Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Land of Fallen Empires’

Afghan police: Car bombing targets Iraq Embassy in Kabul

July 31, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A car bombing targeted the Iraqi Embassy in central Kabul on Monday, followed by gunfire, Afghan police officials said. There were no immediate reports of casualties. The attack was still underway as witnesses reported hearing gunshots and several subsequent explosions in the area of the embassy. Details were sketchy as police cordoned off the area of the firefight.

Two police officials told The Associated Press that the car bomb exploded outside the embassy, followed by an attempt by gunmen to enter the building, which is located in the center of the Afghan capital. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Interior Minister spokesman Najib Danish told the AP that the Iraqi diplomats were safe and had been rescued. He said it’s believed three gunmen were involved in the attack. A police officer in the area, who identified himself only as Abdullah, said the gunfire was initially intense but was now sporadic. The area was surrounded by armored vehicles and a large contingent of police and Afghan soldiers.

More than an hour later, witnesses reported hearing another powerful explosion and saw black smoke billowing skyward. It wasn’t immediately clear what had caused the last explosion. At least one eyewitness, a store owner who goes by the name of Hafizullah — many Afghans use only one name — said he saw the bodies of two policemen on the ground before armored personnel carriers and police arrived to cordon off the area.

“The explosion was so strong. I was so afraid,” said Maryam, a woman crying near the site of the attack said. She said she works at the nearby office of Afghanistan’s National Airline Ariana. The Iraq Embassy is located in a part of the city known as Shahr-e-Now, which lies outside the so-called “green zone” where most foreign embassies and diplomatic missions are located and which is heavily fortified with a phalanx of guards and giant cement blast walls.

By comparison, the Iraqi Embassy is located on a small street in a neighborhood dominated by markets and businesses. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though both the Taliban and an Islamic State affiliate have previously carried out such attacks in Kabul.

After Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, recaptured the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group earlier in July, the Iraq Embassy had called reporters to its offices in Kabul to express concerns that the local IS affiliate might stage large-scale attacks elsewhere to draw away attention from the militant group’s losses in Iraq.

Taliban leader: Afghan war will end only when NATO leaves

June 23, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The leader of the Afghan Taliban said on Friday that a planned U.S. troop surge will not end the protracted war in the country and vowed to fight on until a full withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan.

The remarks by Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzadah came in a message ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan — something the Taliban do every year to rally followers.

It also followed a horrific suicide car bombing claimed by the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Helmand province that targeted Afghan troops and government workers waiting to collect their pay ahead of the holiday.

By Friday, the death toll from that attack rose to 34 people, most of them civilians, provincial government spokesman Omar Zwak told The Associated Press. In the Taliban message this year, the militant leader seemed to harden his stance, saying the Afghan government is too corrupt to stay on and warning of another civil war in Kabul — along the lines of the 1992 fighting when mujahedeen groups threw out the Communist government in Afghanistan and turned their guns on each other. That conflict killed more than 50,000 civilians and gave rise to the Taliban.

The Taliban say they are waging war against the Kabul government and not targeting civilians. In their claim of the Helmand attack, they insisted no civilians died. Zwak, however said, most of the dead in the attack in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, were civilians, although there were soldiers inside the bank at the time of the explosion. Witnesses said children were among the dozens wounded.

Earlier, the Defense Ministry had urged soldiers to collect their salaries from banks located inside army bases. If they do go to banks elsewhere, they should refrain from wearing their uniforms, the ministry’s deputy spokesman Mohammad Radmanish told the AP.

Outside a hospital in Lashkar Gah, Esmatullah Khan, 34, said Friday he had donated blood to help some of the nearly 70 wounded in the attack. Akhunzadah, the Taliban leader, also boasted of allegedly growing international support, saying “mainstream entities of the world admit (the Taliban) effectiveness, legitimacy and success,” an apparent reference to reports of overtures by Russia and China to the Taliban amid concerns of an emerging Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan.

While the IS affiliate’s stronghold is in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, the branch has managed also to stage high-profile attacks in Kabul and other cities. The presence of battle-hardened Uzbek militants in the ranks also further worries Moscow.

After urging Afghans to embrace holy war, or jihad, to oust foreign troops, Akhunzadah’s rambling message went on to touch upon the conflict between Gulf Arab states and Qatar, saying he was “saddened” by the feud.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have accused Qatar of supporting extremists, a charge that Doha denies.

