Taliban, Govt Forces Clash Again In Afghanistan’s Third Largest City

Afghan security personnel and Afghan militia fighting against Taliban, stand guard in Enjil district of Herat province on July 30, 2021. Hoshang Hashimi / AFP
Afghan security personnel and Afghan militia fighting against Taliban, stand guard in Enjil district of Herat province on July 30, 2021. Hoshang Hashimi / AFP

 

Afghan and Taliban forces clashed again on the outskirts of Herat on Saturday, a day after a police guard was killed when a United Nations compound in the western city came under attack.

Violence has surged across the country since early May, when the militants launched a sweeping offensive as US-led foreign forces began a final withdrawal that is now almost complete.

The Taliban have seized scores of districts across Afghanistan, including in Herat province, where the group has also captured two border crossings adjoining Iran and Turkmenistan.

Officials and residents reported renewed fighting on the outskirts of Herat on Saturday, with hundreds fleeing their homes to seek shelter closer to the heart of the city.

Herat governor Abdul Saboor Qani said most of the fighting was in Injil and Guzara district — where the airport is located.

“At the moment the fighting is ongoing in the south and southeast. We are moving cautiously and to avoid civilian casualties,” Qani said.

Government forces also called an air strike near a 10-bed hospital in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, that officials said had been seized earlier by the Taliban to treat its wounded fighters.

Residents told AFP that Taliban fighters took over the Ariana Afghan Speciality Hospital to treat those hurt.

“This morning, the Taliban fighters came and forced the hospital staff to leave,” said Agha Mohammad.

“Planes were hovering in the air at that time, and they were following the Taliban, and the air strike happened.”

Sher Ali Shakir, provincial public health director of Helmand, said the hospital was destroyed, one person killed, and two wounded.

Fighting hampers flood rescue

During fighting Friday, the main Herat compound of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire that the UN blamed on anti-government elements.

The militants say they will not target foreign diplomats, but have blatantly violated international protocol before.

Abdullah Abdullah, former deputy president and now head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, tweeted Saturday that the Taliban had executed a senior Afghan army officer after capturing him near Herat.

“The Taliban, contrary to all the principles of war and Islamic and humanitarian standards, martyred Abdul Hamid Hamidi, commander of the 1st Brigade of the 207th Zafar Corps, after taking him captive,” he said.

“Shooting prisoners of war is a cowardly act against all the rules of war and shows the cruelty of the Taliban.”

In Herat, Afghan forces and militiamen of veteran warlord and anti-Taliban commander Ismail Khan have been deployed around the city of 600,000 in recent days.

Khan, who previously fought the Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s and then the Taliban during their hardline regime in the 1990s, has vowed to fight the insurgents again to counter their staggering advances in recent months.

Fighting was also hampering rescue efforts after severe flooding in Nuristan this week killed at least 113 people, with over 100 more missing.

“Unfortunately the area is under the control of the Taliban, we were unable to send our provincial teams to the area,” said Tamim Azimi, spokesman for Afghanistan’s state ministry for disaster management.

“But we have sent the (local) rescue teams along with the Afghan Red Crescent,” he told AFP.

 

AFP

I Am Done With Partisan Politics, Obasanjo Denies Plan To Float New Party

A file photo of former President Olusegun Obasanjo
A file photo of former President Olusegun Obasanjo

 

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo says he is done with partisan politics, noting that claims making the rounds in the media that he is planning to float a new political party ahead of the 2023 general elections are false. 

“I’m done with partisan politics but by my position in Nigeria and in Africa and without being immodest and indeed in the world my door must be opened and it is open to any individual or group of individuals who want to seek my opinion, view, or advice on any issue or matter and I will respond to the best of my ability, without being part of that individual or group,” Chief Obasanjo was quoted as saying in a statement by his special assistant on media affairs, Kehinde Akinyemi.

The former president who stated this in Kabul, Afghanistan, as a guest of President Ashraf Ghani, warned those who want to use the back door to force him to return to partisan politics to respect his choice to remain a non-partisan statesman.

