Woman Killed, 73 Injured In US Military Base Attack

 

Taliban suicide bombers targeted a key US military base in Afghanistan Wednesday in a major attack that wounded more than 70 civilians, officials said, amid renewed peace talks between the United States and the militants.

The early morning assault began when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive-packed vehicle outside a hospital building near Bagram military base in Parwan province, north of the capital Kabul, according to local officials.

Seven more gunmen, some wearing suicide vests are believed to have then entered the building — which was under construction and not operational — in order to use it as a launching pad for attacks against the nearby US base, local officials said.

Almost 10 hours into the attack, an Afghan interior ministry spokesman said at least three militants were still holed up inside the hospital compound, fighting Afghan and foreign forces.

“Three attackers are still inside the building resisting, while three more have been killed and one arrested,” Nasrat Rahimi told AFP.

At least two Afghan civilians, including one woman, were killed while 73 others were wounded in the explosion that damaged houses up to 300 metres (yards) away, Rahimi said.

A Taliban spokesman later claimed responsibility for the attack, claiming that “tens” of US and Afghan soldiers had been killed or wounded.

In a WhatsApp message Zabihullah Mujahid said the militants had detonated a truck bomb outside Bagram base, but denied Taliban fighters had taken up positions inside a hospital.

Afghan and US officials could not immediately confirm if a truck bomb had been used in the attack.

“The attack was quickly contained and repelled … but the future medical facility was badly damaged,” NATO’s Resolute Support mission said in a statement.

It said there were no US or coalition casualties but Georgia’s defence ministry said five of its soldiers received minor injuries in the attack.

The assault comes as Washington resumed talks with the Taliban on Saturday, three months after President Donald Trump abruptly cancelled them after a Taliban suicide attack killed 12 people including a US soldier, in Kabul.

Trump made a surprise visit to Bagram on November 28 to celebrate Thanksgiving with his troops and meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“The Taliban wants to make a deal and we’re meeting with them and we’re saying it has to be a ceasefire,” he told reporters, confirming the resumption of the stalled talks.

It was not immediately clear if the Taliban’s targeting of the US’s largest Afghan military base would affect the renewed talks between the two sides.

On Monday the Washington Post reported on thousands of US government documents which showed that senior American officials had insisted progress was being made in Afghanistan despite clear evidence the war had become unwinnable.

AFP

Eight Children Among 15 Civilians Killed By Mine In Afghanistan – Govt

 

Fifteen civilians, including eight children, were killed Wednesday when their vehicle hit a land mine in Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan, a government official said.

“At around 5:00 pm this evening a mine planted by the Taliban terrorists hit a civilian car… killing 15 civilians and wounding two more,” said Nasrat Rahimi, an interior ministry spokesman.

Six women and a man were also among those killed in the blast in Kunduz, on the country’s northern border with Tajikistan, Rahimi said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blast. It was also unclear if it was a targeted attack.

However, there are regular clashes in the region between the Taliban insurgents and US-backed Afghan forces.

Insurgents attacked the provincial capital, also called Kunduz, in early September, but failed to capture it. The Taliban briefly seized the city in 2015.

The blast comes during what has been a period of relative and uneasy calm, where the rate of large-scale attacks has dropped in recent weeks.

The comparative lull followed a blood-stained presidential campaign season that ended with a general election on September 28.

No Vote Results Yet

But Wednesday’s blast comes less than a week after a foreign national was killed and at least five other people wounded in a grenade attack on a United Nations vehicle in Kabul on November 24.

The attack happened on a road frequently used by UN traffic shuttling workers between central Kabul and a large UN compound on the outskirts of the capital.

The UN said two other staff members — one Afghan and one international — were wounded.

Aid agencies and non-governmental groups are sometimes targeted in Afghanistan’s war.