Associated Press Writers Kathy Gannon in Islamabad and Abdul Khaliq in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

NATO agrees to send more troop trainers to Afghanistan

June 29, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — Two years after winding down its military operation in Afghanistan, NATO has agreed to send more troops to help train and work alongside Afghan security forces. The move comes in response to a request from NATO commanders who say they need as many as 3,000 additional troops from the allies. That number does not include an expected contribution of roughly 4,000 American forces. They would be divided between the NATO training and advising the mission in Afghanistan, and America’s counterterrorism operations against the Taliban, al-Qaida and Islamic State militants.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Thursday that 15 countries “have already pledged additional contributions.” He expected more commitments to come.

Britain has said that it would contribute just under 100 troops in a noncombat role. “We’re in it for the long haul. It’s a democracy. It’s asked for our help and it’s important that Europe responds,” British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told reporters. “Transnational terror groups operate in Afghanistan, are a threat to us in Western Europe.”

European nations and Canada have been waiting to hear what U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will offer or seek from them. U.S. leaders have so far refused to publicly discuss troop numbers before completing a broader, updated war strategy.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Afghanistan this week, meeting with commanders to gather details on what specific military capabilities they need to end what American officials say is a stalemate against the resurgent Taliban.

The expected deployment of more Americans is intended to bolster Afghan forces so they eventually can assume greater control of security. Stoltenberg said the NATO increase does not mean the alliance will once again engage in combat operations against the Taliban and extremist groups. NATO wants “to help the Afghans fight” and take “full responsibility” for safeguarding the country.

He did acknowledge “there are many problems, and many challenges and many difficulties, and still uncertainty and violence in Afghanistan.” Mohammad Radmanish, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan’s defense ministry, welcomed NATO’s decision and said Afghan troops were in need of “expert” training, heavy artillery and a quality air force.

“We are on the front line in the fight against terrorism,” Radmanish said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in Kabul, the Afghan capital. But Afghan lawmaker Mohammad Zekria Sawda was skeptical. He said the offer of an additional 3,000 NATO troops was a “show,” and that NATO and the U.S. were unable to bring peace to Afghanistan when they had more than 120,000 soldiers deployed against Taliban insurgents.

“Every day we are feeling more worry,” he said, “If they were really determined to bring peace they could do it,” Sawda said. As the war drags on, Afghans have become increasingly disillusioned and even former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has questioned the international commitment to bringing peace.

Many Afghans, including Karzai, are convinced that the United States and NATO have the military ability to defeat the Taliban. But with the war raging 16 years after the Taliban were ousted, they accuse the West of seemingly wanting chaos over peace.

Kabul protest that left several dead enters second day

June 03, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A demonstration in downtown Kabul that left several people dead has entered a second day. More than a thousand people demonstrated Friday demanding more security in the capital following a powerful truck bomb attack in the city that killed 90 people and wounded more than 450.

Scores of protesters passed the night under two big tents on a road near the presidential palace and the blast site. All roads toward the palace and diplomatic areas are being blocked Saturday by police and there is limited movement of vehicles and people.

On Friday, demonstrators rushed toward police who fired warning shots and when they attempted to move closer to the palace, police sprayed them with hoses from a water tanker and later fired tear gas.

Afghans mourn a day after massive truck bombing kills 90

June 01, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghans mourned the loss of family members, friends and colleagues on Thursday, a day after a massive truck bomb exploded in the capital leaving at least 90 people dead and more than 450 others wounded in one of the worst extremist attacks since the drawdown of foreign forces from Afghanistan in 2014.

The city’s acting mayor said the explosion damaged property as far as 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away from the blast site and scores of people waited in hospitals to learn the status of family and friends wounded in Wednesday’s attack.

The bomber drove into Kabul’s heavily guarded diplomatic quarter during the morning rush, leaving behind chaos and destruction. Most of the casualties were civilians, including women and children, but the dead also included Afghan security guards.

There was no claim of responsibility. The explosives were hidden in a tanker truck used to clean out septic systems, according to Najib Danish, deputy spokesman for the interior minister. The trucks are common in Kabul, a city of nearly four million people with no sewage system that mostly depends on septic tanks, and where open sewers are common.

The blast gouged a crater about 5 meters (15 feet) deep near Zanbaq Square in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, where foreign embassies are protected by their own security personnel as well as Afghan police and National Security Forces. The nearby German Embassy was heavily damaged.

