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The Taliban must be confronted by Afghanistan itself; No more military action: US

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If the Taliban had seized three provincial capitals in northern Afghanistan a year ago, like they did Sunday, the U.S. response would most likely have been ferocious. Fighter jets and helicopter gunships would have responded in force, beating back the Islamic group or, at the very least, stalling its advance.

But these are different times. What aircraft the U.S. military could muster from hundreds of miles away struck a cache of weapons far from Kunduz, Taliqan or Sari-i-pol, the cities that already had been all but lost to the Taliban.

The muted American response Sunday showed in no uncertain terms that America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan is over. The mismanaged and exhausted Afghan forces will have to retake the cities on their own, or leave them to the Taliban for good.

The recent string of Taliban military victories has not moved President Joe Biden to reassess his decision to end the U.S. combat mission by the end of the month, senior administration officials said Sunday. But the violence shows just how difficult it will be for Biden to extract America from the war while insisting that he is not abandoning the country in the middle of a brutal Taliban offensive.

In a speech defending the U.S. withdrawal last month, Biden said the United States had done more than enough to empower the Afghan police and military to secure the future of their people. U.S. officials have acknowledged that those forces will struggle, but argue they must now fend for themselves.

So far, the administration’s sink-or-swim strategy has not shown promising results.

Over the past week, Taliban fighters have moved swiftly to retake cities around Afghanistan, assassinated government officials, and killed civilians in the process. Throughout this, U.S. officials have publicly held out hope that Afghan forces have the resources and ability to fight back, while at the same time negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban that seems more unlikely by the day.

Leon Panetta, who served as defense secretary under President Barack Obama, said he had expected to see more U.S. air support Sunday, but he did not expect the situation would improve markedly even with the help of U.S. forces.

“Let’s face it,” Panetta said. “The most you can hope for now is some kind of stalemate” between Afghan forces and Taliban fighters, who have demonstrated little interest in reaching an accord since the U.S. troop withdrawal was announced.

At the Pentagon, where senior leaders have reluctantly cut off most military support to Afghanistan, officials were on phone calls Sunday about the unfolding events around Kunduz, a city of more than 350,000 people. The United States has twice in the past intervened to retake Kunduz from the Taliban.

But defense officials said there were no plans to take action this time beyond limited airstrikes. Over the past three weeks, the United States has used armed Reaper drones and AC-130 aerial gunships to target Taliban equipment, including heavy artillery, that threaten population centers, foreign embassies and Afghan government buildings, officials said.

One official acknowledged that with only 650 U.S. troops remaining on the ground in Afghanistan, a concerted air campaign was unlikely to undo the advances the Taliban had made.

Although the U.S. military mission will formally conclude at the end of this month, U.S. troops and their Western allies are mostly gone already. The U.S. handed over Bagram Airfield — once the military’s nerve center — to the Afghans last month, effectively ending major U.S. military operations.

Now, air support for the Afghan forces and overhead surveillance arrives from outside the country, from bases in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, or from an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea.

Wesley Clark, the former top NATO general under President Bill Clinton, called the weekend’s events “a tragedy for the people of Afghanistan, and a consequence of American misjudgments and failures.”

Civilian casualties have skyrocketed. Nearly 2,400 civilians have been killed or injured between May 1 and June 30, according to a United Nations report released last month, the highest number recorded for that period since monitoring began in 2009.

When asked about the Taliban’s advances Friday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters that Biden had long been prepared to make “difficult choices” as part of his commitment to disengaging from Afghanistan.

“The president made clear: After 20 years at war, it’s time for American troops to come home,” Psaki said. “He also feels and has stated that the Afghan government and the Afghan National Defense Forces have the training, equipment and numbers to prevail, and now is the moment for the leadership and the will in the face of the Taliban’s aggression and violence.”

Psaki’s comments echoed a prevailing view among the progressive national security wing of Biden’s party that Afghan troops would fight back if given no other option.

“Like in Iraq, at a certain point the training wheels have to come off,” said Jon Soltz, an Iraq War veteran and chair of the progressive veterans group VoteVets. “That’s when the Iraqi army stepped up, and it will be when the Afghan army does.”

“They may have their backs against the wall as things move closer to Kabul, but that’s precisely when they’ll fight the hardest and hold the line,” said Soltz, who helped to train the Iraqi army. “We have done all we can to prepare them for this moment.”

So far, no senior Pentagon official has expressed exasperation publicly with Biden over the Taliban surge, which Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III predicted this past spring, when he and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both counseled Biden against the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“We’ve seen this movie before,” Austin told his boss, in a reference to the Obama-era withdrawal from Iraq, which was followed by the rise of the Islamic State group. The United States ended up returning to Iraq and launching five years of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria to help Iraqi security forces beat back that insurgent group.

Biden has argued for pulling out of Afghanistan for years. In 2009, while serving as vice president, he argued for a minimal force, only to be overruled as Obama ordered a surge of forces, then a rapid drawdown.

But a dozen years later, as president, he made the decision to withdraw, one of the most significant decisions of his presidency so far. And despite the likelihood that the White House will confront terrible images of human suffering and loss in the coming weeks and months, Biden has vowed to press ahead regardless of the conditions on the ground.

Polls show that large numbers of Americans in both parties support leaving Afghanistan.

Biden, declaring that the United States had long ago accomplished its mission of denying terrorists a haven in Afghanistan, said in April that all U.S. troops would leave the country by Sept. 11. That date has since been moved up to Aug. 31, giving the Pentagon — and Afghan forces — under a month to slow the Taliban surge.

