Taliban, Daesh jointly massacred 50 civilians: Afghan officials

Smoke rises from the site of a blast in Kabul in this file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 08 August 2017
0

Taliban, Daesh jointly massacred 50 civilians: Afghan officials

KABUL: The Taliban and Daesh jointly massacred dozens of civilians in an Afghan village, officials said Monday, highlighting rare cooperation between the insurgents that could increase the strain on Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces.
The fighters killed more than 50 men, women and children in the remote Sayad district of northern Sar-e-Pul province on Saturday after overrunning the Afghan Local Police (ALP) — a government-backed militia — in a 48-hour battle, according to local officials.
“It was a joint operation by Daesh and Taliban fighters. They had recruited forces from other provinces of the country and attacked Mirzawalang village,” Zabihullah Amani, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told AFP.
The spokesman alleged that dozens of Taliban and Daesh fighters under the command of Sher Mohammad Ghazanfar, a local Taliban commander who Amani claims pledged allegiance to Daesh, launched a coordinated attack on the area on Thursday.
“The fighters overran the area and it led to the massacre of innocent and defenseless civilians,” he said.
The majority of those killed were Shiites. Most were shot but some were beheaded, Amani added.
Verifying information from poor, mountainous areas of Afghanistan made inaccessible by fighting and with patchy communications is difficult, and AFP was not able to access the village.
Mohammad Noor Rahmani, head of Sar-e-Pul’s provincial council, said 44 of the 50 victims were believed to be civilians, with the ALP militia also suffering casualties.
“This is not the final toll. It might change because the area is inaccessible and no telephone networks are working to get an update,” he told AFP.
The Taliban and Daesh fighters have regularly clashed since the latter gained a foothold in eastern Afghanistan in 2015, as the two vie for supremacy in the war-torn country.
An Afghan security source told AFP there had been around three incidents in the past where fighters from both groups had teamed up to strike Afghan forces in certain areas.
“This is not the first time that they have cooperated. There are no strict ideological distinctions between them so they build bridges when it helps them both. It’s very opportunistic,” the source said.
Daesh has been adding a sectarian twist to the Afghan conflict, with a number of deadly attacks on Shiites in the past year.
Last week two suicide bombers throwing grenades killed more than 33 worshippers at a mosque in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat, in an attack claimed by Daesh.
A resurgent Taliban, whose ranks are mostly made up of Sunni Muslim ethnic Pashtuns, is at the peak of its summer fighting season.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, confirmed to AFP that it had captured Mirzawalang village but said it had done so alone. It also denied allegations it had killed civilians.
“It was an independent operation by our mujahideen forces. There is no cooperation with the Islamic State (Daesh) on the operation,” said the spokesman.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday President Donald Trump has asked his advisers “tough questions” about American strategy in Afghanistan and is not willing to continue on as before.
The White House has launched a review of the US plan for Afghanistan after 16 years of war, and reports suggest that Trump’s national security team is divided on whether to send more troops or to pull out.
Speaking in Manila on the sidelines of a regional security forum, Tillerson did not reveal his own advice to the president — but said Trump would not be content with continuing the fight as before.
“The president is not willing to accept that, so he is asking some tough questions,” Tillerson told reporters.
Tillerson said the president’s National Security Council has met three times on the issue and that Vice President Mike Pence has joined Trump in taking a close interest in the strategy review.


US’s Pompeo faces thorny issues on India visit, from trade to Russia arms deals

Updated 21 min 22 sec ago
0

US’s Pompeo faces thorny issues on India visit, from trade to Russia arms deals

NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived on Tuesday for talks with Indian leaders in New Delhi, where he is expected to tackle a host of delicate issues from trade to India’s longstanding defense and energy ties to Russia and Iran.
Relations between the United States and India have improved dramatically since the Cold War but they have still fallen short of their promise and now have run into serious problems over tariffs, flows of data and tighter Indian rules on online commerce in one of the world’s fastest growing large markets.
Pompeo landed in New Delhi late on Tuesday night after an unannounced trip to Kabul.
He will kick off his visit to India by calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was re-elected for a second term last month with a powerful mandate that analysts say gives him the chance to take bold reforms to propel Asia’s third largest economy toward faster growth.
Just ahead of his visit, New Delhi imposed tariffs on some US goods after President Donald Trump’s administration threw India out of a group of countries that were allowed duty free access for some of their products into the large US market.
While trade issues are led by the US Trade Representative’s office and the commerce departments, Pompeo is expected to raise some of the concerns US companies have about new rules on local storage of data as well as restrictions on foreign companies’ online operations in India.
“We expect trade and ecommerce to figure in the meetings with the PM and the foreign minister, we are ready to engage them on data issues,” said an Indian government official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with service rules.

Pressure
Pompeo’s visit is expected to lay the ground for talks between Trump and Modi later in the week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in the Japanese city of Osaka.
India hopes that this week’s high-level meetings will help re-start talks over a trade package the two had been negotiating for months, the official said.
In recent weeks, the United States has also stepped up pressure on India not to proceed with its purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia.
India says the missiles are necessary to bolster defenses against China, but Washington has said it would prefer India to consider other options including US defense firms for alternative weapons systems.
A second Indian official said India believed it had a case for a waiver from US sanctions should it go ahead with the missile system purchase from Russia.
Washington has also threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey, a NATO ally, which is also buying the S-400 system.
Under US pressure India has stopped buying oil from Iran, one of its top suppliers, and the two Indian officials said the oil-dependent economy had taken a hit as a result.
Now, with tensions rising between the United States and Iran, New Delhi is further worried about the security of its energy supplies.