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On Surprise Visit To Kabul, UN Chief Calls For Political Solution To Afghan Conflict


United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (center) visits a camp for internally displaced people outside Kabul on June 14.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has used his unannounced visit to Kabul to issue a plea for all parties in the 15-year war in Afghanistan to find a political solution.

"This is a war that has no military solution," Guterres said on June 14, standing in a makeshift camp on the outskirts of Kabul that accommodates people displaced by fighting.

"We need to have a political solution, we need to have peace," he added.

After landing in the Afghan capital earlier in the day, Guterres wrote on Twitter that the UN "stands with Afghanistan at a time of violence and suffering."

Guterres, who served previously as UN high commissioner for refugees, was set to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah.

The UN secretary-general arrived in the Afghan capital following a Central Asian tour, during which he visited Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

UN Under-Secretary-General Jan Kubis traveled to Kabul earlier this week "in the interest of completing a [UN] Security Council-requested strategic review" of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and its work, UNAMA said.

The visits follow a truck bombing in Kabul that killed more than 150 people on May 31 in the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the ouster of the Taliban following the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

They also come as displacements resulting from fighting have sharply increased, with at least 126,000 Afghans being forced to flee their homes this year, according to the UN.

Meanwhile, more than 218,000 refugees have returned from neighboring Iran and Pakistan, adding to the 800,000 Afghans who had returned from the two countries last year.

Funding Package

On June 13, the World Bank approved a $520 million package of funding for projects to support Afghan refugees while boosting Afghanistan's economy and build critical infrastructure.

The largest chunk of the package, $205.4 million, will go to communities affected by refugees returning from Pakistan, many of whom are living on subsistence income in rural areas or taking low-paid work in towns.

The funding will help provide shelter, drinking water, food, and short-term job opportunities in public works projects for the refugees as well as other Afghan residents, potentially affecting 8.5 million people in all 34 Afghan provinces, the bank said.

NATO forces have been withdrawing troops from Afghanistan since 2011, causing a deterioration of security which has fueled economic uncertainty and slower growth, and added to financial pressures on the government, the bank said.

Thousands of international troops remained in Afghanistan to train and assist Afghan forces after NATO ended its combat mission there in 2014.

But Afghan forces have since struggled to fend off the Taliban, which has gained control of more territory than any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Media reported that U.S. President Donald Trump opened the door to troop increases in Afghanistan on June 13 by giving Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set troop levels there.

Army General John Nicholson, who leads U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, has said he needs "a few thousand" more troops, up from 8,400 currently.

The 3,000 to 5,000 additional forces being discussed at the Pentagon, some of which could be sent by U.S. allies, would largely consist of air crews and trainers to support Afghan forces.

Mattis has warned Congress that Afghan forces are not winning the war against the Taliban, which he said is "surging" at the moment.

The increase in troops under consideration would leave U.S. forces well below their 2011 peak of more than 100,000. Some officials have questioned whether a modest increase would be enough to turn the tide of the war.

Also on June 14, Afghan officials said an explosives-laden motorcycle blew up inside a government militia commander's home in the eastern Afghan province of Paktika, killing at least four children and one adult and wounding six other people.

In the southern province of Helmand, a suicide bombing killed at least four militants from a splinter group of the Afghan Taliban in what police attributed to internal rivalry.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Pajhwok, and Reuters
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