Also in the area is Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry, the Presidential Palace and its intelligence and security headquarters, guarded by soldiers trained by the U.S. and its coalition partners. The city’s acting mayor said Thursday at a news conference that the bombing caused property damage as far as 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away from the blast site. Abdullah Habibzai said the an initial estimate put the total damage from the bombing at 1 billion Afghanis ($1.5 million), but said that number could rise.

He said city workers had removed around 200 large trucks of garbage and debris by Thursday morning. “We have transported a large number or a large amount of broken glass and windows,” he said. Meanwhile, some people were still missing and families were searching for news about loved ones in local hospitals.

Mohammad Sarwar stood crying behind the gate of an emergency hospital, looking for his nephew, Habibullah, who was missing. “This is the second day that we are searching for my nephew Habibiullah and have been to all Kabul hospitals, still couldn’t find him,” he said.

Afghanistan’s war, the longest ever involving U.S. troops, has shown no sign of letting up and the introduction into the battle of an Islamic State group affiliate has made the country only more volatile.

Although they are small in number, militants from the Islamic State in Khorasan — an ancient name for parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia — have taken credit for several brazen assaults on the capital.

Truck bomb kills 90, wounds hundreds in Afghan capital

June 01, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide attacker struck the fortified heart of the Afghan capital with a massive truck bomb Wednesday, killing 90 people, wounding 400 and raising new fears about the government’s ability to protect its citizens nearly 16 years into a war with insurgents.

The bomber drove into Kabul’s heavily guarded diplomatic quarter during the morning rush hour, leaving behind a bloody scene of chaos and destruction in one of the worst attacks since the drawdown of foreign forces from Afghanistan in 2014.

Most of the casualties were civilians, including women and children, said Ismail Kawasi, spokesman of the public health ministry. But the dead also included Afghan security guards at the facilities, including the U.S. Embassy, while 11 American contractors were wounded — none with life-threatening injuries, a U.S. State Department official said.

“I have been to many attacks, taken wounded people out of many blast sites, but I can say I have ever seen such a horrible attack as I saw this morning,” ambulance driver Alef Ahmadzai told The Associated Press. “Everywhere was on fire and so many people were in critical condition.”

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, which came in the first week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Taliban flatly denied any involvement in an email to news outlets and condemned all attacks against civilians.

The explosives were hidden in a tanker truck used to clean out septic systems, said Najib Danish, deputy spokesman for the interior minister. The number of dead and wounded was provided by the Afghan government’s media center, citing a statement from the Afghan Ulema Council, the country’s top religious body that includes Muslim clerics, scholars and men of authority in religion and law.

The blast gouged a crater about 5 meters (15 feet) deep near Zanbaq Square in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, where foreign embassies are protected by a battery of their own security personnel as well as Afghan police and National Security Forces. The nearby German Embassy was heavily damaged.

Also in the area is Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry, the Presidential Palace and its intelligence and security headquarters, guarded by soldiers trained by the U.S. and its coalition partners. “The terrorists, even in the holy month of Ramadan, the month of goodness, blessing and prayer, are not stopping the killing of our innocent people,” said President Ashraf Ghani.

President Donald Trump spoke with Ghani after the attack, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned it as a “senseless and cowardly act.” “The United States stands with the government and the people of Afghanistan and will continue to support their efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity for their country,” Tillerson said in a statement.

Afghanistan’s war, the longest ever involving U.S. troops, has shown no sign of letting up, and the introduction into the battle of an Islamic State affiliate has made the country only more volatile. Although they are small in number, militants from the Islamic State in Khorasan — an ancient name for parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia — have taken credit for several brazen assaults on the capital.

“Let’s be clear: This is an intelligence failure, as has been the case with so many other attacks in Kabul and beyond. There was a clear failure to anticipate a major security threat in a highly secured area,” said Michael Kugelman of the U.S.-based Wilson Center.

“The fact that these intelligence failures keep happening suggest that something isn’t working at the top, and major and urgent changes are needed in security policy,” he said by email. Still, there are questions about whether a U.S. pledge to send more troops to Afghanistan will curb the violence.

“The sad reality is that more foreign troops would not necessarily ensure these attacks happen less,” Kugelman said. “But they could help by supplementing training programs meant to enhance Afghan intel collection capacities, which have long been a deficiency in Afghanistan.”

