IS Claims Deadly Attack On Shiite Mosque In Afghanistan

(FILE) Taliban fighters investigate inside a Shiite mosque after a suicide bomb attack in Kunduz on October 8, 2021. AFP

 

The Islamic State group on Saturday claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a Shiite mosque in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar that killed at least 41 people and injured scores more.

The Friday assault came just a week after another IS-claimed attack on Shiite worshippers at a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz that killed more than 60 people.

In a statement released on its Telegram channels, the jihadist group said two Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) suicide bombers carried out separate attacks on different parts of the mosque in Kandahar — the spiritual heartland of the Taliban — while worshippers prayed inside.

The group, a bitter rival of fellow Sunni Islamist movement the Taliban, which swept back to power in Afghanistan in August as the United States and its allies withdrew, regards Shiite Muslims as heretics.

UK-based conflict analysis firm ExTrac said Friday’s assault was the first by IS-K in Kandahar, and the fourth mass casualty massacre since the Taliban took Kabul.

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ExTrac researcher Abdul Sayed told AFP the attack was “challenging the Taliban claims of holding control on the country. If the Taliban can’t protect Kandahar from an IS-K attack, how could it protect the rest of the country?”

Inside the mosque, after the blast, the walls were pockmarked with shrapnel, and volunteers swept up debris in the ornately painted prayer hall. Rubble lay in an entrance corridor.

In the wake of the explosions, Kandahar police chief Maulvi Mehmood said “a brutal attack has been witnessed on a Shiite mosque as a result of which a huge number of our countrymen have lost their lives”.

In a video statement, Mehmood said security for the mosque had been provided by guards from the Shiite community but that henceforth the Taliban would take charge of its protection.

Hafiz Abdulhai Abbas, director of health for Kandahar, told AFP 41 people had been killed about 70 wounded, according to hospital information.

At least 15 ambulances were seen rushing to and from the scene, as Taliban security cordoned off the area.

“We are overwhelmed,” a doctor at the city’s central Mirwais hospital told AFP.

“There are too many dead bodies and wounded people brought to our hospital. We are expecting more to come. We are in urgent need of blood. We have asked all the local media in Kandahar to ask people to come and donate blood.”

Many Worshippers

Eyewitnesses spoke of gunfire alongside the explosions, and a security guard assigned to protect the mosque said three of his comrades had been shot as the bombers fought their way in.

Sayed Rohullah told AFP: “It was the Friday prayer time, and when we were preparing I heard shots. Two people had entered the mosque.

“They had opened fire on the guards and in response, the guards had also opened fire on them. One of them committed a suicide blast inside the mosque.”

Other bombs were detonated in crowded areas outside the main building, he and other witnesses said.

“We are saddened to learn that an explosion took place in a mosque of the Shiite brotherhood in the first district of Kandahar city in which a number of our compatriots were martyred and wounded,” tweeted Taliban interior ministry spokesman Qari Sayed Khosti.

The US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington condemned the attack and reiterated a call for the “Taliban to live up to the commitment it has made to counterterrorism, and specifically to taking on the shared threat we face from ISIS-K”.

“We are determined to see to it that no group… can ever again use Afghan soil as a launching pad for attacks on the United States or other countries.”

The UN mission in Afghanistan in a tweet also condemned the “latest atrocity targeting a religious institution and worshippers”.

“Those responsible need to be held to account.”

The Taliban, which seized control of Afghanistan after overthrowing the US-backed government, has its own history of persecuting Shiites.

But the new Taliban-led administration has vowed to stabilize the country, and in the wake of the Kunduz attack promised to protect the Shiite minority now living under its rule.

Shiites are estimated to make up roughly 10 percent of the Afghan population. Many of them are Hazara, an ethnic group that has been persecuted in Afghanistan for decades.

In October 2017, an IS suicide attacker struck a Shiite mosque in the west of Kabul, killing 56 people and wounding 55.

AFP

G20 Leaders To Discuss Afghanistan In Virtual Summit

File Photo: A handout picture provided by the G20 Media on April 19, 2020, shows the G20 Health Ministers holding a virtual meeting on COVID-19. AFP PHOTO/ HANDOUT/G20 MEDIA.

 

G20 leaders will hold a virtual summit on Tuesday to discuss Afghanistan, with the Italy-hosted talks focused on the humanitarian and security situation following the takeover by the Taliban.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, whose country holds the rotating G20 presidency, has been pushing to widen the global discussion on Afghanistan to countries including Russia and China.

It was not clear if all the leaders of the G20 economic powers, which include the United States, EU, China, Turkey, Russia and Saudi Arabia among others, would join Tuesday’s meeting.

But an Italian government official said it would be “mostly heads of state and government”.

The summit will be held behind closed doors but Draghi will hold a press conference afterwards.

The hardline Islamist Taliban returned to power in August following the withdrawal of US troops after 20 years of war.

Afghanistan’s economy remains in a parlous state with international aid cut off, food prices rising and unemployment spiking.