He insisted that he will continue to perform his role with a focus on providing counsel, support, or solutions wherever possible in Nigeria, Africa, and indeed the world.

Below is the former president’s full communique as sent out on Monday.

READ ALSO: Two Killed As Bandits Kidnap Students In Another Kaduna School

The attention of former President of Nigeria Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has been drawn to unfounded report published in the Vanguard Newspaper with the headline: “New Party Ahead of 2023: Obasanjo picks 3ex-govs as coordinators, meeting July 13” and dated July 4, 2021.

Obasanjo, who is currently in Kabul, Afghanistan, as a guest of President Ashraf Ghani has declared that this report, written by one, Soni Daniel, is false, maintaining that there was no plan to float a new political party now or in near future.

He said that the fabricated story hardly comes as a surprise because he has, for some time now, observed with bewilderment the efforts by some people to drag him into their political games.

Upon hearing of this latest fabricated report, Chief Obasanjo said “In my part of the world, when you say goodnight in a place, you do not go back there and say good evening. The one who reported that may need to visit Yaba Left. And those who believe it can believe that their mothers are men.”

“I’m done with partisan politics but by my position in Nigeria and in Africa and without being immodest and indeed in the world my door must be opened and it is open to any individual or group of individuals who want to seek my opinion, view or advice on any issue or matter and I will respond to the best of my ability, without being part of that individual or group”.

If anything, Chief Obasanjo’s political party today is the party of Nigerians facing insecurity, unemployment, hunger, poverty, and various other challenging issues. It is the party of Nigeria which must be saved, kept wholesomely united in peace, security, equity, development and progress.

Let those who want to use the back door to force Chief Obasanjo to return to partisan politics respect his choice to remain a non-partisan statesman. On his part, the former President will continue to perform his role as a statesman focused on providing counsel, support, or solutions wherever possible in Nigeria, Africa and indeed the world.

Signed:
Kehinde Akinyemi
Special Assistant on Media Affairsb

All US Troops Leave Afghanistan’s Biggest Air Base

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier looks out while standing on a Humvee vehicle at Bagram Air Base, after all US and NATO troops left, some 70 Km north of Kabul on July 2, 2021. Zakeria HASHIMI / AFP
An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier looks out while standing on a Humvee vehicle at Bagram Air Base, after all US and NATO troops left, some 70 Km north of Kabul on July 2, 2021.
Zakeria HASHIMI / AFP

 

All US and NATO troops have left Afghanistan’s biggest air base, officials said Friday, but President Joe Biden dampened speculation that the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country was imminent after two decades of war.

“No. We’re on, we’re on track exactly as to where we expect to be,” he told reporters at the White House, after the news that US troops had left Bagram Air Base fuelled rumours that the final contingents were due to leave the country within days.

Biden has set a deadline of September 11 for the final pullout of remaining troops.

Bagram served as the linchpin for US-led operations in the rugged country, where the long war against the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies started in 2001 following the September 11 attacks.

“The American and coalition forces have completely withdrawn from the base and henceforth the Afghan army forces will protect it and use it to combat terrorism,” defence ministry spokesman Fawad Aman tweeted.

A US defence official confirmed their departure, while the Taliban said it welcomed the latest phase of the pullout.

“Their full withdrawal will pave the way for Afghans to decide about their future between themselves,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

One Afghan official said some local thugs and drug addicts attempted to loot equipment at the base, but were stopped by Afghan troops.

“There will be no lootings as long as we are here… we will defend and protect our country,” said Alifullah, an Afghan soldier guarding one of the base’s gates.

The US military and NATO are in the final stages of winding up involvement in Afghanistan, bringing home an unspecified number of remaining troops by Biden’s deadline.

The Taliban have launched relentless offensives across Afghanistan in the past two months, gobbling up dozens of districts as Afghan security forces have largely consolidated their power in the country’s major urban areas.

