Afghan security forces clash with Taliban for third day in Ghazni

The attack was the largest tactical operation launched by the Taliban since an unprecedented truce in June brought fighting between security forces and the Taliban to a temporary pause. (File photo: AFP)
Updated 12 August 2018

Afghan security forces clash with Taliban for third day in Ghazni

  • The push by the Taliban on Ghazni is the main one on the town since the ouster of the militants in a US-led war in late 2001
  • The Taliban, in messages to reporters, said the group had seized the prison and freed fellow comrades held by the government

KABUL: Afghan troops clashed with Taliban guerrillas on Sunday in Ghazni, three days after the militants overran parts of the historical and strategic town in a major push, a lawmaker and a security source said.
Scores of fighters from both sides and at least two dozen civilians have been killed in the fighting, which also involves US air support since the Taliban began their four-pronged offensive on the town early Friday, the two men said.
The main hospital in Ghazni town is overwhelmed with casualties, with a shortage of medicine, and the entire town is reported to be shut because of the fighting.
Telephone towers and communication systems have been badly affected in the fighting and the main highway that runs through the province linking Kabul with the southern and southwestern region has remained closed, Mohammad Ali Alizada, a lawmaker representing Ghazni, told Arab News.
He said government reinforcements bound for the town have been stuck near a pass outside the town which lies some 120 km to the southwest of the capital.
“Unfortunately, the reports from Ghazni are not good. There are continued skirmishes inside the town and its surrounding areas. We do not have first-hand information because of poor communication, but one thing is clear: The Taliban have presence in many parts of the town.”
He said government authorities were confined to three main areas where the compound for the governor, the headquarters for the police and intelligence are located.
He said there were conflicting reports about the release of hundreds of Taliban prisoners after the militants captured the town’s main prison.
The Taliban, in messages to reporters, said the group had seized the prison and freed fellow comrades held by the government.
One government spokesman refused to speak, while others could not be reached to discuss the situation. But a security source said the Taliban were still inside the town and fighting had intensified in its various areas on Sunday.
The country’s army chief Sharif Yaftali promised in a news conference to reopen the highway in two days’ time and blamed the Taliban for sheltering in residential areas.
“Considering the capabilities of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANSDF), we hope to bring significant changes in Ghazni’s security and open the highway in two days.
“Strategic and key areas of Ghazni are under the government control of the ANSDF. The reason for ANSDF’s slow clearance is preventing civilian casualties. The Taliban have hidden in houses and stores.”
Later on Sunday there were reports that the Taliban had even captured the main police headquarters, but that could not be immediately confirmed independently.
And before evening, a local TV channel reported that a convoy of government reinforcement from neighboring areas came under a Taliban ambush, causing casualties. 
A video posted on social media showed a group of apparent government soldiers surrendering to the militants with their military equipment, while another showed Taliban armed fighters strolling on a main street of the town.
Residents late Friday reported that the Taliban had shot down a government military helicopter, but officials said the chopper went down for technical reasons.
The push by the Taliban on Ghazni is the main one on the town since the ouster of the militants in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
The developments in Ghazni come weeks after Taliban emissaries and US officials held direct talks for finding a way to end the 17-year US war in Afghanistan.
Both sides are expected to hold a similar meeting in the future too, and some observers believe the attack on Ghazni is part of the Taliban’s effort to gain the upper hand in the talks.
The attack comes amid escalation of violence elsewhere by the insurgents against the embattled government in recent months ahead of the long-delayed parliamentary polls set for October and the presidential polls six months later.
While the two sides fight for control of Ghazni, reports emerged from northwestern Faryab about the loss of more than 25 government soldiers in a Taliban attack early Sunday after a long siege.


Beijing says holding UK’s Hong Kong consulate employee

Updated 42 min 41 sec ago

Beijing says holding UK’s Hong Kong consulate employee

  • Simon Cheng went missing on Aug. 8 after sending his girlfriend a text message
  • Cheng is accused of violating the Public Security Administration Punishments Law

BEIJING: An employee of Britain’s consulate in Hong Kong who went missing earlier this month is being held in China, Beijing confirmed Wednesday.
The incident comes as relations between Britain and China have become strained over what Beijing calls London’s “interference” in pro-democracy protests that have wracked Hong Kong for three months.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing the detained man had been “placed in administrative detention for 15 days as punishment” by Shenzhen police for breaking a public security law.
Geng said the employee was from Hong Kong and therefore the issue was an internal matter.
“Let me clarify, this employee is a Hong Kong citizen, he’s not a UK citizen, which is also saying he’s a Chinese person,” Geng said.
The man, named by his family as Simon Cheng, traveled to Shenzhen, a megacity on the China-Hong Kong border, for a one-day business meeting on August 8.
That night, Cheng returned via high-speed train and sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to go through customs.
“We lost contact with him since then,” the family said in a Facebook post.
Geng said the employee had violated the Public Security Administration Punishments Law — a law with broad scope aimed at “maintaining public order in society” and “safeguarding public security,” as well as making sure police and security forces act within the law.
The ongoing protests have raised fears of a Chinese crackdown in some form.
The unrest was initially triggered by a controversial law that would allow extradition to the mainland, but has since broadened into a call for wider democratic reforms.
Beijing has repeatedly warned Britain — the former colonial ruler of Hong Kong — against any “interference” in the protests, which erupted 11 weeks ago and have seen millions of people hit the streets calling for democratic reforms.
“Recently the UK has made many erroneous remarks about Hong Kong,” Geng said at the press briefing Wednesday.
“We once again urge the British side to stop gesticulating and fanning flames on the Hong Kong issue.”
With Beijing attempting to shape the narrative of the unrest in Hong Kong, Chinese authorities have increased their inspections at the Shenzhen border, including checking the phones and devices of some passengers for photos of the protests.
The mainland metropolis of Shenzhen sits behind China’s “Great Firewall” --which restricts access to news and information — while Hong Kong enjoys liberties unseen on the mainland.
China promised to respect the freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory after its handover from Britain in 1997, including freedom of speech, unfettered access to the Internet and an independent judiciary.
Beijing also faced criticism in the past for detaining foreign nationals amid ongoing diplomatic spats.
Ottawa has urged Beijing to release two Canadian citizens detained in December amid escalating diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained amid a diplomatic crisis sparked by the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer for Chinese tech giant Huawei, in Vancouver on a US extradition bid.
Former diplomat Kovrig and consultant Spavor were picked up in China on suspicion of espionage days after her arrest, in a move widely seen as retaliation.
Friends of the missing employee staged a protest outside the British Consulate in Hong Kong on Wednesday afternoon to pressure the UK government to “save Simon.”
“Hong Kong people are still fighting to oppose the extradition bill, yet something like this happened without such a bill,” organizer Max Chung told AFP.
“If the Beijing government doesn’t explain to the public why this happened, then it is playing with fire. This is a warning to Hongkongers and to whoever wants to come to Hong Kong.”
Chung told the rally that “to our best understanding” his detained friend had not been involved with the ongoing protests that have engulfed the financial hub.
“Simon is a very good guy, and smart guy... I don’t think he would do anything stupid,” he added.