Announcing the meeting last month, the Italian premier said it would address what he said was the risk of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Afghanistan.

Draghi, whose country was part of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, said leaders would also look at measures the international community can take “to stop Afghanistan from again becoming a hotbed of international terrorism”.

The Taliban regime, still yet to be recognised as a legitimate government by any other country, is itself facing a threat from the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), who have launched a series of deadly attacks.

AFP

Taliban Warns US Not To ‘Destabilise’ Regime In Face-To-Face Talks

In this picture taken on October 3, 2021, Taliban fighters working as a police force check commuters at a road checkpoint in Kabul. WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP
In this picture taken on October 3, 2021, Taliban fighters working as a police force check commuters at a road checkpoint in Kabul. WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP

 

The Taliban warned the United States not to “destabilise” the regime on Saturday during their first face-to-face talks since the US withdrawal, as a deadly sectarian bombing raised further questions about their grip on power.

As mourners in northern Afghanistan buried their dead from an attack on a Shiite mosque that killed 62, a Taliban delegation told US officials in Doha that any weakening of their government could cause “problems for the people”.

Scores more worshippers were wounded in Friday’s blast in Kunduz, which was claimed by the Islamic State group — who appear to be attempting to further shake Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.

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“We clearly told them that trying to destabilise the government in Afghanistan is good for no one,” the Taliban’s foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told the Afghan state news agency Bakhtar after the talks in the Qatari capital.

“Good relations with Afghanistan are good for everyone. Nothing should be done to weaken the existing government in Afghanistan which can lead to problems for the people,” he said, in a recorded statement translated by AFP.

The Taliban are seeking international recognition, as well as assistance to avoid a humanitarian disaster and ease Afghanistan’s economic crisis.

A State Department official said the US delegation would press the Taliban to ensure terrorists do not create a base for attacks in the country.

It would also pressure Afghanistan’s new rulers to form an inclusive government and to respect the rights of women and girls, the official said, stressing the meeting did not indicate Washington recognised Taliban rule.

“We remain clear that any legitimacy must be earned through the Taliban’s own actions,” the official said.

Taliban’s bitter rivals

As the two-day talks began, Kunduz counted the cost of the bloodiest assault since US forces left the country in August.

A gravedigger in the Shiite cemetery overlooking the city told AFP they had handled 62 bodies, and local reports suggested the final toll could be up to 100.

The regional branch of IS, known as Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), has repeatedly targeted Shiites in Afghanistan. It is a Sunni Islamist group like the Taliban, but the two are bitter rivals.

IS-K said the attack was carried out by a Uyghur suicide bomber who had “detonated an explosive vest amid a crowd” of Shiite worshippers.

The attack happened during Friday prayers — the most important of the week for Muslims — and residents of the city told AFP that hundreds of worshippers were inside.

In a heart-wrenching scene, relatives gathered around the newly-dug graves in Kunduz wailed inconsolably over their loved ones.

“We are really hurt by what happened,” Zemarai Mubarak Zada, 42, told AFP as he mourned his 17-year-old nephew, who he said had wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor.

“He wanted to get married. He wanted to go to university,” he said.

‘Terrifying’

The Taliban’s efforts to consolidate power have been undermined by a series of deadly IS-K attacks.

The Taliban security chief in Kunduz accused the mosque attackers of trying to foment trouble between Shiites and Sunnis.

“We assure our Shiite brothers that in the future, we will provide security for them and that such problems will not happen to them,” Mulawi Dost Muhammad said.

The attack was met with broad international condemnation, with UN chief Antonio Guterres calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Guterres “condemns in the strongest terms today’s horrific attack”, the third against a religious institution in Afghanistan in a week, his spokesman said.

Viewed as heretics by Sunni extremists such as IS, Shiite Muslims have suffered some of Afghanistan’s most violent assaults, with rallies bombed, hospitals targeted and commuters ambushed.

Shiites make up about 20 percent of the Afghan population. Many of them are Hazara, an ethnic group that has been persecuted for decades.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told AFP the Taliban would find it difficult to consolidate power unless they tackle terrorism and the growing economic crisis.

“If the Taliban, as is likely, is unable to address these concerns, it will struggle to gain domestic legitimacy, and we could see the emergence of a new armed resistance,” he said.

AFP

At Least 55 Killed As Suicide Bomber Attacks Shiite Mosque In Afghanistan

Taliban fighters investigate inside a Shiite mosque after a suicide bomb attack in Kunduz on October 8, 2021. AFP

 

A suicide bomb attack on worshippers at a Shiite mosque in the Afghan city of Kunduz has killed at least 55 people in the bloodiest assault since US forces left the country in August.

Scores more victims from the minority community were wounded in Friday’s blast, which was claimed by the Islamic State group and appeared designed to further destabilise Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover.

The regional branch of the rabidly sectarian IS has repeatedly targeted Shiites in Afghanistan. It is a Sunni Islamist group like the Taliban, but the two are bitter rivals.

“It was a very terrifying incident,” said a teacher in Kunduz, who lives near the mosque.