The ability of Afghan forces to maintain control of Bagram airfield will likely prove pivotal to maintaining security in Kabul and keeping pressure on the Taliban.

The exit of foreign forces from Bagram base “symbolises that Afghanistan is alone, abandoned, and left to defend itself against the Taliban’s onslaught”, said Australia-based Afghanistan expert Nishank Motwani.

“Having reached home, Americans and allied forces will now watch what they fought so hard to build over 20 years burn down from afar and knowing that the Afghan men and women they fought with risk losing everything.”

‘A lot of insecurity’

At the White House Friday Biden responded to concerns that the internationally backed Afghan government might quickly crumble to Taliban insurgents once its foreign backers leave, saying they “have the capacity to be able to sustain government down the road.”

The US military is keeping an “over the horizon capacity” which could bring firepower to help the government, but the “Afghans are going to have to be able to do it themselves.”

Media reports say the Pentagon will probably retain about 600 US troops in Afghanistan to guard the vast US diplomatic compound in Kabul.

Residents of Bagram said security will only deteriorate with the exit of foreign forces.

“The situation is already chaotic… there is a lot of insecurity and the government does not have (enough) weapons and equipment,” Matiullah, who owns a footwear shop in Bagram bazaar, told AFP.

“Since they started the withdrawal, the situation has got worse. There is no work… there is no business,” said Fazal Karim, a bicycle mechanic.

Over the years the mini-city has been visited by hundreds of thousands of US and NATO service members and contractors.

At one point it boasted swimming pools, cinemas and spas — and even a boardwalk featuring fast-food outlets such as Burger King and Pizza Hut.

The base also housed a prison that held thousands of Taliban and jihadist inmates.

Bagram was built by the United States for its Afghan ally during the Cold War in the 1950s as a bulwark against the Soviet Union in the north.

Ironically, it became the staging point for the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979, and the Red Army expanded it significantly during its near-decade-long occupation.

When Moscow pulled out, Bagram became central to the raging civil war of the 1990s — it was reported that at one point the Taliban controlled one end of the three-kilometre (two-mile) runway and the opposition Northern Alliance the other.

In recent months, Bagram has come under rocket barrages claimed by the jihadist Islamic State, stirring fears that militants are already eyeing the base for future attacks.

As of May 2021, there were about 9,500 foreign troops in Afghanistan, of which US troops made up the largest contingent of 2,500.

So far Germany and Italy have both confirmed the full withdrawal of their contingents.

 

AFP

Eleven Killed As Roadside Bomb Hits Afghan Bus

Security personnel stand at the site of an explosion in Kabul on June 3, 2021, after at least four people were killed and four others injured when a minibus was hit by an explosion in Kabul, according to police, in the latest attack on commuters in the Afghan capital. Zakeria HASHIMI / AFP
File: Security personnel stands at the site of an explosion in Kabul on June 3, 2021, after at least four people were killed and four others injured when a minibus was hit by an explosion in Kabul, according to police, in the latest attack on commuters in the Afghan capital. Zakeria HASHIMI / AFP.

 

At least 11 civilians including four women and three children were killed when a roadside bomb struck a bus in Afghanistan, officials said Sunday, in the latest attack targeting passenger vehicles in the violence-wracked country.

The attack occurred on Saturday evening in the western province of Badghis, raising fears of fresh violence in the months ahead as the US military continues to pull out its last remaining troops from the country.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blast but Badghis governor Hessamuddin Shams accused the Taliban of planting the bomb.

Another official from the province, Khodadad Tayeb, confirmed the toll and said that the bus fell into a valley after it was hit by the bomb.

Saturday’s attack came after a series of blasts targeted passenger buses in Kabul this week.

The jihadist Islamic State claimed two back-to-back attacks on buses in Kabul.

Violence has soared in recent weeks as government forces and the Taliban clash in near-daily battles across the rugged countryside, with the militants appearing to focus on capturing new territory and battering checkpoints and bases near Kabul.