In 2011, seven foreign UN workers — including four Nepalis, a Swede, a Norwegian and a Romanian — were killed in an attack on a UN compound in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Afghans are still waiting for the results of that September 28 presidential election, with a recount bogged down by technical difficulties and bickering between the incumbent, President Ashraf Ghani, and his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah.

Afghans are also waiting to see what might happen in negotiations between Washington and the Taliban.

US President Donald Trump in September ended those yearlong talks as Taliban violence continued, but on November 22 he suggested to US broadcaster Fox News that negotiations could be getting underway again.

Foreign National Killed As UN Vehicle Hit In Kabul Blast

 

A foreign national was killed and at least five other people wounded in a grenade attack on a United Nations vehicle in Kabul on Sunday, an Afghan official said.

The attack happened on a road frequently used by UN traffic shuttling workers between central Kabul and a large UN compound on the outskirts of the capital.

“At around 6:20 pm (1350 GMT) a grenade was hurled at a UN vehicle,” interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.

Aside from the one fatality, Rahimi said five other people — including two Afghan staff — were wounded. The nationalities of the other victims were not released.

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A UN official did not immediately return a message seeking comment, and no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

The blast comes during what has been a period of relative and uneasy calm in Kabul, where large-scale attacks have dropped over recent weeks.

The comparative lull followed a blood-stained presidential campaign season that ended with a general election nearly two months ago.

But Afghans are still waiting for the results of that September 28 poll, with a recount bogged down by various technical difficulties and complaints from main candidates.

Additionally, Afghans are waiting to see what might happen next in negotiations between the Taliban and the US.

President Donald Trump in September ended those yearlong talks as Taliban violence continued, but on Friday he suggested to US broadcaster Fox News that negotiations could be getting underway again.

AFP

 

 

Afghanistan Announces Delay In Taliban-For-Hostages Exchange

 

The exchange of three senior Taliban prisoners for two foreign hostages announced by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has been delayed, a spokesman said Saturday.

The Taliban prisoners “are still being held by the Afghan government. The inability of the Taliban to meet the conditions has caused a delay in the exchange,” Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi wrote on Twitter.

The government “will review the exchange process in light of Afghanistan’s national interests,” he said, without providing further details.

Ghani announced the exchange on Tuesday, saying the Taliban prisoners held at Bagram prison would be “conditionally” released.

They include Anas Haqqani, who was seized in 2014 and whose older brother is the deputy Taliban leader and head of the Haqqani network, a notorious Taliban affiliate.

The two foreign hostages — American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks — were kidnapped by gunmen wearing military uniforms in Kabul in August 2016.

Ghani said that “their health has been deteriorating while in the custody of the terrorists”.

He added that the release of the two men, both professors, would “pave the way” for the start of unofficial direct talks between his government and the Taliban, who long have refused to negotiate with Ghani’s administration.

At Least Seven Killed In Kabul Car Bomb Blast

Security personnel and investigators gather at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul on November 13, 2019. STR / AFP

 

At least seven people were killed and seven wounded when a car bomb detonated during Kabul’s busy morning rush hour Wednesday, an interior ministry spokesman said.

The spokesman, Nasrat Rahimi, said the bomb had gone off in a neighbourhood which is near the interior ministry and north of Kabul airport.

He said the dead were all civilians. “This is the initial information, more details later,” he added.

A source at the interior ministry said the blast was detonated by a suicide bomber in the car, and that it had targeted a convoy of government vehicles on a main road.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Both the Taliban and the Islamic State group are active in Kabul, which is one of the deadliest places in the war-torn country for civilians.

The blast came one day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced that Kabul would release three high-ranking Taliban prisoners in an apparent prisoner swap with Western hostages who were kidnapped by the insurgents in 2016.

The three Taliban prisoners include Anas Haqqani, who was seized in 2014 and whose older brother is the deputy Taliban leader and head of the Haqqani network, a notorious Taliban affiliate.

Ghani did not specify the fate of the Western hostages — an Australian and an American, both professors at the American University in Kabul — and it was not clear when or where they would be freed.