“Many of our neighbours have been killed and wounded. A 16-year-old neighbour was killed. They couldn’t find half of his body.”

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Images from the scene showed debris strewn inside the mosque, and its windows blown out by the explosion. Some men were seen carrying a body draped in a bloody sheet to an ambulance.

A medical source at Kunduz Provincial Hospital said 35 dead and more than 55 wounded had been taken there, while Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said 20 dead and several dozen wounded were brought to its hospital.

Aminullah, an eyewitness whose brother was at the mosque, said: “After I heard the explosion, I called my brother but he did not pick up.”

“I walked towards the mosque and found my brother wounded and faint. We immediately took him to the MSF hospital.”

Matiullah Rohani, the Taliban government’s director of culture and information in Kunduz, confirmed it was a suicide attack, and put the death toll at 46.

‘Horrific Attack’

The Taliban have been seeking to consolidate power but still face attacks from the regional IS branch, called Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K).

The Taliban security chief in the northern city accused the mosque attackers of trying to foment trouble between Shiites and Sunnis.

“We assure our Shiite brothers that in the future, we will provide security for them and that such problems will not happen to them,” Mulawi Dost Muhammad said.

Residents of the city, the capital of Kunduz province, told AFP the mosque blast happened during Friday prayers, the most important of the week for Muslims.

One witness, Rahmatullah, said 300 to 400 worshippers were inside.

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Guterres “condemns in the strongest terms today’s horrific attack”, the third against a religious institution in Afghanistan in a week, his spokesman said.

Viewed as heretics by Sunni extremists such as IS, Shiite Muslims have suffered some of Afghanistan’s most violent assaults, with rallies bombed, hospitals targeted and commuters ambushed.

Shiites make up about 20 percent of the Afghan population. Many of them are Hazara, an ethnic group that has been persecuted for decades.

In October 2017, an IS suicide attacker struck a Shiite mosque in the west of Kabul, killing 56 people and wounding 55.

And in May this year, a series of bombings outside a school in the capital killed at least 85 people, mostly young girls. More than 300 were wounded in this attack on the Hazara community.

Struggle For Legitimacy

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told AFP the Taliban would find it difficult to consolidate power unless they tackle terrorism and the growing economic crisis.

“If the Taliban, as is likely, is unable to address these concerns, it will struggle to gain domestic legitimacy, and we could see the emergence of a new armed resistance,” he said.

The Taliban are seeking international recognition, as well as assistance to avoid a humanitarian disaster and ease Afghanistan’s economic crisis.

The United States will Saturday hold its first face-to-face talks with the Taliban since the withdrawal of American troops.

The US delegation will press the Taliban in Doha to form an inclusive government with broad support, a State Department spokesperson said, stressing it did not indicate Washington recognised Taliban rule.

“We remain clear that any legitimacy must be earned through the Taliban’s own actions,” the spokesperson said.

‘We Lack Everything’: Afghanistan’s Health System At Breaking Point

File photo used to illustrate the story. AFP

 

At an overcrowded hospital in Afghanistan, the few remaining doctors and nurses try urgently to treat skeletal babies and malnourished children packed side by side on beds.

The country’s healthcare system is on the verge of collapse following the Taliban takeover in August when international funding was frozen, leaving the aid-reliant economy in crisis.

“We lack everything. We need double the equipment, medicine and staff,” said Mohammad Sidiq, head of the paediatric department at the Mirwais hospital in the southern city of Kandahar, where there are twice as many patients as beds.

Many staff have quit after not being paid for months, while others have fled abroad fearing Taliban rule, with many women too afraid to return to work under the hardline Islamists.

Sidiq said there had been an influx of patients as access to the hospital improved following the end of Afghanistan’s 20-year conflict, straining resources further.

At just 5.5 kilograms (12 pounds), one 11-month-old baby at the hospital weighed just half what the infant should.

A severely malnourished five-year-old with diarrhoea and pneumonia lay motionless and was being fed through a tube. He weighed just 5.3 kilograms.

“I could not bring him to hospital before because there was fighting,” the boy’s mother said.

At another hospital in the northern town of Balkh, a medic said the number of patients had also shot up.

“In the past, the roads were closed due to the war and people could not come to the hospital, but now their number is much higher than before,” Muzhgan Saidzada told AFP.

“Of course, it has become more difficult to handle,” the doctor at the Abo Ali Sina Balkhi Regional Hospital said.

READ ALSO: Taliban Say Girls To Return To School ‘Soon As Possible’

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‘Imminent Collapse’ 

After the Taliban swept to power the World Bank suspended aid to Afghanistan, while Washington denied the Islamist group access to the country’s gold and cash reserves, most of which are held overseas.

The International Monetary Fund also said Afghanistan would no longer be able to access the global lender’s resources, blocking hundreds of millions of dollars.

Other major donors such as USAID and the European Union have paused funding with no emergency support in place.

Leading aid agencies now say the health sector, which was primarily run by NGOs with international funding, faces “imminent collapse”.