The Taliban said on Saturday that they have “captured the district of Deh Yak” in the province of Ghazni, about 150 kilometres south of Kabul.

The authorities said they had only “relocated” their forces from the area.

Ghazni is strategically located on the main road from Kabul to Kandahar, the former bastion of the Taliban in the south. The province sees regular fighting between the two warring sides.

In 2018, the Taliban briefly seized the provincial capital Ghazni, which has the same name as the province, in an all-out attack that left several government buildings torched and destroyed.

The surge in violence across Afghanistan comes as the US military continues to withdraw its remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan.

President Joe Biden has ordered the military to complete the pullout by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

But as the Americans pack up, experts fear Afghanistan will remain home to a number of jihadist groups.

AFP

Australia To Close Embassy In Afghanistan Over Security Fears

A security personnel guards an entrance near the Australian embassy at the Green Zone in Kabul on May 25, 2021, after Australia abruptly announced to shutter its embassy in Afghanistan this week over security fears as foreign troops withdraw. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)

 

Australia on Tuesday abruptly announced it will shutter its embassy in Afghanistan this week, expressing fears over the “increasingly uncertain security environment” in Kabul as foreign troops withdraw.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the facility would close as an “interim measure” on May 28 — in just three days — “in light of the imminent international military withdrawal from Afghanistan”.

The United States and allied forces are in the final stages of withdrawing their remaining troops from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest-ever war, but heralding an uncertain future for a nation in the tightening grip of Taliban militants.

Around 80 Australian troops are also leaving, and without that small contingent and the larger US force as back-up, Morrison said there was an “increasingly uncertain security environment”.

“The government has been advised that security arrangements could not be provided to support our ongoing diplomatic presence,” he said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Indonesia Arrests Four For Stealing Vaccines Meant For Prisoners

The elected government in Kabul and Afghan security services remain fragile despite two decades of foreign capacity building, and their success is far from assured without continued US military support.

Western diplomats and military officials have been scrambling to work out how to provide security for their future civilian presence in Afghanistan with fears growing of a Taliban comeback.

The Taliban on Tuesday pledged to provide a “safe environment” to foreign diplomats and humanitarian organisations.

“(We) will not pose any threats to them,” spokesman Mohammad Naeem told AFP.

When the Taliban seized control of Kabul ahead of their brief time in power in the 1990s, the group entered the United Nations compound, where they abducted and brutally murdered the country’s former leader Najibullah Ahmadzai.

And in 1998, the Taliban oversaw the killing of 10 Iranian diplomats at their consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

“The only incentive for foreign embassies to remain is the humanitarian work that they are involved in, but if their personnel are endangered then there is no point in remaining here,” a foreign defence official based in Kabul told AFP.

“Several other embassies will follow Australia in the coming weeks or months.”

Nishank Motwani, an Afghanistan specialist based in Australia, said the Taliban would interpret Morrison’s announcement as a victory.

“The Taliban will see it as… a clear sign that other NATO and non-NATO partner countries are likely to shutter their diplomatic missions because of the US’s decision to exit Afghanistan and the security vacuum its departure will inevitably create,” he told AFP.

– ‘A sad indictment’ –

In recent weeks, violence in the country has soared and Afghan forces have clashed with Taliban fighters not far to the east and west of Kabul.

President Joe Biden has said all American troops will leave by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda attacks that sparked the US-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban.

It was not clear whether there was a specific threat made against the Australian embassy, which is located in the heavily fortified Green Zone, not far from the US mission.

Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said it hoped Australia would review its decision, adding it was committed to offering security to diplomatic missions.

Key among the concerns of foreign embassies is making sure Kabul airport — the exit route for Western diplomats and humanitarian workers if security breaks down — can function securely.

The sudden closure of the Australian embassy surprised some experts.

“It is not set in stone that this is going to be a Taliban roll-up in the next few weeks,” said John Blaxland, Professor of International Security at the Australian National University.