Administration and military officials have voiced conflicting views on whether the United States will continue airstrikes after Aug. 31 to prevent Afghan cities and the Afghan government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, from falling. But even if the airstrikes continue, they can only do so much; the bulk of the effort will have to come from Afghan forces on the ground.

In any event, Kunduz was never going to be the Afghan city that might prompt Biden to rethink his strategy, two U.S. officials said Sunday on condition of anonymity.

His hand might be forced if Taliban forces are on the verge of overrunning Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, or even Kabul, where the United States maintains an embassy with some 4,000 people.

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Taliban are carrying out mass executions, says Christian missionary helping Afghans

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Less than a month after the U.S. troops withdrew troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban have started arresting, and in some instances executing, people they perceive as their enemies. Recent photos and video suggest they’re killing as many as 30 to 40 at a time, Christian missionary David Eubank, a former U.S. Army Special Forces and Ranger officer, said in a media interview.

The way the United States pulled out is “dishonorable, and a horrible breaking of promises … and leaving thousands of people behind that we promised we’d take out with us including American citizens,” Eubank, who is from Free Burma Rangers and provides humanitarian services in war-torn areas, told CBN News.

In some instances, the pull-out has been “cowardly,” he continued, speaking from Tajikistan, which neighbors Afghanistan and where many Afghans are arriving after fleeing the Taliban.

“Taliban are hunting down people right now, trying to get all the names of anyone they perceive as an enemy,” Eubank said, adding that the enemies include “people who work with the U.S. government, people who are with other governments, people who work with non-governmental organizations they don’t agree with.”

Eubank, who is in Tajikistan to help Afghans, also said that “many have been executed. … I’ve seen recent photos of 30 to 40 people [being executed].”

Eubank clarified that he doesn’t know the scale of the killings or the arrests, “but I believe it’s countrywide now.”

The Taliban are allowing American citizens who have identity cards to escape, he continued, adding that “anyone who doesn’t have papers, anyone they perceive as an enemy, they are going to arrest them, and, in many cases, execute them.”

The people in Afghanistan “are in terror,” Eubank added.

According to its website, Free Burma Rangers have helped 1.5 million displaced persons to date who would have otherwise died.

In an interview with The Christian Post last year, Eubank shared: “I am motivated by what Jesus does for me and want to share His love and encourage people to follow Him. We are not to be led by comfort, fear or pride, but go in the love God gives us. We go into areas of direct combat to save lives and share love.”

Following the drawing down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly seized control of much of the country, taking the capital Kabul last month and forcing the government to flee.

The U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern warned last week that as the Taliban is cracking down on protests and journalists, concerns are also being raised among religious minorities of increased oppression and persecution because the Taliban have promised strict enforcement of Sharia law.

Almost all Afghan Christians — estimated to be between 8,000 and 12,000 — are converts from Islam and remain largely closeted and hidden from the public eye due to severe persecution.

“Their status as converts makes Afghan Christians direct targets for persecution by both extremist groups and society in general,” ICC reports. “In Afghanistan, leaving Islam is considered extremely shameful and converts can face dire consequences if their conversion is discovered.”
Sources:Christian Post

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ICC report on religious persecution of Christians in China over the past year

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International Christian Concern (ICC) has just published a new report on persecution in China. In it, ICC lists and analyzes over 100 incidents of Christian persecution between July 2020 and June 2021, a period marked by a significant campaign by the Chinese government to forcefully convert independent religious organizations into mechanisms of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

This forceful assimilation—also called Sinicization—has continued to intensify since it was introduced as part of the Four Requirements campaign launched in 2018. Since then, the government has only increased its attempts to use the Church for political purposes. It has gone as far as converting church buildings into propaganda centers and even regulating the content of sermons in order to promote communist party values.

Three-Self churches are part of the legal framework the CCP uses to systemically curb Christianity, including Catholicism. If a church is not registered as a state-sanctioned church, it is violating the law and the CCP can step in at any time to shut it down, prosecute individuals, and put enormous social pressure on attendees. As described in last year’s report, registered churches are at the mercy of laws that were passed entirely in contradiction to the constitution and enforced by multiple departments, bureaus, and agencies using them to suppress house church activity.

A significant trend throughout the past year was church raids. In them, not only were churches shut down or demolished, but pastors and church attendees were often arrested. One example of a church raid was in September 2020, in Sichuan province, when China’s Public Security Bureau of Nanbu deployed over 30 police officers to raid an underground Protestant house church, known as Sola Fide. When police arrived on the scene, they arrested 50 Sola Fide members. Throughout this process, the police tore down crosses and other Christian symbols and destroyed hymnals and Bibles.

With the intensified crackdown against churches, both state-vetted and underground, there is no longer a safe place to be a Christian in China. Almost every province in China has seen an increase in Christian persecution over the last year.

The Religious Affairs Bureau and the CCP have a single goal: to prevent religious influence from threatening their communist control.

Gina Goh, ICC’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, said, “China tightening down on people of faith comes as no surprise to observers. What is concerning is the depth and width of persecution and that it continues to expand. From Xinjiang to Sichuan, from state-sanctioned groups to underground churches, from verbal threats to imprisonment, believers in China are constantly watched and persecuted, as documented in ICC’s latest incident report. The international community should not appease Beijing and let it get away with its blatant disregard for human rights.”

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