HealthNet TPO, a Dutch aid agency which runs the Afghan Japan Hospital in the capital Kabul, said its 2,700 healthcare workers in Afghanistan would go unpaid and services would stop unless emergency money is provided.

At least 2.6 million people rely on the group for medical services at its 100 health centres and hospitals across the country.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said more than 2,000 health facilities had already been shuttered across the nation.

At least 20,000 health workers are not working, or are doing so without pay, it said, including over 7,000 women.

Covid Woes 

Meanwhile, Covid-19 continues to spread across the country, with few resources to bring it under control.

“Maybe in a month, we will not be able to provide for our Covid-19 patients,” said Freba Azizi, a doctor for Kabul’s only dedicated coronavirus treatment centre at the Afghan Japan Hospital.

“The death rate of Covid-19 patients will increase,” she told AFP. “We will see dead bodies on a daily basis.”

One patient, a 32-year-old man, died during AFP’s visit to the hospital. He was suffering from severe pneumonia and went into cardiac arrest.

Noorali Nazarzai, a doctor at the centre, told AFP he and his colleagues — including fellow medics, nurses, managers and other essential workers — had not been paid in three months.

According to official data compiled by AFP, Afghanistan has recorded 155,000 Covid-19 infections with around 7,200 deaths. But health experts agree a lack of testing means this is a vast underestimate.

A Johns Hopkins University tracker shows only about 430,000 people have been fully vaccinated — just one percent of the population.

Aid hope 

As the healthcare system struggles, the country remains mired in poverty and food prices are rising.

More than 18 million Afghans — over half the population — are in dire need of aid, while a third are at risk of famine, according to the United Nations.

The international community has pledged $1.2 billion in humanitarian assistance, but it is unclear how and when the money will reach Afghanistan.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said he believed the cash injection could be used as leverage with the Islamist extremists to exact improvements on human rights, amid fears of a return to the brutal rule that characterised the first Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001.

Some lifesaving aid has started to trickle in, with several aircraft carrying UNICEF, Save the Children and World Health Organization supplies arriving since late September.

The WHO said it has airlifted around 185 metric tonnes of essential medical supplies, including Covid-19 and trauma kits, antibiotics, and rehydration salts.

AFP

Taliban Say Girls To Return To School ‘Soon As Possible’

Schoolgirls gather in their class after arriving at a gender-segregated school in Kabul on September 15, 2021. BULENT KILIC / AFP

 

The Taliban said on Tuesday Afghan girls will be allowed to return to school “as soon as possible”, after their movement faced international fury over their effective exclusion of women and girls from education and work. 

The hardliners’ spokesman meanwhile announced the remaining members of Afghanistan’s all-male government, weeks after the militants seized Kabul in an offensive that shocked the world.

The Taliban were notorious for their brutal, oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001 when women were largely barred from work and school, including being banned from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.

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One month after seizing power and pledging a softer version of their previous regime, the Islamists have incrementally stripped away at Afghans’ freedoms.

“The work is continuing over the issues of education and work of women and girls,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a press conference, saying schools will reopen “as soon as possible”, without providing a timeframe.

“More time is needed… instructions on how to deal with their work, their services, and their education are needed because the system has changed and an Islamic system is in place.”

At the weekend, girls and female teachers were excluded from returning to secondary school, while boys and male teachers were ordered back to the classroom.

The Taliban have also slashed women’s access to work, with officials previously telling them to stay at home for their own security until segregation under the group’s restrictive interpretation of sharia law can be implemented.

The group imposed a harsh interpretation of sharia law during their last rule and this time round have said progress in women’s rights will be respected “within the framework of Islamic law”.

Many women however are deeply suspicious about the Taliban’s pledges.

“This happened last time. They kept saying they would allow us to return to work, but it never happened,” a woman teacher told AFP on Monday.

 

No Female Ministers

New additions to the Taliban’s government were also announced on Tuesday, with businessmen and engineers added to the line-up, as well as a doctor appointed as health minister.

The Taliban had promised an inclusive administration, but no women were added on Tuesday, and it remains largely drawn from loyalist ranks.

A member of the Hazara community, which is majority Shiite and has long been persecuted by the Sunni Taliban — joined the health ministry as a deputy minister.

Although still marginalised, Afghan women have fought for and gained basic rights in the past 20 years, becoming lawmakers, judges, pilots, and police officers, though mostly limited to large cities.

There was no mention in the press conference of the recently shut down women’s affairs ministry, with its offices replaced with a department notorious for enforcing strict religious doctrine during the Taliban’s last rule.

Women have been at the forefront of several small, scattered protests across the country — a show of resistance unthinkable under the last regime — demanding to be included in public life.

The Taliban have attempted to shut them down, slapping rules on any form of assembly.

The Taliban now face the colossal task of transitioning from insurgent force to ruling Afghanistan, an aid-dependent country whose economic troubles have only deepened since the Islamists seized power and outside funding was frozen.

Many government employees have not been paid for months, with food prices soaring.

“We are working on a mechanism for the payment of salaries. Salaries will be paid to all the employees in coming days,” Mujahid said.