“This is not Saigon 1975,” he added, a reference to the dramatic helicopter evacuation from the roof of the US embassy in South Vietnam as the Viet Cong and regular communist military forces seized the city.

Australia’s two-decade presence in Afghanistan was not without scandal.

A years-long Australian military inquiry recently reported evidence that elite special forces “unlawfully killed” 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners during the war.

A special war crimes prosecutor has been appointed to further investigate atrocities including summary executions and “body count competitions” and bring those responsible to justice.

AFP

12 Killed In Mosque Blast Near Afghan Capital,

Muslim devotees leave the Abdul Rahman Mosque after offering prayers on the Eid-al-Fitr festival marking the end of the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan during a three-day ceasefire agreed by the warring Taliban and Afghan forces, in Kabul on May 13, 2021.
WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP

 

A blast at a mosque on the outskirts of the Afghan capital during Friday prayers killed at least 12 worshippers, police said, shattering the relative calm of a three-day ceasefire.

“The death toll has jumped to 12 killed including the imam of the mosque and 15 others are wounded,” Ferdaws Framurz, the spokesman for Kabul police said, updating an earlier toll.

He said the explosion happened inside a mosque in the Shakar Darah district of Kabul province.

The blast is the first major incident since a temporary truce between the Taliban and government troops came into force on Thursday.

The warring sides agreed on the truce to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, only the fourth such halt in fighting in the nearly two-decades-old conflict.

Deadly violence has rocked the country in recent weeks after the US military began formally withdrawing its remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan on May 1.

Last week, a series of blasts outside a girls’ school in the capital killed more than 50 people, most of them teenage girl students.

-AFP

Taliban Declare Eid Holiday Ceasefire As Violence Soars In Afghanistan

Afghan security forces stand near an armoured vehicle during ongoing fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in the Busharan area on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital city of Helmand province May 5, 2021. Sifatullah ZAHIDI / AFP
Afghan security forces stand near an armoured vehicle during ongoing fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in the Busharan area on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital city of Helmand province May 5, 2021. Sifatullah ZAHIDI / AFP

 

The Taliban on Monday declared a three-day ceasefire for this week’s Eid al-Fitr holiday, following a sharp spike in violence as Washington goes about withdrawing its remaining troops from Afghanistan.

Violence has soared since May 1 — the deadline missed by the United States to withdraw the last of its troops — and while the Taliban have avoided engaging American forces, attacks against government and civilian targets have not stopped.

In the latest, the interior ministry said Monday that at least 11 people were killed by a bomb that struck a bus overnight in southeastern Zabul province.

READ ALSO: Large Chinese Rocket Segment Disintegrates Over Indian Ocean

That followed Saturday’s carnage outside a school in the capital Kabul when a series of bombs killed at least 50 people and wounded over 100 — most of them young girls.

Early Monday, the Taliban instructed fighters “to halt all offensive operations against the enemy countrywide from the first till the third day of Eid”.

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, and the holiday begins according to the sighting of the new moon.

Permanent ceasefire needed

The Taliban declared similar ceasefires last year to mark Islamic holidays.

The government usually reciprocates, but Afghan peace council chief Abdullah Abdullah said Monday what the country needs is a permanent ceasefire.

“We believe the best solution to get out of the country’s crisis is expediting peace talks, declaration of lasting ceasefire and ending the fighting forever,” he said in a statement.

On Saturday, a series of bombs detonated outside a girls’ school in Dasht-e-Barchi, a suburb of the capital largely populated by the Shiite Hazara community which is often targeted by extremist Sunni Islamist militants.

A man pushes an injured boy on a stretcher along a hospital corridor in Kandahar on May 10, 2021, as he receives medical treatment after being hurt by a roadside bomb that struck a bus overnight killing at least 11 people. Javed TANVEER / AFP
A man pushes an injured boy on a stretcher along a hospital corridor in Kandahar on May 10, 2021, as he receives medical treatment after being hurt by a roadside bomb that struck a bus overnight killing at least 11 people. Javed TANVEER / AFP

 

It was the deadliest attack in more than a year and came as residents were shopping ahead of the Eid holiday.

