Severe Weather: More Than 110 Die In Pakistan, Afghanistan

A woman walks after heavy snowfall in Quetta, Pakistan on January 13, 2020.
Banaras KHAN / AFP

 

Avalanches, flooding and harsh winter weather has killed more than 110 people across Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent days, officials said Tuesday, as authorities struggled to reach people stranded by heavy snowfall.  

At least 75 people died and 64 were injured across Pakistan, with several still missing, while a further 39 people were killed in Afghanistan, according to officials in both countries.

Forecasts suggest more harsh weather is on the way.

Pakistani Kashmir was the worst-hit area, with 55 people killed and 10 others missing, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said in a statement.

In the picturesque but conflict-riven Neelum Valley in Kashmir, heavy snowfall triggered several avalanches, including one that killed at least 19 people.

“An avalanche hit their village, 10 people are still missing,” the NDMA said.

Frequent avalanches and landslides occur in Kashmir during the winter, often blocking roads and leaving communities isolated.

Authorities have shuttered schools, while several highways and roads were closed across the country’s northern mountainous areas, according to officials.

To the southeast in Balochistan province, at least 20 people had been killed in separate weather-related incidents.

“Most of those who died were women and children,” said Mohammad Younus, an official with the provincial disaster management authority, adding that hundreds remained stranded.

Across the border in Afghanistan, more than 300 houses were either destroyed or partially damaged throughout the country, said Ahmad Tamim Azimi a spokesman for the Natural Disaster Management Authority.

“A cold snap, heavy snowfall and rains that started two weeks ago have caused damage,” he said, adding that most casualties were caused after roofs collapsed under thick snow.

Hardest hit were southern Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and western Herat provinces.

In Herat, seven people —  all members of the same family and including children — died when their roof caved in, Azimi added.

Harsh winters often take a heavy toll in mountainous Afghanistan, and the country remains poor despite billions of dollars in aid from the international community.

 

AFP

Roadside Bomb Hits US Army Vehicle In Afghanistan

 

A Taliban roadside bomb ripped through a US army vehicle in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, officials said, with no immediate details of casualties.

The incident took place in Dand district of southern Kandahar province, where a bomb hit a US armoured vehicle, provincial police spokesman Jamal Nasir Barkzai told AFP.

“Foreign forces were patrolling near the Kandahar airport when they were hit by a blast. We don’t have the details of the casualties because they have cordoned off the area,” he said.

A NATO Resolute Support spokesman in southern Afghanistan confirmed the incident and said the situation was being assessed.

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The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid saying on Twitter that the blast destroyed the vehicle, killing all on board.

Violence in Afghanistan usually recedes as the cold winter sets in but this year the Taliban have pushed forward with their operations despite heavy snowfall in the mountains — and despite their negotiations with the US for a deal that would see American troops leave the country.

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, provided the Taliban sticks to its 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.

Last year was the deadliest for US forces in Afghanistan since combat operations officially finished at the end of 2014, highlighting the challenging security situation that persists.

More than 2,400 US troops have been killed in combat in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in October 2001.

AFP

US Strike Kills Taliban Splinter Commander In Herat

 

A US airstrike killed a Taliban splinter-group commander and several other fighters in the western Afghan province of Herat, Afghan and military sources said Thursday.

The commander, named as Mullah Nangyalay, was killed in Shindand district, close to the border with Iran, said Herat provincial governor’s spokesman Jailani Farhad.

Nangyalay split from the main branch of the Taliban after the 2013 death of founder Mullah Omar and joined a smaller breakaway faction led by a commander known as Mullah Rasool.

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A senior provincial police source said the airstrike had been carried out by a US drone.

A spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan confirmed they had launched “a defensive air strike in support of Afghan forces”.

The main Taliban group has been negotiating with Washington for more than a year over the withdrawal of US troops in exchange for security guarantees from the militants that could pave the way to intra-Afghan peace talks.

23 Killed As Taliban Attacks Afghan Checkpoints

 

At least 23 Afghan security forces were killed in a series of Taliban attacks across the country, officials said Wednesday, despite winter snowfall that usually leads to a lull in violence.

The assaults targeted vulnerable checkpoints in at least three northern provinces.

In Balkh, militants stormed a checkpoint early Wednesday and killed at least seven policemen, according to provincial police chief Ajmal Fayez.

He said reinforcements had been dispatched to the post, which is located on the strategic highway connecting Balkh to neighbouring Jawezjan province.

A Taliban spokesman claimed 11 policemen died in the attack, but Afzal Hadid — a member of the provincial council — put the death toll at nine, adding four others were missing.

“We are not sure whether these four police helped the Taliban in the attack or have been captured by them,” he said.

Separate assaults by the Taliban killed at least nine members of Afghan security forces in northeastern Kunduz, and seven in neighbouring Takhar province, officials said.