The two, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, were kidnapped in August 2016 from the heart of Kabul.

They later appeared looking haggard in a Taliban hostage video, with the insurgents going on to say that King was in poor health.

Ghani noted in his speech that “their health has been deteriorating while in the custody of the terrorists”.

He also did not state when or where the Taliban prisoners would be freed.

But he said that he hoped the decision would help “pave the way” for the start of unofficial direct talks between his government and the Taliban, who have long refused to negotiate with the administration in Kabul.

Direct talks

Over the past year the US and the Taliban had been holding direct talks seeking a deal that would bring the insurgents to the table for peace talks with Kabul, and allow the US to begin withdrawing troops.

But President Donald Trump abruptly ended the negotiations in September, citing continued Taliban violence.

Most experts agree that there is no military solution in Afghanistan, and that talks will have to restart again eventually.

Until then, however, civilians continue to pay a disproportionate price in the long-running and brutal war.

Last month, the United Nations released a report saying an “unprecedented” number of civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan from July to September this year.

The figures — 1,174 deaths and 3,139 injured from July 1 until September 30 — represent a 42 percent increase over the same period last year.

The UN laid most of the blame at the feet of “anti-government elements” such as the Taliban, who have been carrying out an insurgency in Afghanistan for more than 18 years.

Three Killed, Dozens Children Wounded In Taliban Truck Blast

 

At least three people were killed and about 20 children wounded when a Taliban truck bomb detonated near a rural police station and partially destroyed a nearby religious school, Afghan officials said.

The early morning attack happened in Alishing district in eastern Laghman province, said interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi.

“Three people including two security forces were killed and 27 were wounded,” he added.

According to Asadullah Daulatzai, spokesman for the provincial governor, the bomb exploded outside a police station and severely damaged a nearby madrassa, or religious school.

“The students were wounded by flying glass,” he said, adding about 20 students were hurt.

Ezatullah, an injured 10-year-old, said the blast was “huge and loud”.

“I was in class with my friends reciting the Koran when we saw a red truck rushing toward us. For a moment everything went dark, and when I woke up I found myself in the hospital,” he told AFP.

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Six police officers were wounded in the attack.

The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the blast in a statement sent to media, saying the bomb killed dozens of Afghan security forces.

As the violence worsens, its impact on the children has been disproportionate across war-torn Afghanistan.

According to the UN Children’s Fund the number of attacks against Afghan schools tripled last year compared to 2017.

By the end of 2018, more than 1,000 Afghan schools had been shut due to conflict.

The attack in Laghman comes a day after a helicopter crash in northern Balkh province killed at least seven Afghan military personnel, officials said.

Afghanistan is currently awaiting the results of the first round of presidential voting, which took place last month.

Polling was marred by several small-scale attacks claimed by the Taliban.

Seven Killed As Helicopter Crashes In Afghanistan

 

At least seven Afghan military personnel were killed when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed in the northern Afghanistan province of Balkh on Tuesday, officials said.

According to the Afghan defence ministry, the MI-17 Afghan air force chopper crashed due to “technical faults”.

“All the seven crew members including four pilots were martyred in the incident,” the ministry said in a statement.

The helicopter had been on its way to a training mission, travelling from an army base near the provincial capital Mazar-i-Sharif when it crash landed on the outskirts of the city, officials said.

Afghanistan has a small air force equipped with fixed-wing planes and helicopters, including aircraft acquired from the United States, the Czech Republic, India and elsewhere.

AFP

85 Civilians Killed, 373 Wounded During Afghan Election Campaign – UN

Hundreds of people were killed or wounded in violence related to Afghanistan’s recent presidential election season as the Taliban sought to undermine the democratic process, a UN agency said Tuesday.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that 85 people were killed and another 373 wounded in election violence during the period from June 8 to September 30.