On Sunday, on a desolate hilltop cemetery, bodies in small wooden coffins were lowered into graves, one by one, by mourners still in shock.

“I rushed to the scene and found myself in the middle of bodies, their hands and heads cut off and bones smashed,” said Mohammad Taqi, whose two daughters were students at the school but escaped the attack.

“All of them were girls. Their bodies piled on top of each other.”

‘Why are they fighting Afghans?’

Kabul resident Rashed Hashimi said the Taliban should stop fighting as US forces were leaving.

“The Taliban were saying they were fighting the foreigners, but now the foreigners are leaving,” he said. “So, why are they fighting Afghans?”

Political analyst Fawad Kochi said the ceasefire was a way for the Taliban leadership to give its forces a brief respite from fighting that has intensified since the US troop withdrawal formally commenced on May 1.

“The government will try all possible channels to extend the ceasefire but the Taliban will go back to the battlefield right after Eid,” he said.

“The Taliban know that a prolonged ceasefire will split them and kill their momentum. They will never want that.”

The Taliban insist they have not carried out attacks in Kabul since February last year when they signed the deal with Washington that paved the way for peace talks and withdrawal of the remaining US troops.

But they have clashed daily with Afghan forces in the rugged countryside.

The United States was supposed to have pulled all forces out by May 1, but Washington pushed back the date to September 11 — a move that angered the insurgents.

The leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, reiterated in a message released ahead of Eid that any delay in withdrawing the troops was a “violation” of that deal.

“If America again fails to live up to its commitments, then the world must bear witness and hold America accountable for all the consequences,” he warned.

Biden Marks 10-Years Since Bin Laden Killing

US President Joe Biden looks up into the crowd during his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 20, 2021. Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the US. JONATHAN ERNST / POOL / AFP
File photo: US President Joe Biden looks up into the crowd during his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 20, 2021.  JONATHAN ERNST / POOL / AFP

 

President Joe Biden used the 10th anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden — “a moment I will never forget” — to reaffirm his decision to remove all US troops from Afghanistan.

“We followed bin Laden to the gates of hell — and we got him,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

“We kept the promise to all those who lost loved ones on 9/11: that we would never forget those we had lost, and that the United States will never waver in our commitment to prevent another attack on our homeland.”

Biden, who announced last month that he would end Washington’s longest war by September 11, praised then-president Barack Obama for his 2011 decision to approve the secret operation targeting the al-Qaeda leader, and praised the special forces who carried it out in Pakistan.

READ ALSO: US Formally Begins Withdrawing Troops From Afghanistan War

Watching the operation remotely from a crowded White House Situation Room, Biden said, was “a moment I will never forget — the intelligence professionals who had painstakingly tracked him down; the clarity and conviction of President Obama in making the call; the courage and skill of our team on the ground.”

Now, as the US begins pulling the last of its troops from Afghanistan, Biden said: “Al Qaeda is greatly degraded there. But the United States will remain vigilant about the threat from terrorist groups that have metastasized around the world.

“We will continue to monitor and disrupt any threat to us that emerges from Afghanistan. And we will work to counter terrorist threats to our homeland and our interests in cooperation with allies and partners around the world.”

AFP

US Formally Begins Withdrawing Troops From Afghanistan War

File photo taken of US Marines board a C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft. PHOTO: Wakil KOHSAR / AFP

 

The United States formally begins withdrawing its last troops from Afghanistan on Saturday, bringing its longest war nearer to an end but also heralding an uncertain future for a country in the tightening grip of an emboldened Taliban.

US officials on the ground say the withdrawal is already a work in progress — and May 1 is just a continuation — but Washington has made an issue of the date because it is a deadline agreed with the Taliban in 2020 to complete the pullout.