The provincial spokesman for Takhar said that at least 11 militants were killed as they attacked a security checkpoint in Darqad, close to the border with Tajikistan.

10 Afghan Soldiers Killed In Taliban Attack On Military Base

This photo taken on November 27, 2019 shows an Afghan soldier walking by the ruins of Soviet-era buildings on the outskirts of Herat province. 
HOSHANG HASHIMI / AFP

 

Ten Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack on a military base in the southern province of Helmand on Saturday, officials said.

The Taliban dug a tunnel into the base in volatile Sangin district and then blew it up before their fighters could attack the compound, Nawab Zadran a spokesman for 215 Maiwand Army Corps in southern Afghanistan told AFP.

“There were 18 soldiers in the base at the time of the attack providing security for the people of Sangin. Four soldiers were wounded and four repelled the Taliban attack bravely,” he said.

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Provincial spokesman Omar Zawak confirmed the attack and said the soldiers were killed by the powerful blast inside the base.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement sent to media claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attack in Helmand comes as local and international forces brace for another deadly winter amid US-Taliban talks to end the violence in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, seven Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack on a base in the northern province of Balkh.

Winter once marked a slowdown in the so-called “fighting season”, with Taliban fighters returning to their villages while snow and ice made attacks more difficult to pull off.

But in recent years, the distinction between seasons has all but vanished.

Deadly violence continues to grip Afghanistan even as the US and the Taliban negotiate on-off talks aimed at reducing America’s military footprint in the country in return for the insurgents ensuring an improved security situation.

AFP

Over 16,000 Complaints Filed In Afghan Presidential Polls

 

More than 16,000 complaints have been filed to Afghan election authorities over the handling of this year’s presidential polls, officials said Thursday, days after preliminary results put President Ashraf Ghani in place to secure a second term.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced earlier this week that Ghani had won a slim 50.64 percent majority in the September 28 poll.

The final results are expected to be announced in the coming weeks after the complaints have been reviewed.

“(Officials) have 15 days to finalise its investigation into the complaints and release the results to the candidates,” said Zuhra Bayan Shinwari, head of the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), adding that 16,500 complaints were received in total.

If the numbers hold following these investigations, the result is enough for Ghani to avoid a run-off, after he easily beat his long-time rival Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who scored 39.52 percent.

According to Shinwari, Abdullah’s team filed around 8,000 complaints to the ECC and Ghani handed in over 3,000, while the rest were submitted by other candidates.

Preliminary results originally due October 19 were repeatedly delayed for what the IEC said were technical issues. Various candidates, particularly Abdullah, alleged fraud.

Observers and candidates have blasted the IEC over its handling of the count and its repeated disregard of the electoral calendar.

The election was meant to be the cleanest yet in Afghanistan’s young democracy.

A German firm supplied biometric machines to stop people from voting more than once.

But allegations of vote stuffing, illegal balloting and other fraud came almost as soon as the polls had closed.

Nearly one million of the initial 2.7 million votes were purged owing to irregularities, meaning the election saw by far the lowest turnout of any Afghan poll.

Ultimately, only 1.8 million votes were counted — a tiny number given Afghanistan’s estimated population of 37 million and a total of 9.6 million registered voters.

Abdullah lost to Ghani in 2014 in a divisive election that saw the US intervene to broker an awkward power-sharing deal between the two rivals.

Ghani Wins Re-Election In Afghanistan Presidential Poll

 

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani was on track to win a second term Sunday after election officials announced he had scored a majority in the presidential polls.

But despite Ghani’s apparent clean win, the fallout from the bitterly contested September 28 election looked set to continue, with top rival Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah saying he would contest the result.

According to the Independent Election Commission, Ghani won 50.64 percent of the vote in the September 28 poll, easily besting Abdullah, who scored 39.52 percent.

Candidates now have the right to file any complaints they may have before final results are announced, probably within a few weeks.

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As soon as the result was announced, Abdullah’s office said in a statement he would contest it.

“We would like to make it clear once again to our people, supporters, election commission and our international allies that our team will not accept the result of this fraudulent vote unless our legitimate demands are addressed,” the statement read.

Preliminary results were originally due October 19 but were repeatedly delayed amid technical issues and allegations of fraud from various candidates, particularly Abdullah.

“We, with honesty, loyalty, responsibility, and faithfulness completed our duty,” IEC chairwoman Hawa Alam Nuristani said.

“We respected every single vote because we wanted democracy to endure.”

The protracted limbo between the vote and the preliminary result heaped additional uncertainty on Afghans who already are anxiously awaiting the outcome of talks between the US and the Taliban.

The election was meant to be the cleanest yet in Afghanistan’s young democracy, with a German firm supplying biometric machines to stop people from voting more than once.

But nearly one million of the initial 2.7 million votes were purged owing to irregularities, meaning the election saw by far the lowest turnout of any Afghan poll.

AFP

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.