Taliban, Kabul govt both claim embattled Afghan city

Afghan policemen stand guard near the site of a suicide bombing attack in Kabul on March 21, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 11 August 2018
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Taliban, Kabul govt both claim embattled Afghan city

  • Information about who controlled the city was difficult to confirm with power and mobile services cut to the area
  • The Taliban, however, claimed victory saying their fighters were now in control of Ghazni after routing Afghan forces

KABUL: Both Taliban and government forces claimed they were in control of the eastern Afghan city of Ghazni Saturday, after insurgents stormed the provincial capital, triggering fierce fighting.
Afghan officials said they were in control of Ghazni late Friday with authorities in Kabul saying security forces were conducting a clearance operation targeting Taliban fighters who had taken up positions in residential homes.
But information about who controlled the city was difficult to confirm with power and mobile services cut to the area after the Taliban destroyed a telecommunications tower, according to Ghazni MP Shah Gul Rezaye.
“The central government in Kabul said the situation in Ghazni was under their control, but we managed to contact officials in Ghazni who said that fighting was underway in areas surrounding Ghazni,” said the parliamentarian.
Rezaye said additional reinforcements had been rushed to Ghazni late Friday, after US forces deployed attack helicopters and launched at least one drone strike to push back the Taliban fighters.
The Taliban, however, claimed victory saying their fighters were now in control of Ghazni after routing Afghan forces.
“Last night, our mujahideen have completely conquered a battalion in Ghazni, seizing weapons and ammunition and four pickup trucks,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a message to journalists Saturday.
“Our mujahideen are protecting the city of Ghazni.”
The insurgents frequently exaggerate their battlefield gains and downplay losses incurred during clashes.
Ghazni — less than two hours by road from Kabul — has been under increasing danger from massing Taliban fighters for months with reports suggesting insurgents had already infiltrated the city.
The attack, which began late Thursday, was the latest attempt by the Taliban to seize an urban center and comes as pressure mounts on the insurgents to enter peace talks with the government to end the nearly 17-year-old war.


Vladimir Putin gets lavish welcome on visit to ally Serbia

Updated 59 min 34 sec ago
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Vladimir Putin gets lavish welcome on visit to ally Serbia

  • Church bells tolled, guns saluted and people waved Russian and Serbian flags on Putin’s route through the Serbian capital, Belgrade
  • Serbia has maintained close links with traditional Slavic ally Russia despite formally seeking European Union membership

BELGRADE, Serbia: Vladimir Putin received a hero’s welcome in ally Serbia on Thursday as the Russian president attempted to maintain political and economic influence in the Balkans, which is increasingly looking Westward.
Putin’s presidential plane was escorted over Serbian airspace by MiG-29 fighter jets he recently donated to Serbia as he arrived for the one-day visit. Church bells tolled, guns saluted and people waved Russian and Serbian flags on Putin’s route through the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
Serbia has maintained close links with traditional Slavic ally Russia despite formally seeking European Union membership. It has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine and has pledged to stay out of NATO.
Putin has recently stepped up efforts to restore Moscow’s influence in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe.
Putin and his host, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, praised the relationship between the two countries. Putin handed a top Russian honor to Vucic, who gave a puppy of a Serb dog breed to the Russian president.
Vucic thanked Russia for its support for Serbia’s claim over Kosovo, a former province that declared independence in 2008, and added that “however small,” Serbia has been a “reliable partner” to Russia.
Several bilateral agreements were signed, including on the supply of Russian gas and weapons to Serbia.
On the gas, Putin said Russian companies are ready to invest about $1.4 billion into a stretch of a pipeline that would go from Turkey via EU-member Bulgaria to Serbia and then on to Hungary, “but in the end, everything will depend on other countries, including the European Union.”
Putin’s visit come as thousands have been holding weekly demonstrations against Vucic because of what they see as his autocratic rule.
Tens of thousands of Vucic’s right-wing party supporters were bused into the capital on Thursday to gather in front of the St. Sava Orthodox church, which the two presidents visited. They were chanting slogans including “Serbia-Russia, we don’t need the European Union!“
Vucic’s critics say the gathering was staged to suggest that the Serbian leader has many more supporters than opponents, who have been marching the same route since December to demand free elections and media.
Several liberal Serbian rights groups issued a statement on Thursday protesting “glorification of Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime.”
It said that Putin’s visit “indicates that the Serbian rulers are ready to sacrifice human rights and better living standards of citizens because of their servile attitude toward Putin’s regime.”
Russia’s interest in Serbia relates to its strategic position between East and West. Of Serbia’s eight neighbors, five are NATO members and two more are seeking membership; and four are in the EU and two more are working toward accession. Serbia remains Moscow’s only ally in the region.
Unlike NATO, Putin formally does not oppose Serbia’s EU path and analysts believe that this is because he wants a staunch ally — or perhaps a Trojan horse — within the 28-nation bloc.
Putin’s popularity in Serbia is mostly because the Kremlin is supporting Serbia in its rejection of Kosovo’s independence. In contrast, most Western countries have recognized Kosovo’s statehood.