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Afghanistan likely to face ’health disaster’ amid coronavirus

A US watchdog report warns that the coronavirus outbreak is likely to cause a health disaster in Afghanistan, which is still plagued by war, despite a peace deal between the Taliban and the US.

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko said in a report to Congress on Thursday that Afghanistan “will confront a health disaster in coming months.”

The county is facing “numerous and, in some cases, unique vulnerabilities,” it said, including “a weak health-care system, widespread malnutrition, porous borders, massive internal displacement, contiguity with Iran, and ongoing conflict.”

The spread of the new coronavirus, which first emerged in China late last year, and quickly spread to the rest of the world, has now significantly impacted Afghanistan, according to the report.

Rising food prices in the impoverished country will likely worsen the crisis, Sopko said.

The country has so far confirmed nearly 2,200 cases of the infection and 64 deaths.

In the meantime, the US has pressed the Afghan government to release thousands of at-risk militant and government prisoners.

Under a deal, agreed between the Taliban and Washington, the militant group agreed to halt their attacks in return for Washington’s phased withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan and a prisoner exchange with the Afghan government.

The Afghan government, which was excluded from the talks and was thus not a signatory to the accord, is required to release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

The militants are obliged to free 1,000 pro-government captives in return.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), however, said in a report earlier this week that the Afghans had enjoyed a period of relative calm before the accord was signed, but the conflict resumed right after the peace deal.

Under the deal, thousands of US troops are also scheduled to leave Afghanistan in the next few months.

But quarantine procedures are complicating the withdrawal plans.

Afghanistan troops are banned from entering Afghanistan and leaving the country, due to the virus outbreak.

Washington is compelled under the deal to pull out American forces and foreign troops from Afghanistan by July next year, provided that the militants start talks with Kabul and adhere to other security guarantees.

About 14,000 US troops and approximately 17,000 troops from NATO allies and partner countries remain stationed in Afghanistan years after the invasion of the country that toppled a Taliban regime in 2001.

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