The skies above Kabul and nearby Bagram airbase have been buzzing with more US helicopter activity than usual as the pullout gears up, following the start Thursday of a concurrent NATO withdrawal.

READ ALSO: Kenya Eases Some Restrictions But Protests Still Banned

Afghan security forces were on high alert for any possible Taliban attacks on retreating American troops.

The US military said it had carried out a “precision strike” after an airfield in the southern province of Kandahar where it has a base was attacked.

The strike, which the military said destroyed more rockets aimed at the airfield, came after the base “received ineffective indirect fire” on Saturday afternoon that caused no damages.

“The Americans will formally begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan starting May 1 and the Taliban might increase the violence,” Acting Interior Minister Hayatullah Hayat told top police commanders, according to an audio clip given to reporters.

Afghan Acting Defence Minister Zia Yasin said US and allied troops will be leaving their bases and will gather at Bagram, the biggest American base in Afghanistan.

From there “they will go to their respective countries”, Yasin told reporters.

The prospect of an end to the US presence after 20 years comes despite fighting raging across the countryside in the absence of a peace deal.

A stark reminder of what remains came late Friday with a car bomb in Pul-e-Alam, south of the capital, killing at least 24 people and wounding 110 more.

 

– Taliban awaiting orders –

US President Joe Biden is determined to end what he called “the forever war”, announcing last month that the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 American forces would be complete by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

“A horrific attack 20 years ago… cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021,” he said.

The Taliban said the US troop withdrawal was to be completed by May 1 as agreed in last year’s accord with Washington, and warned it was a “clear violation” that the troops were not fully out.

“This in principle opens the way for our mujahideen to take appropriate action against the invading forces,” Mohammad Naeem, a Taliban spokesman told AFP, adding that the group was awaiting orders from its leaders.

Since the US withdrawal deal was struck the Taliban have not directly engaged foreign troops, but have mercilessly attacked government forces in the countryside and waged a terror campaign in urban areas.

The exit of US forces has only exacerbated the fear felt by ordinary Afghans.

“Everyone is scared that we might go back to the dark days of the Taliban era,” said Mena Nowrozi, who works at a private radio station in Kabul.

“The Taliban are still the same; they have not changed. The US should have extended their presence by at least a year or two,” she told AFP.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani insists that government forces — which for months have carried out most of the ground fighting against the Taliban — are “fully capable” of keeping the insurgents at bay.

He said the pullout also means the Taliban have no reason to fight.

“Who are you killing? What are you destroying? Your pretext of fighting the foreigners is now over,” Ghani said in a speech this week.

 

– Worst-case analysis –

Still, General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has not ruled out total chaos.

“On the worst-case analysis, you have a potential collapse of the government, a potential collapse of the military,” he said earlier this week.

“You have a civil war and all the humanitarian catastrophe that goes with it.”

Police officer Abdul Malik from the former insurgent bastion of Kandahar said they were prepared.

“We have to take care of our homeland… We will do our best to defend our soil,” he told AFP.

The US-led military onslaught in Afghanistan began in October 2001 in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

Two decades later, and after the death of almost 2,400 Americans and tens of thousands of Afghans, Biden says the final withdrawal was justified as US forces had now made sure the country cannot again become a base for foreign jihadists to plot against the West.

Concerns are high that the Taliban might yet strike at retreating US forces, and in the southern province of Kandahar — where the foes used to clash regularly — security sources say several areas are laden with explosives planted by the insurgents.

“If the Taliban attack retreating US or allied forces, it would be to bloody the nose of a defeated enemy and to humiliate it further,” said Afghanistan specialist Nishank Motwani.

AFP

Family Of Eight Killed In Afghanistan Mosque Shooting

 

 

Eight members of the same family were gunned down in an attack on a mosque in eastern Afghanistan, officials said Sunday.

The shooting happened on Saturday night in the city of Jalalabad in Nangarhar province, and was believed to be over a land dispute, the province’s governor Zaiulhaq Amarkhil said.