While many Afghans are relieved that the Taliban victory has brought an end to the ongoing fighting, airstrikes, and bomb attacks, the Islamic State group branch of Afghanistan remains a security risk.

It has claimed a handful of bomb attacks in their former stronghold of Nangarhar province, as well as a devastating suicide blast that killed scores of people outside Kabul airport during the chaotic US-led evacuation.

AFP

Three Blasts Kill At Least Two In Afghanistan’s Jalalabad

Afghan people are pictured outside the Nangarhar Regional Specialization Hospital after explosions in Jalalabad on September 18, 2021, as at least two people were killed and up to 20 more wounded in three explosions, a Taliban official said. (Photo by – / AFP)

 

Two people were killed when three blasts struck the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, at least one of which targeted a Taliban vehicle, in the country’s first deadly attack since the United States withdrew.

The hardline Islamist group stormed to power in mid-August, ousting the government and promising to restore security to the violence-wracked country.

“In one attack a Taliban vehicle patrolling in Jalalabad was targeted,” a Taliban official who asked not to be named told AFP.

“Women and children were among the injured,” he added.

An official from the health department of Nangarhar Province told AFP that three people died and 18 were wounded, while several local media reported the attacks left at least two dead.

Pictures taken at the site of the blast showed a green pick-up truck with a white Taliban flag surrounded by debris as armed fighters looked on.

Jalalabad is the capital of Nangarhar, the heartland of the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan branch.

A chaotic US-led evacuation of foreigners and Afghans who worked for international forces was marred by a devastating bomb attack claimed by IS which killed scores of people.

But since the last American troop left on August 30, the violence-wracked country plagued by fighting, bombs and air strikes, has been free of major incidents.

Although both IS and the Taliban are hardline Sunni Islamist militants, they have differed on the minutiae of religion and strategy.

That tussle has led to bloody fighting between the two.

 

Boys Back To School, Not Girls

Saturday’s bombing came as the Taliban ordered boys and male teachers to return to secondary school in Afghanistan — but girls were excluded.

“All male teachers and students should attend their educational institutions,” a statement said ahead of classes resuming Saturday, the first day of the week in Afghanistan.

The statement, issued late Friday, made no mention of women teachers or girl pupils.

“We lack teachers, most of them are females and are not allowed to come by the new government, that creates a problem for us,” an official at a Kabul secondary school who asked not to be named told AFP on Saturday.

Secondary schools, with students typically between the ages of 13 and 18, are often segregated by sex. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they have faced repeated closures and have been shut since the Taliban seized power.

Since a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001, significant progress has been made in girls’ education, with the number of schools tripling and female literacy nearly doubling to 30 percent — however, the change was largely limited to the cities.

The United Nations said it was “deeply worried” for the future of girls’ schooling in Afghanistan.

“It is critical that all girls, including older girls, are able to resume their education without any further delays. For that, we need female teachers to resume teaching,” the UN’s children’s agency UNICEF said.

 

Pakistan Pushes For Inclusive Govt

In a further sign that the Taliban’s approach to women and girls had not softened, a sign outside the ministry of women’s affairs was replaced with another — announcing the return of the feared department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Videos posted to social media showed women workers from the ministry protesting outside after losing their jobs.

No official from the Taliban responded to requests for comment.

After promising a more inclusive rule, the movement unveiled an all-male government of mostly ethnic Pashtuns, dominated by veteran members of the fundamentalist movement.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday said he had launched talks with the Taliban — whose leadership has historically had close ties with its southern neighbour — to persuade the group to form a government that includes Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks.

 

Tragic Mistake

Meanwhile, a top United States general admitted it had made a “mistake” when it launched a drone strike against suspected IS militants in Kabul last month, instead killing 10 civilians, including children.

The strike during the final days of the US pullout was meant to target a suspected IS operation that US intelligence believed with “reasonable certainty” was planning to attack Kabul airport, said US Central Command commander General Kenneth McKenzie.

“The strike was a tragic mistake,” McKenzie told reporters after an investigation.

McKenzie said the government was looking into how payments for damages could be made to the families of those killed.

“I offer my deepest condolences to surviving family members of those who were killed,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

The UN Security Council voted Friday to extend the UN political mission in Afghanistan for six months, with a focus on development issues but not peacekeeping.

AFP

IMF Calls For Action To Prevent Humanitarian Crisis In Afghanistan

In this file photo an exterior view of the building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMG logo, is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file photo an exterior view of the building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMG logo, is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

The international community should take urgent action to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the IMF said Thursday.

With the country currently cut off from funding from the International Monetary Fund, the Washington-based crisis lender is worried about the fate of the people in Afghanistan, spokesman Gerry Rice told reporters.

“We stand ready to work with the international community to advocate for urgent actions to stall a looming humanitarian crisis,” Rice said.

Rice signaled the IMF favors “allowing the flow of remittances and small scale transfers” to Afghanistan.

But the IMF cannot resume direct engagement with Afghanistan “until there is clarity within the international community on the recognition of the government.”

