qatari capital, Doha, where the Taliban have maintained a political office for years.

“As our protecting power, Qatar will assist the United States in providing limited consular services to our citizens and in protecting U.S. interests in Afghanistan,” said the senior State Department official, who spoke about the sensitive matter on the condition of anonymity.

Consular assistance may include accepting passport applications, offering notarial services for documentation, providing information, and helping in emergencies, the U.S. official said.

The U.S. Interests Section will operate out of certain facilities on the compound in Kabul used by the U.S. Embassy prior to the suspension of operations, the State Department official said, adding that Qatar would monitor the properties on the compound and conduct security patrols.

Millions of Afghans face growing hunger amid soaring food prices, a drought and an economy in freefall, fueled by a hard cash shortage, sanctions on Taliban leaders and the suspension of much financial aid.

The Taliban victory in August saw the billions of dollars in foreign aid that had kept the economy afloat abruptly switched off, with more than $9 billion in central bank reserves frozen outside the country.

In a separate agreement, Qatar will continue to temporarily host up to 8,000 at-risk Afghans who have applied for special immigrant visas (SIV) and their eligible family members, the U.S. official said.

“SIV applicants will be housed at Camp As Sayliyah and al-Udeid Air Base,” the official said.

The two decades-long U.S. occupation of Afghanistan culminated in a hastily organized airlift in August in which more than 124,000 civilians, including Americans, Afghans and others, were evacuated as the Taliban took over. But thousands of U.S.-allied Afghans at risk of Taliban persecution were left behind.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay, Editing by Robert Birsel)

U.S. says worried about increase in attacks by ISIS-K in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States is worried about an uptick in attacks by Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan and remains deeply concerned about al Qaeda’s ongoing presence there, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West said on Monday.

He spoke to reporters by telephone from Brussels, where he briefed NATO allies on U.S. talks with the Taliban and held consultations on stabilizing Afghanistan following the Islamist militants’ takeover in August and the U.S. troop withdrawal.

West, who is due to travel on to Pakistan, India and Russia for more consultations, said the United States is preparing for the next round of talks with the Taliban in Doha, but he did not give a date.

With winter approaching, impoverished Afghanistan has emerged from all-out war into a humanitarian crisis as millions face growing hunger amid soaring food prices, a drought and an economy in freefall, fueled by a shortage of hard cash.

The Taliban also are confronting increasing attacks by its ideological foe, Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K, the regional Islamic State affiliate.

West said Washington is “worried about the uptick in ISIS-K attacks, and we want the Taliban to be successful against them. When it comes to other (militant) groups, look, al Qaeda continues to have a presence there that we’re very concerned about.”

Al Qaeda’s presence “is an issue of ongoing concern for us in our dialogue with the Taliban,” he continued.

U.S. officials believe that ISIS-K could develop the ability to stage attacks outside of Afghanistan within six to 12 months and that al Qaeda could do the same within one to two years.

On other issues, West said that Washington is not seriously considering reopening its Kabul embassy for now, and wants to see the Taliban “establish a record of responsible conduct” before assessing that option.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Landay; editing by Jonathan Oatis)