Afghanistan

Mark Esper: Trump ordered stepped-up military operations in Afghanistan

President Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper
Defense Secretary Mark Esper (L) and President Trump (R). Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark Esper indicated on Friday that President Trump has ordered the U.S. military to step up attacks against militants in Afghanistan following failed peace talks with the Taliban, Politico reports.

Where it stands: A Taliban delegation recently met with U.S. diplomat and special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad for informal discussions in the Pakistani capital, the New York Times reports. Taliban members did not identify the talks as formal peace discussions, but said "that one may take place in the future."

Afghanistan elections: Turnout strikingly low despite few Taliban attacks

Afghan soldier submits his vote at a polling place
An Afghan soldier casts his ballot in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sept. 28, 2019. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Afghanistan's presidential election didn't see as much violence from the Taliban as some anticipated, but voter turnout was still shockingly low with fewer than 2.5 million showing up at the polls, reports the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The low turnout suggests that whoever wins the elections will "enter office with a weak mandate to lead the struggling democracy and possibly launch peace talks with the Taliban," per the Post. Polls show that current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his government’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, are the main contenders, but official results aren't expected until Oct. 17, according to the Post.