“We’re deeply concerned with the difficult economic situation in Afghanistan and the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and we’ve said, the immediate focus should indeed be on that humanitarian situation (and) aid to help the Afghan people.”

After the civilian government in Kabul fell swiftly to the Taliban, the IMF and World Bank suspended activities in the country, which meant withholding aid as well as $340 million in new reserves issued by the IMF last month.

And with Washington blocking access to much of the $9 billion in Afghan reserves held overseas, the country is facing a cash crunch.

AFP

Taliban Claim Total Control Over Afghanistan

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a press conference in Kabul on September 6, 2021. 
WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP

 

The Taliban on Monday claimed total control over Afghanistan, saying they had won the key battle for the Panjshir Valley, the last remaining holdout of resistance against their rule.

Following their lightning-fast victory in mid-August over the former Afghan government’s security forces and the withdrawal of US troops after 20 years of war, the Taliban turned to fighting the forces defending the mountainous Panjshir Valley.

As the Islamist hardliners claimed victory, their chief spokesman warned against any further attempts to rise up against their rule while urging former members of the security forces to join their regime’s ranks.

“With this victory, our country is completely taken out of the quagmire of war,” chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

“Anyone who tries to start an insurgency will be hit hard. We will not allow another,” he later added at a press conference in Kabul.

The Taliban published a video of their flag being raised over the governor’s house in Panjshir — underscoring a historic win that has seen the anti-Taliban bastion defeated for the first time during 40 years of conflict.

It remained in the hands of resistance fighters during Soviet rule, a subsequent civil war, and the Taliban’s first regime of the late 1990s.

The National Resistance Front (NRF) in Panjshir — made up of anti-Taliban militia and former Afghan security forces — on Sunday acknowledged suffering major battlefield losses and called for a ceasefire.

But on Monday the group said in a tweet that its fighters were still present in “strategic positions” in the valley.

The NRF includes local fighters loyal to Ahmad Massoud — the son of the famous anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud — as well as remnants of the Afghan military that retreated to the Panjshir Valley.

As Taliban fighters amassed in the valley, Massoud on Monday called on Afghans in and out of the country to “rise up in resistance”.

Taliban government

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 23, 2021, Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprising force personnel patrol at an outpost in Kotal-e Anjuman of Paryan district in Panjshir province. “.
Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP

 

The Taliban are yet to finalise their new regime after rolling into the capital Kabul three weeks ago at a speed that analysts say likely surprised even the hardline Islamists themselves.

As they undertake a mammoth transition into overseeing key institutions and cities of hundreds of thousands of people, Mujahid said an interim government would first be announced, allowing for later changes.

“Final decisions have been taken, we are now working on the technical issues,” he said at a press conference.

Afghanistan’s new rulers have pledged to be more “inclusive” than during their first stint in power, with a government that represents Afghanistan’s complex ethnic makeup — though women are unlikely to be included at the top levels.

Women’s freedoms in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule.

This time, women will be allowed to attend university as long as classes are segregated by sex or at least divided by a curtain, the Taliban’s education authority said in a lengthy document issued on Sunday.

But female students must wear an abaya (robe) and niqab (face-veil), as opposed to the even more conservative burqa mandatory under the previous Taliban regime.

However, some universities in Kabul remained closed on Monday and those that did open saw a drastic fall in the number of students — some who complied with the new rules, and others who resisted.

Afghans are also facing a host of other challenges, including looming financial and humanitarian crises.

“The authorities pledged that the safety and security of humanitarian staff, and humanitarian access to people in need, will be guaranteed and that humanitarian workers — both men and women — will be guaranteed freedom of movement,” a statement from UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The Taliban spokesman said the group had assured a visiting UN team of cooperation.

Flurry of diplomacy

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about Afghanistan during a media briefing at the State Department, on September 3, 2021, in Washington, DC.
Olivier DOULIERY / POOL / AFP

 

The international community is coming to terms with the new Taliban regime with a flurry of diplomacy.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due Monday in Qatar, a key player in the Afghan saga.

Qatar, which hosts a major US military base, has been the gateway for 55,000 people airlifted out of Afghanistan, nearly half the total evacuated by US-led forces after the Taliban takeover on August 15.

Blinken will also speak to the Qataris about efforts alongside Turkey to reopen Kabul’s airport, which is necessary for flying in badly needed humanitarian aid and evacuating remaining Afghans.

Blinken will then head Wednesday to the US airbase in Ramstein, Germany, a temporary home for thousands of Afghans moving to the United States, from which he will hold a virtual 20-nation ministerial meeting on the crisis alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

-AFP

Biden To Visit Three 9/11 Attack Sites On 20th Anniversary

U.S. President Joe Biden gestures as delivers remarks on the U.S. military’s ongoing evacuation efforts in Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House on August 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP
File photo:  U.S. President Joe Biden gestures as delivers remarks on the U.S. military’s evacuation efforts in Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House on August 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP

 

US President Joe Biden will commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 by traveling to all the three sites of the attacks, the White House said Saturday.