On polling day alone, 28 civilians were killed and 249 injured. Children accounted for more than one-third of the victims.

Despite the high toll, Afghan security forces said election day was a success because the Taliban failed to pull off any large-scale attacks that stole the headlines.

The majority of Taliban attacks involved the use of rockets, grenades and mortars, as well as homemade bombs planted near polling centres, including schools, the report found.

On July 28, the same day as the election campaign started, militants targeted the office of Ghani’s running mate Amrullah Saleh in Kabul, killing 21 people and wounding another 50.

“These attacks, along with public statements made by the Taliban, revealed a deliberate campaign intended to undermine the electoral process and deprive Afghan citizens of their right to participate in this important political process, freely and without fear,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement.

The casualty figures are actually a substantial improvement on the run-up to parliamentary elections held a year ago, when UNAMA tallied 226 deaths and 781 injuries.

Final election turnout figures have yet to be released but it appears participation in this year’s first round presidential vote is at record low levels.

Voters stayed away, wary of repeated Taliban threats to attack polling stations and also despondent about the chances of their ballots being fairly counted in a country that has seen systemic and large-scale electoral fraud.

The Independent Election Commission however insists multiple safeguards including biometric verification will make this year’s vote the cleanest yet.

Preliminary results are due Saturday, though officials have suggested this date will be pushed back a few days.

The race is seen as a two-horse steeplechase between President Ashraf Ghani and his top rival Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

If no one wins a majority of more than 50 percent, the elections will go to a second round.

wat/st/tom

10 Killed In Afghanistan Car Explosion

 

The Taliban killed at least 10 people and wounded 90 Thursday after a car bomb targeting an intelligence services building exploded and destroyed a nearby hospital in the southern Afghan city of Qalat, the governor of Zabul province told AFP.

The blast in Zabul was just the latest in a string of deadly Taliban bombings across Afghanistan this week as violence intensifies after US President Donald Trump abruptly ended talks with the insurgents over an American withdrawal from the country.

“This morning a car bomb targeted the NDS (National Directorate of Security) in Qalat of Zabul. The regional hospital of Zabul was also located there and has been destroyed,” said governor Rahmatullah Yarmal.

Atta Jan Haqbayan, the head of Zabul’s provincial council, gave a higher death toll, saying 20 people had been killed in the attack and another 90 wounded.

The bombing was later claimed by a Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, who said the attack was against the National Directorate of Security and had killed intelligence officers.

Residents near the blast said the explosion rattled homes and shattered windows and was followed by gunfire around 6 am local time.

“It was horrific,” said university student Atif Baloch, who saw women and children being dragged away from the scene by rescuers.

“I cannot remember a deadly attack like this in my area.”

Panic also spread among residents searching for family members who were being treated at the hospital.

“I rushed to the scene and I am looking for them and cannot find them. My family members are missing. I don’t know what to do,” shopkeeper Muqim Ahmad told AFP, saying his wife and mother were inside the facility at the time of the blast.

 More fighting 

Trump’s declaration this month that the talks were “dead” spurred the Taliban to declare last week that the only other option was more fighting, sparking fears of an uptick in attacks ahead of presidential elections at the end of the month.

Earlier this week, the Taliban killed nearly 50 people and wounded dozens more in two separate attacks — one near a campaign rally for President Ashraf Ghani in the central province of Parwan, and one in Kabul.

The militants have vowed to disrupt the upcoming presidential election, scheduled for September 28, in which Ghani is taking on his own Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah, and more than a dozen other candidates.

The winner is hoping for a mandate to negotiate with the Taliban for a lasting peace in the country suffering from decades of violence.

The insurgents, however, are set on undermining the legitimacy of the process and keeping the president weak.

But even as fighting rages, the Taliban have also continued to voice their belief that the US will eventually return to the table for more negotiations.

Chief negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai reiterated that stance in an interview with the BBC earlier this week, stating “our doors are open for negotiations”.

