Taliban active in 70% of Afghanistan, study finds

An Afghan National Army soldier fires an artillery shell during an ongoing anti-Taliban operation at Farah province. (AFP)
Updated 31 January 2018
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Taliban active in 70% of Afghanistan, study finds

WASHINGTON: The Taliban are openly active in 70 percent of Afghanistan’s districts, fully controlling 4 percent of the country and demonstrating an open physical presence in another 66 percent, according to a BBC study published on Tuesday.
The BBC estimate, which it said was based on conversations with more than 1,200 individual sources in all districts of the South Asian country, was significantly higher than the most recent assessment by the NATO-led coalition.
The coalition said on Tuesday that the Taliban contested or controlled only 44 percent of Afghan districts as of October 2017.
Afghanistan has been reeling over the past nine days from a renewed spate of violence that is adding scrutiny to the latest, more aggressive US-backed strategy to bolster Afghan forces battling the Taliban in a 16-year-old war.
A bomb hidden in an ambulance struck the city center and killed more than 100 people, just over a week after an attack on the Hotel Intercontinental, also in Kabul, which left more than 20 people dead, including four US citizens.
The BBC counted 399 districts in Afghanistan, but the NATO-led force counted 407. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear.
The BBC study said the Afghan government controlled 122 districts, or about 30 percent of the country. Still, it noted, that did not mean that they were free from Taliban attacks.
“Kabul and other major cities, for example, suffered major attacks — launched from adjacent areas, or by sleeper cells — during the research period, as well as before and after,” the report said.
Asked about the BBC’s study, the Pentagon did not comment directly, but pointed to the latest figures by the NATO-led coalition asserting that about 56 percent of Afghanistan’s territory was under Afghan government control or influence.
Captain Thomas Gresback, a spokesman for the coalition in Kabul, said the BBC estimate overstated the militants’ “influence impact.”
“This is a criminal network, not a government in waiting,” Gresback said in an emailed statement.
“What really matters is not the number of districts held, but population controlled. RS assesses that around 12 percent of the population is actually under full Taliban control,” he said, referring to the Resolute Support mission.
The study by Britain’s public broadcaster quoted a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani playing down the findings.
The BBC study also said Daesh had a presence in 30 districts, but noted it did not fully control any of them.


British boat rescues migrants trying to cross Channel

Updated 33 min 39 sec ago
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British boat rescues migrants trying to cross Channel

  • British border officials have picked up 34 people who were trying to cross the English Channel in a small boat
  • The Home Office said the passengers are thought to be migrants and their nationalities were not known yet

LONDON: A British boat rescued 34 migrants crossing the Channel aboard a small motorised boat on Monday, Britain's interior ministry said.
"Today Border Force responded to an incident in the Channel involving a small boat containing 34 people," the ministry said in a statement.
"The group were brought to Dover and have been transferred to immigration officials for interview," it added, saying that men, women and children were on board and that three men were arrested on suspicion of immigration offences.
French authorities earlier said that "a fishing boat gave the alarm shortly after 8:00 am (0700 GMT)" after spotting the boat off the tip of northern France.
French navy, police and customs launched a helicopter, a tug boat and three fast vessels, while sea rescue services also tried to rescue the migrants.
By the time they reached the migrants' location, however, "they had crossed over to the English side" of the Channel where they were picked up by a British vessel, said the regional authority in northern France.
Two British Border Force cutters and a coastal patrol vessel were involved in the rescue, according to UK authorities.
Some 500 people -- most of them over the last two months of 2018 -- attempted to cross the Channel to Britain last year, compared with just 13 known attempts in 2017.
French interior ministry figures show 276 people successfully reached British waters last year.
London in December dispatched a navy ship to help coastguard boats watch over the 21 miles (33 kilometres) of sea that separate France and Britain at its narrowest point.
France also responded by announcing broader surveillance measures in early January.
The number of Channel crossings was just a tiny fraction of the 55,756 successful attempts made across the Mediterranean to Spain that were recorded by the UN's refugee agency in 2018.