On September 11, the president and First Lady Jill Biden will “honor and memorialize the lives lost 20 years ago,” according to the White House statement.

They will take part in ceremonies in New York, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell; in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the site of a crash of a plane hijacked by four jihadists; and in Arlington, Virginia, where the Pentagon was struck.

READ ALSO:Biden Announces ‘New Phase’ In Iraq Relations, End Of ‘Combat Operations’ 

Biden had been counting on marking the 20th anniversary of the tragedy with a symbolic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

But America’s longest war ended in chaos, with the US military unprepared for Taliban’s swift takeover of the country and the death of 13 US troops in an attack in Kabul as the pullout was being completed.

AFP

New Afghanistan Govt Delayed As Valley Fighters Resist Taliban Rule

Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprising forces take part in a military training at Malimah area of Dara district in Panjshir province on September 2, 2021 as the valley remains the last major holdout of anti-Taliban forces. Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP
Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprising forces take part in a military training at Malimah area of Dara district in Panjshir province on September 2, 2021 as the valley remains the last major holdout of anti-Taliban forces. Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP

 

Fresh fighting was reported Saturday between the Taliban and resistance forces in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley, as the hardline Islamists finalise a new government that will set the tone for their rule.

Facing the challenge of morphing from insurgents to rulers, the Taliban appear determined to snuff out the Panjshir resistance before announcing who will lead the country in the aftermath of Monday’s US troop withdrawal, which was supposed to end two decades of war.

But Panjshir, which held out for nearly a decade against the Soviet Union’s occupation and also the Taliban’s first rule from 1996-2001, is stubbornly holding out.

READ ALSO: Taliban Close To Forming Government As Women Protest

Fighters from the so-called National Resistance Front (NRF) — made up of anti-Taliban militia and former Afghan security forces — are understood to have stockpiled a significant armoury in the valley, around 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Kabul and guarded by a narrow gorge.

‘Under invasion’

Celebratory gunfire rang out in the capital Kabul overnight as rumours spread the valley had fallen, but the Taliban made no official claim Saturday and a resident told AFP by phone that the reports were false.

The Emergency Hospital in Kabul said two people were killed and 20 wounded by the salvos, as the Taliban tweeted a stern admonishment and warned its fighters to stop.

“Avoid firing in the air and thank God instead,” said chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, tipped to become the new regime’s information minister.

“The weapons and bullets given to you are public property. No one has the right to waste them. The bullets can also harm civilians, don’t shoot in vain.”

An Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprising forces personnel takes part in a military training at Malimah area of Dara district in Panjshir province on September 2, 2021 as the valley remains the last major holdout of anti-Taliban forces. Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP
An Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprising forces personnel takes part in a military training at Malimah area of Dara district in Panjshir province on September 2, 2021 as the valley remains the last major holdout of anti-Taliban forces. Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP

 

In Panjshir, former vice-president Amrullah Saleh, holed out alongside Ahmad Massoud — the son of legendary anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud — admitted the perilous position of the NRF.

“The situation is difficult, we have been under invasion,” Saleh said in a video message.

Usually known for his sharp Western suits, Saleh was filmed wearing a traditional shalwar kameez tunic and a flat woollen pakol cap favoured by Panjshiris.

“The resistance is continuing and will continue,” he added.

Taliban and resistance tweets suggested the key district of Paryan had changed hands several times in the last few days, but that also could not be independently verified.

Aid talks

Away from the valley, the international community was coming to terms with having to deal with the new Taliban regime with a flurry of diplomacy.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due on Sunday in Qatar, a key player in the Afghan saga and the location of the Taliban’s political office, though he is not expected to meet with the militants.

He will then travel to Germany, to lead a virtual 20-nation ministerial meeting on Afghanistan alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

Pakistan’s intelligence chief Faiz Hameed was in Kabul, meanwhile. Hameed was reportedly in the city to be briefed by his country’s ambassador but is also likely to meet top Taliban officials with whom Islamabad has historically had very close relations.

Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprising forces take part in a military training at Malimah area of Dara district in Panjshir province on September 2, 2021 as the valley remains the last major holdout of anti-Taliban forces. Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP
Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprising forces take part in a military training at Malimah area of Dara district in Panjshir province on September 2, 2021 as the valley remains the last major holdout of anti-Taliban forces. Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP

 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is also set to convene a high-level meeting on Afghanistan in Geneva on September 13, to focus on humanitarian assistance for the country.

The United Nations has already restarted humanitarian flights to parts of Afghanistan, while the country’s flag carrier Ariana Afghan Airlines resumed domestic trips on Friday and the United Arab Emirates sent a plane carrying “urgent medical and food aid”.

Western Union and Moneygram, meanwhile, said they were restarting cash transfers, which many Afghans rely on from relatives abroad to survive.

China has already confirmed it will keep its embassy in Kabul open.

Afghanistan’s new rulers have pledged to be more accommodating than during their first stint in power, which also came after years of conflict — first the Soviet invasion of 1979, and then a bloody civil war.