There are currently 8,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan with a U.S. promise of more to come. Afghan lawmaker and analyst Nasrullah Sadeqizada bemoaned the abysmal security, saying “the situation is deteriorating day by day.”

In an interview, Sadeqizada criticized U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, saying they have done little to improve protection in the country. “If the situation continues to deteriorate, Afghans will lose all trust in the foreigners who are in Afghanistan as friends,” he warned.

Gen. Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, former deputy interior minister, said more troops won’t help, although he urged the global community to stay committed to Afghanistan. “I don’t think that more U.S. or NATO soldiers can solve the security problems in Afghanistan,” he said.

“When we had more than 100,000 foreign soldiers, they were not even able to secure Helmand province” in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban controls roughly 80 percent of the area, he said. In the past year, U.S. troops have largely focused on thwarting a surge in Taliban attacks.

The stricken neighborhood was considered Kabul’s safest, with the embassies protected by dozens of 10-foot-high blast walls and government offices guarded by security forces. More than 50 cars were either destroyed or damaged.

“I’ve never seen such a powerful explosion in my life,” said Mohammad Haroon, who owns a nearby sporting goods store. All the windows in his shop and others around him were shattered, he added. Shocked residents soaked in blood stumbled in the streets before being taken to hospitals. Passers-by helped them into private cars, while others went to the nearby Italian-run Emergency Hospital.

Besides the German Embassy, damage was reported at the embassies of China, Turkey, France, India and Japan, according to officials from those countries. Other nearby embassies include those of the U.S., Britain, Pakistan and Iran, as well as the NATO mission.

Nine Afghan guards at the U.S. Embassy were killed and 11 American contractors were wounded, with one Afghan guard missing, according to a U.S. State Department official, who was not authorized to talk publicly on the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity. None of the wounded Americans appeared to have life-threatening injuries, the official said.

The BBC said one of its drivers was killed and four of its journalists were wounded. Afghanistan’s private TOLO Television also reported a staffer killed; Germany said an Afghan security guard outside its embassy was among the dead.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that along with an Afghan guard who was killed, a German diplomat was slightly wounded and an Afghan staffer had severe injuries. Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the attack, saying that “terrorism has no borders.”

It “targets all of us — whether in Manchester or Berlin, Paris, Istanbul, St. Petersburg or today in Kabul,” she said in the southern German city of Nuremberg. “Today we’re united in shock and sadness across all borders,” she added.

She vowed: “We will lead the fight against terrorism, and we will win it.” Germany has had troops in Afghanistan for 15 years, primarily in the north in and around Mazar-e-Sharif. It is one of the biggest contributors to the NATO-led Resolute Support mission, with about 980 soldiers supporting and training Afghan forces.

Neighboring Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the bomb damaged residences of some of its diplomats and staff and caused some minor injuries.

Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez reported this story in Kabul and AP writer Kathy Gannon reported from Islamabad. AP writers Amir Shah in Kabul, Matthew Lee in Washington and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

Pentagon to request thousands more troops for Afghanistan next week

Washington (AFP)

May 4, 2017

The Pentagon will ask the White House next week to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan to break a deadlocked fight with the Taliban, a senior official said Thursday.

After a steady downsizing of US troop numbers since 2011, US military commanders say they need to strengthen the numbers on the ground to better support Afghan forces and help retake territory lost to the Taliban.

According to US media, the Pentagon will ask for 3,000 to 5,000 more soldiers, mainly to be assigned to advise and train Afghan military and police.

US troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies, also now in an advisory capacity.

But that is a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago, and the Afghan military has struggled to fill the void amid an unrelenting Taliban insurgency.

“I expect that these proposals will go to the president within the next week,” said Theresa Whelan, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

The intent is “to move beyond the stalemate and also to recognize that Afghanistan is a very important partner for the United States in a very tricky region.”

NATO officially ended its combat operations against the Taliban at the end of 2014, and its current mission is to support Afghan troops in training and advice.

Last year, with the Kabul government struggling to hold ground against the Taliban, former president Barack Obama authorized US air strikes against the Taliban in limited cases, to ensure Afghan forces on the ground would have a “strategic advantage.”

The new Trump administration could go beyond that to permit more direct engagement between US forces and the Taliban, General Raymond Thomas, commander of the US Special Operations Command, told the same hearing Thursday.

“Changes to the rules of engagement are being considered,” he said.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Pentagon_to_request_thousands_more_troops_for_Afghanistan_next_week_999.html.

Tag Cloud