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Reuters — The Taliban said on Saturday it would not take part in peace talks brokered by representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, casting doubt on efforts to revive negotiations.
The Taliban, ousted from power in a U.S.-led military intervention in 2001, has been waging a violent insurgency to try to topple Afghanistan's Western-backed government and re-establish a fundamentalist Islamic regime.
Following a meeting of the so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group made up of representatives of the four countries in Kabul in February, officials said they expected direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to begin in early March.
Ever since its unexpected loss of influence in Ukraine and subsequent standoff with the West over the country, Russia has been re-evaluating its military and security positions across the former Soviet periphery.
With the war in eastern Ukraine developing into a long-term frozen conflict, Russia has worked to shore up its presence and assets wherever possible in the Eurasian borderlands. It has reinforced brigades in western Russia and engaged in talks to open an air base in Belarus and expand weapons sales to Armenia, both of which occupy strategic areas near conflict zones and are loyal Russian allies when it comes to security.
Though it is farther from the conflict in Ukraine than other parts of the former Soviet periphery, Central Asia is nevertheless important to Russia's strategic interests.
Matthew Rosenberg (The New York Times) — In the winter of 2014, an Afghan with links to top Taliban leaders approached Afghanistan’s intelligence service with a startling tip: Mullah Muhammad Omar, the secretive leader of the Taliban, had died in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan.
The tip left the intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, with a mystery that would take 18 months to begin unraveling. But even with the Taliban confirming on Thursday that the man they called Emir al-Momineen, or Commander of the Faithful, was dead, American and Afghan officials said they were just starting to piece together the story of Mullah Omar’s final years and of his demise.
In interviews, Afghan, American and European officials offered insight into why it took so long to determine that Mullah Omar was dead: He may have been one of the world’s most wanted men — he carried a $10 million American bounty on his head — but by 2014 few people outside Afghanistan seemed to want him enough to put much effort into finding out whether he was dead or alive.
VOA News — Officials in western Afghanistan said a roadside bomb blast killed six policemen Saturday in Herat province as they were patrolling on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
The death toll was confirmed by the provincial governor's spokesman Ehsanullah Hayat, according to the French news agency AFP. The French news agency reports three policemen were also wounded in the explosion.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion, but the blast has all the earmarks of the Taliban militants who frequently use roadside bombs as their weapon of choice.
Tom Vanden Brook (USA Today) — Islamic State militants are deploying the signature weapon of the Iraq war — the homemade, roadside bomb — in novel ways, including the use of drones to spot targets, a top Pentagon official says.
The tactics used by Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria have evolved rapidly with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Lt. Gen. John Johnson, director of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, told USA TODAY in an interview. Militants around the world continuously share best-practice tips online, Johnson said.
The IEDs used by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, have been cobbled together with homemade- and military-grade explosives and munitions seized from Iraqi and Syrian security forces.