Five brothers and three of their male cousins were killed.

READ ALSO: Funeral Service Held For Queen Elizabeth II’s Husband, Prince Philip

“The incident is under investigation but initial information shows a land dispute has caused the incident,” Amarkhil told AFP.

Fareed Khan, a spokesman for Nangarhar police, confirmed the attack.

Afghanistan, like the rest of the Muslim world, is observing the holy month of Ramadan, when men gather every night to offer special prayers after fasting for the day.

Revenge killings are common in Afghanistan, where families seek justice by carrying out violent acts of vengeance based on an ancient code of honour.

So-called blood feuds can last for decades, passing down through generations in a cycle of violence.

Biden Says It’s ‘Tough’ To Withdraw US Troops From Afghanistan

File photo: President Joe Biden speaks from the State Dining Room following the passage of the American Rescue Plan in the U.S. Senate at the White House on March 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed the bill 50-49 which will go back to the House for a final vote. Samuel Corum/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Samuel Corum / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

 

US President Joe Biden warned that a deadline to withdraw all American soldiers from Afghanistan by May 1 as part of a deal with the Taliban was possible but “tough.”

“Could happen, but it is tough,” Biden said when asked in a TV interview broadcast Wednesday.

“I’m in the process of making that decision now as to when they’ll leave,” he said while taking a direct swipe at his predecessor Donald Trump.

“The fact is that that was not a very solidly negotiated deal that the president, the former president worked out,” he said.

U.S. President Joe Biden addresses the nation about the new coronavirus relief package from the Rosevelt Room of The White House on February 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. Samuel Corum-Pool/Getty Images/AFP
U.S. President Joe Biden addresses the nation about the new coronavirus relief package from the Rosevelt Room of The White House on February 27, 2021, in Washington, DC. Samuel Corum-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

 

“The failure to have an orderly transition from the Trump presidency to my presidency, which usually takes place from election day to the time he’s sworn in, has cost me time and consequences.

“That’s one of the issues we’re talking about now, in terms of Afghanistan.”

The United States is supposed to complete a withdrawal of all its troops by May 1 in an agreement that also saw the Taliban insurgents agree to peace talks with the administration of President Abdul Ghani.

But those talks — held in Qatar since September — have made little progress.

Washington wants to jump-start the peace process and get the Taliban and Afghan government to agree to some form of power-sharing.

Five Rockets Fired At US Air Base In Afghanistan

 

 

 

A major US air base north of Kabul was targeted in a rocket attack on Saturday but there were no casualties or damage to the airfield, NATO and Afghan officials said.

Five rockets were fired at Bagram Airfield in Parwan province at 6:00 am, said Waheeda Shahkar, spokeswoman for the provincial governor.

She said 12 rockets were mounted on a vehicle and five of them were fired at the base, while police defused the other seven.

A NATO official also confirmed the rocket attack.

“Rockets were fired towards Bagram Airfield this morning. Initial reporting is there were no casualties and the airfield was not damaged,” the official said.

No group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, and the Taliban denied any involvement.

The jihadist Islamic State group previously claimed responsibility for a similar rocket attack on the base in April.

In recent months, IS has claimed several assaults in Kabul, including two rocket attacks that struck several residential areas in the capital, causing fatalities.

The group also claimed brutal attacks on two separate educational centres in Kabul that left dozens of people, mostly students, dead.

Saturday’s rocket attack targeting the airfield came a day after 15 children were killed when an explosives-laden motorbike blew up near a religious gathering in the eastern province of Ghazni.

Afghan officials blamed the Taliban for the blast.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan in recent months despite the government and the Taliban launching peace talks to end the country’s grinding war.

The Taliban has carried out near-daily attacks targeting Afghan forces that have left hundreds of security personnel killed or wounded.

Earlier this week in Qatar, General Mark Milley, the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a rare meeting with Taliban representatives, calling on them to reduce violence in Afghanistan.

-AFP