18 Afghan cops killed in Taleban ambush

Updated 13 November 2013
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18 Afghan cops killed in Taleban ambush

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan: Taleban militants in northeast Afghanistan killed 18 police in an ambush, the government said Friday, as security forces struggle against the rebels with decreasing assistance from international troops.
The police convoy was caught in a firefight on Wednesday in the remote province of Badakhshan when officers were returning from an anti-insurgent operation.
The attack will heighten concerns that Afghan forces cannot provide effective security across the country, where a US-led invasion ousted the hardline Taleban regime in 2001, in time for the presidential election due in April.
“The acting interior minister is deeply saddened about the killing of 18 policemen and wounding of 13 others in a terrorist attack in Warduj district of Badakhshan,” a statement from the interior ministry said.
“A group of Afghan police forces on their return from a clean-up operation on the outskirts of Warduj district faced an enemy ambush and it resulted in the killing of brave Afghan policemen.”
Local officials confirmed the death toll to AFP.
The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack in Afghanistan’s mountainous northeast, a region far from the insurgents’ southern heartlands and generally relatively peaceful. Taleban militants killed 17 captured Afghan soldiers in the same district in March. The men were taken hostage while guarding a convoy.
Afghanistan’s 350,000-strong security forces are suffering a steep rise in casualties as the NATO combat mission winds down and Afghan authorities try to bring stability ahead of the presidential poll. Last month 22 police were killed when hundreds of fighters ambushed a police and military convoy in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
The Afghan government declines to release exact figures, but the US department of defence has said that about 400 Afghan police officers and soldiers are killed in action every month.
When the 87,000-strong US-led military coalition fighting alongside Afghan forces withdraws by the end of next year, the ability of local troops to suppress the insurgents is seen as key to the country’s prospects.
The interior ministry added that 47 insurgents were killed and 20 others wounded in recent fighting in Warduj, which is on the approach to the Wakhan Corridor in the Himalayan mountains bordering Tajikistan, China and Pakistan. The government this week claimed to have cleared all militants from the district.
Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi told the Tolo television news channel that the Taleban and other insurgent groups had all been “either killed or pushed out.”


American jailed in Venezuela for 2 years arrives in US

Joshua Holt, a U.S. citizen and Mormon missionary, is pictured in this still image taken from a selfie video which he posted on Facebook during a riot at the Helicoide detention center in Caracas, Venezuela, obtained by Reuters May 16, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 27 May 2018
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American jailed in Venezuela for 2 years arrives in US

  • The Trump administration has threatened crippling oil sanctions on Venezuela
  • Their release came one day after an influential US senator held a surprise meeting in Caracas with Venezuelan President

WASHINGTON: Joshua Holt, who traveled to Venezuela from Utah in 2016 to marry a Spanish-speaking Mormon woman but soon found himself jailed and later branded the CIA’s top spy in Latin America, was set free by the anti-American Maduro government on Saturday in what his family called “this miracle.”
Holt and his wife, Thamara Caleno, arrived Saturday evening at Washington Dulles International Airport. In video tweeted by the office of Sen. Orrin Hatch, the couple enter a room to be greeted by the Utah Republican before a hug-filled and tearful reunion with his parents, Laurie and Jason Holt.
When he departed the Caracas airport earlier in the day, Holt told The Associated Press that the ordeal had left him “exhausted.”
Their release came one day after an influential US senator held a surprise meeting in Caracas with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who the Trump administration says runs a “dictatorship” and just won re-election in a “sham” vote.
Months of secret, backchannel talks between an aide to Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and close allies of Maduro preceded their return. Yet Holt’s release had seemed unlikely even a week ago.
President Donald Trump, in a tweet, described Holt as a “hostage” and said he expected to host Holt and his family at the White House on Saturday evening. “Good news about the release,” he wrote. The US contended Holt was held on trumped up charges.
The White House learned from Corker, R-Tennessee, on Friday of Holt’s impending release, according to a US official who has closely followed Holt’s plight and spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.
Holt and his wife were reunited at the Caracas airport with her daughter from a previous relationship, and all three boarded a chartered flight to Washington. “We are on our way home,” Corker tweeted.
Venezuela’s communications minister, Jorge Rodriguez, said their release was a goodwill gesture that followed months of dialogue between the Maduro government and US lawmakers.
“We’re praying that this type of gesture ... will allow us to strengthen what we’ve always sought: dialogue, harmony, respect for our independence and respect for our sovereignty,” he said.
Holt, now 26, set out for the South American country in June 2016 to marry a woman he met online while he was looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons who could help him improve his Spanish. He had planned to spend several months in Caracas that summer with his new wife and her two daughters, to secure their visas so they could move with him to the US
Instead, the couple was arrested that June 30 at her family’s apartment in a government housing complex on the outskirts of Caracas. Authorities accused him of stockpiling an assault rifle and grenades, and suggested that his case was linked to other unspecified US attempts to undermine Maduro’s rule amid deep economic and political turbulence.
They were held in a notorious Caracas prison, run by the secret police, that also is home to dozens of top Maduro opponents jailed during the past few years of political unrest in the country. Their trial was set to begin this month after repeated delays that led the Trump administration to question the motives for his detention.
Until Trump’s tweet on Saturday, the US had stopped short of publicly calling Holt a “hostage.”
Holt’s release looked unlikely a week ago, when he appeared in a clandestinely shot video railing against the Maduro government and saying his life was threatened in a prison riot. In retaliation, socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, a powerful Maduro ally, said on state television that Holt was the CIA’s top spy in Latin America.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., spoke to Trump at length Friday night and later said the couple’s release “will in no way change US policy toward the dictatorship in Venezuela.”
The Trump administration has threatened crippling oil sanctions on Venezuela for Maduro’s decision to go forward with the presidential election last week.
The US government at first avoided ratcheting up public pressure on Venezuela in light of their already strained relations, but eventually raised Holt’s case with the highest levels of the Venezuelan government and decried his treatment in prison.
Corker was seen live on state TV on Friday shaking hands with Maduro and being greeted by first lady Cilia Flores as he entered the presidential palace. Corker left an hour later; neither the senator nor the president made any statements.
Holt’s mother, Laurie Holt, said her son and his wife were wrongly accused. She worked feverishly to bring attention to her son’s incarceration, hosting rallies, fundraisers and doing media interviews.
Laurie Holt said her son has suffered numerous health problems in jail, including kidney stones and respiratory problems. He was depressed and at one point lost so much weight that he dropped several pant sizes, she said.
In their statement, the Holt family said, “We thank you for your collaboration during this time of anguish. We ask that you allow us to meet with our son and his wife before giving any interviews and statements. We are grateful to all who participated in this miracle.”