Trump has also been eager to end America’s longest war, launched nearly 18 years ago after the September 11 attacks on the US.

But he has also accused the Taliban of bad faith for launching an attack in Kabul that killed a US soldier, and others, ahead of a scheduled sit down at Camp David that was later cancelled by Trump.

AFP

Taliban Says US ‘Will Be Harmed More Than Anyone’ After Trump Halts Talks

 

The Taliban said the US “will be harmed more than anyone” but left the door open for future negotiations Sunday after President Donald Trump abruptly announced that he had called off year-long talks to end America’s longest war.

“We still… believe that the American side will come back to this position… Our fight for the past 18 years should have proven to the Americans that we will not be satisfied until we witness the complete end of the occupation,” the group said in a statement released on Twitter by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

The statement said the insurgents had “finalised” a deal with the US that had been expected to allow Washington to begin withdrawing troops in exchange for security promises from the Taliban.

It added that both sides had been preparing for the deal to be announced and signed when Trump tweeted late Saturday that he had “called off peace negotiations”.

Trump had cited a Taliban attack in Kabul on Thursday which killed 12 people including a US soldier as his reason for calling off the talks, including a secret meeting with the insurgents at Camp David in Maryland planned for this weekend.

But the Taliban dismissed his reasoning in their statement, saying it showed “neither experience nor patience”, and accused the US of killing “hundreds of Afghans” in the fighting.

“Americans will be harmed more than any other,” by Trump’s decision, the statement said, adding that the US’s “credibility will be harmed, their anti-peace stance will become more visible to the world, their casualties and financial losses will increase, and the US role in international political interaction will be discredited even further.”

In Bombshell, Trump Calls Off Secret Summit, Talks With Taliban

US President Donald Trump. Nicholas Kamm / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump said he had called off a secret summit with the Taliban and Afghanistan’s leader, abruptly slamming the door on a year of diplomacy to end America’s longest war.

In a Saturday evening bombshell, Trump said that he had planned unprecedented, albeit separate, talks with the two sides Sunday in Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, but that the Taliban’s persistent, grisly violence made them untrustworthy partners.

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday,” Trump said in a tweet.

“Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations.”

“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!” Trump said.

A US soldier and another service member from Romania were killed in the bombing Thursday in Kabul — the latest major attack claimed by the Taliban even as they negotiated with a US envoy on the withdrawal of thousands of troops.

Trump would have met the Taliban at Camp David days before the 18th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which triggered the US invasion that toppled the militants’ regime.

Washington was jolted by the announcement from Trump, who is fond of dramatic gestures but whose Twitter pronouncements have often come into question later.

“Why a lethal attack in Kabul on Thursday would be the reason for calling it off, considering the multiple recent Taliban attacks, is unclear,” said International Crisis Group’s Asia director Laurel Miller, who earlier served as the US special representative on Afghanistan.

Congressman Tom Malinowski, a Democrat who has been pressing for clarity on the US strategy in Afghanistan, called the idea of Taliban leaders at Camp David “weird.”

“But I’m glad the president called off this farce, and hope this good decision sticks,” Malinowski tweeted.

Deal unpopular in Kabul

The announcement appears to abruptly end, at least for now, a painstaking diplomatic process led for nearly a year by Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born veteran US diplomat who held nine rounds of talks with the Taliban, usually in Qatar.

Khalilzad had earlier said that he had reached an agreement “in principle” with the Taliban.

According to parts of the draft deal made public, the Pentagon would pull about 5,000 of the roughly 13,000 US troops from five bases across Afghanistan next year.

The insurgents in turn would renounce Al-Qaeda, promise to fight the Islamic State group and stop jihadists using Afghanistan as a safe haven.

Afghanistan’s internationally recognized president, Ashraf Ghani, had been outspoken in his criticism of the emerging shape of the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, who have refused to negotiate with his government.

