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.


Nearly 1,500 migrants rescued in Mediterranean in two days

Updated 2 min 10 sec ago
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Nearly 1,500 migrants rescued in Mediterranean in two days

ROME: Around 1,500 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean on Thursday and Friday in operations involving the Italian navy and ships chartered by NGOs and the EU border agency Frontex, the Italian coast guard said.
On Friday alone, seven separate operations picked up 1,050 people as they tried to make the crossing to Europe. The operations were coordinated by the Italian coast guard.
The German NGOs Sea-Watch and Sea-Eye said they had rescued nearly half the total picked up — 450 — from three overcrowded vessels.
As the occupants of the third boat were being picked up, a Libyan patrol boat came on the scene prompting some of the migrants to jump into the water to avoid being taken back to Libya. The Libyan vessel, however, maintained its distance and all the migrants were rescued by the two NGOs.
In recent months the Libyan coast guard has taken responsibility for a growing number of rescue operations, subsequently returning those rescued to Libya.
On Thursday, an Italian navy ship rescued 69 migrants, while a Portuguese navy boat taking part in Frontex’s anti-trafficking Triton Operation rescued 296 more.
The new arrivals are in addition to 10,800 migrants already registered in Italy since the start of the year, according to International Organization for Migration (IOM) figures.
The figure is around 80 percent lower than in the same period last year, largely attributed to agreements reached between Italy and Libyan authorities and militias.
The Libyan coast guard intercepted more than 6,500 migrants in the same period, IOM figures showed, while 383 people were reported dead or missing off Libya.