That regime was notorious for its brutal interpretation of Islamic law, and its treatment of women, who were forced inside and denied access to school and work.

This time around, the Taliban have made repeated declarations that they will not carry out revenge attacks on opponents, and women will have access to education and some employment.

They have promised a more “inclusive” government that represents Afghanistan’s complex ethnic makeup — though women are unlikely to be included at the top levels.

In Kabul, dozens of women protested for a second day Saturday to demand the right to work and inclusion in the government.

Social media clips showed Taliban fighters and officials attempting to disperse the demonstrators and stopping people from filming with mobile phones.

Asked about the delay in naming the government, Australia-based Afghanistan expert Nishank Motwani told AFP it was likely a combination of factors.

“First reason is that the Taliban themselves have been stunned by their military success,” he said.

“If they get Panjshir before the government is formed it is good for their propaganda value but that is not the reason.”

 

AFP

Taliban Close To Forming Government As Women Protest

A member (L) of the Taliban watches as Afghan women hold placards during a protest in Herat on September 2, 2021. – Defiant Afghan women held a rare protest on September 2 saying they were willing to accept the all-encompassing burqa if their daughters could still go to school under Taliban rule. (Photo by – / AFP)

 

 

The Taliban said Thursday they were close to forming a new government, as dozens of women held a rare protest for the right to work under a new regime that faces enormous economic hurdles and deep public mistrust.

The Islamist militants, who have pledged a softer brand of rule than during their brutal reign of 1996-2001, must now transform from insurgent group to governing power.

The announcement of a cabinet, which two Taliban sources told AFP may take place on Friday following afternoon prayers, would come just days after the chaotic pullout of US forces from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war with an astounding military victory for the Islamist group.

In one of the most symbolic moments since the takeover of Kabul on August 15, the militants paraded Wednesday some of the military hardware they had captured during their offensive, even flying a Black Hawk helicopter over Kandahar, their movement’s spiritual heartland.

Now, all eyes are on whether the Taliban can deliver a cabinet capable of managing a war-wracked economy and honour the movement’s pledges of a more “inclusive” government.

 

Taliban fighters atop vehicles with Taliban flags parade along a road to celebrate after the US pulled all its troops out of Afghanistan, in Kandahar on September 1, 2021 following the Taliban’s military takeover of the country. (Photo by JAVED TANVEER / AFP)

 

– ‘We are not afraid’ –
Speculation is rife about the make-up of a new government, although a senior official said Wednesday that women were unlikely to be included.

Senior leader Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai — a hardliner in the first Taliban administration — told BBC Pashto in an interview that while women could continue working, there “may not” be a place for them in the cabinet of any future government or any other top post.

In the western city of Herat, some 50 women took to the streets in a rare, defiant protest for the right to work and over the lack of women’s participation in the new government.

“It is our right to have education, work and security,” the protesters chanted in unison, said an AFP journalist who witnessed the protest.

“We are not afraid, we are united,” they added.

 

An Afghan woman protester (3L) speaks with a member (R) of the Taliban during a protest in Herat on September 2, 2021. – Defiant Afghan women held a rare protest on September 2 saying they were willing to accept the all-encompassing burqa if their daughters could still go to school under Taliban rule. (Photo by – / AFP)

 

Herat is a relatively cosmopolitan city on the ancient silk road near the Iranian border. It is one of the more prosperous in Afghanistan and girls have already returned to school there.

One of the organisers of the protest, Basira Taheri, told AFP she wanted the Taliban to include women in the new cabinet.

“We want the Taliban to hold consultations with us,” Taheri said. “We don’t see any women in their gatherings and meetings.”

Among the 122,000 people who fled Afghanistan in a frenzied US-led airlift that ended on Monday was the first female Afghan journalist to interview a Taliban official live on television.

Speaking to AFP in Qatar, the former anchor for the Tolo News media group said women in Afghanistan were “in a very bad situation”.

“I want to say to the international community — please do anything (you can) for Afghan women,” Beheshta Arghand said.

 

Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprising forces patrol on a hilltop in Darband area in Anaba district, Panjshir province on September 1,2021. – Panjshir — famous for its natural defences never penetrated by Soviet forces or the Taliban in earlier conflicts — remains the last major holdout of anti-Taliban forces led by Ahmad Massoud, son of the famed Mujahideen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. (Photo by Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP)

 

– ‘Business below zero’ –
Women’s rights were not the only major concern in the lead-up to the Taliban’s announcement of a new government.

In Kabul, residents voiced worry over the country’s long-running economic difficulties, now seriously compounded by the militant movement’s takeover.

“With the arrival of the Taliban, it’s right to say that there is security, but business has gone down below zero,” Karim Jan, an electronic goods shop owner, told AFP.

The United Nations warned earlier this week of a looming “humanitarian catastrophe” in Afghanistan, as it called to ensure that those wanting to flee the new regime still have a way out.

On Wednesday, a Qatar Airways flight landed at the trashed airport in Kabul — a first step towards getting the facility back up and running as a crucial lifeline for aid.