“The Afghan government, in relation to the peace, appreciates the sincere efforts of its allies and is committed to working together with the United States and other allies to bring a lasting peace,” said a statement from Ghani’s office Sunday in response to Trump’s announcement.

Question mark on troops

Trump’s announcement draws a fresh question mark on whether the United States will leave Afghanistan anytime soon.

The decision comes weeks before Afghanistan is set to hold elections, an unwieldy exercise even in more stable times. The Afghan government said it “insists” the polls should go ahead in its statement Sunday.

Trump had been uncharacteristically reticent about Afghanistan in recent weeks, with all eyes on whether he would approve a final deal.

Washington had hoped that a withdrawal of US troops would lead to peace negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul.

The Taliban have shown no signs of letting up on violence. Claiming responsibility for Thursday’s bombing in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that a suicide bomber had killed “foreign invaders.”

“Since the Taliban were flexing muscles on the ground, Americans also showed them they have a say politically,” analyst Ahmad Saeedi said — adding that he expects talks to resume again.

Trump has walked away from high-stakes talks before. In February, his aides pressed him not to accept a deal in Hanoi with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — another individual whom it would have long been unthinkable for a US president to meet.

But Trump soon made clear that he wanted to keep talking, calling Kim a friend, and arranged to meet him in June as the US leader visited the Korean peninsula.

Taliban Kill At Least Five People In ‘Horrifying’ Attack In Kabul

 

The Taliban killed at least five people in a fresh bombing in Kabul on Thursday in yet another horrific attack on the Afghan capital as the US and the insurgents negotiate a deal to see American troops leave the country.

The blast shook Shash Darak, a heavily fortified area adjacent to the Green Zone and home to several important complexes including the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence service.

The morning attack was also close to where the Islamic State group killed nine journalists in a blast in April last year, including AFP chief photographer Shah Marai.

Farid Ahmad Karimi, general manager at Wazir Akbar Khan hospital close to the bomb site, told AFP that five bodies and 25 wounded people had been brought into the facility.

“There are both civilians and security personal among dead and wounded. Five of the wounded are women,” Karimi said.

On Twitter, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying a “martyrdom seeker” — suicide bomber — had triggered the car bomb.

Massoud Zazai, who owns a photo studio across the street from the blast site, said he was in his shop when the explosion happened.

“I fell off my chair and it got dark inside the shop because of smoke and dust,” Zazai told AFP.

“I went out to the scene moments after the attack, the side of the road was littered with debris and bodies.”

Through the smoke, Zazai said he could hear injured people crying and calling for their mothers and brothers.

“I saw at least five very badly injured, one was covered in blood and not moving. It was horrifying.”

Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the blast had been caused by a car bomb at about 10:10 am (0540 GMT).

Growing unease

On Monday, at least 16 people were killed in a Taliban attack on a residential area in east Kabul.

The capital has been gripped by a surge in deadly violence even after the US and the Taliban reached an agreement “in principle” that would see the Pentagon pull thousands of troops from Afghanistan in return for various Taliban security promises.

But there is increasing unease about the deal, with Afghans fearing it will lead to a return of the Taliban to power, and a growing chorus of US lawmakers and officials expressing doubts.

According to parts of the deal made public so far, the Pentagon would pull about 5,000 of its 13,000 or so troops from five bases across Afghanistan by early next year, provided the Taliban hew to their security pledges.

The insurgents have said they will renounce Al-Qaeda, fight the Islamic State group and stop jihadists using Afghanistan as a safe haven.

On Wednesday, the Afghan government expressed doubts about the prospective deal, saying officials need more information about the risks it poses.

Even as negotiations for an accord have entered what are widely considered to be the final stages, violence has surged across Afghanistan.

On Saturday, the Taliban attempted to seize the provincial capital of Kunduz in the north and sporadic fighting has continued on the outskirts all week, while on Sunday, insurgents launched an operation in the city of Pul-e Khumri, the capital of neighbouring Baghlan province.