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.

New Zealand marks one week since mosque terrorist attack with prayers

Updated 7 min 53 sec ago

New Zealand marks one week since mosque terrorist attack with prayers

  • Prime Minister Ardern to join mourners near Al Noor mosque
  • Friday call to prayer to be broadcast nationally

CHRISTCHURCH: New Zealanders on Friday marked one week since a mass shooting killed 50 Muslim worshippers in the South Island city of Christchurch, holding nationwide prayers and wearing headscarves to show their support for the devastated community.
People have started congregating at Hagley Park, across the road from Al Noor mosque, where 42 people were killed last week in one of two shootings at mosques on March 15. At least seven others at the nearby Linwood mosque after a white supremacist gunned them down.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will lead thousands of mourners at the park.
The prime minister is expected to be accompanied in the Christchurch prayers with community leaders and other foreign dignitaries.
Thousands more were planning to listen in on the radio or watch on television as the event was broadcast live. 
The adhan, or Muslim call to prayer, will be broadcast on all major New Zealand networks at 1:30 p.m. (NZ time), followed by a two-minute nationwide silence.  
Fahim Imam, 33, of Auckland, flew in Friday morning from New Zealand’s largest city for the service. He was born and grew up in Christchurch but moved away three years ago.
“It’s just amazing to see how the country and the community have come together — blows my mind, actually,” Imam said before the event.
“As soon as I got off the plane, I saw a sign someone was holding that said ‘jenaza,’ denoting Muslim funeral prayer. Others were offering free rides to and from the prayer service,” Imam said.
“The moment I landed in Christchurch, I could feel the love here. I’ve never felt more proud to be a Muslim, or a Kiwi for that matter. It makes me really happy to be able to say that I’m a New Zealander,” he added.
He called it surreal to see the mosque where he used to pray surrounded by flowers.
Most victims of New Zealand’s worst mass shooting were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Muslims account for just over one percent of New Zealand’s population, most of whom were born overseas.

High-powered guns banned
The observance comes the day after the government announced a ban on “military-style” semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines like the weapons that were used in last Friday’s attacks.
There are nearly 250,000 licensed gun owners in New Zealand, which has a population of 5 million. Officials estimate there are 1.5 million guns in the country.
Ardern said people could hand over their prohibited guns under an amnesty while officials develop a formal buyback scheme, which could cost up to 200 million New Zealand dollars ($140 million).
The government said the police and military would be exempt. Access for international shooting competitions would also be considered.

The #headscarfforharmony movement, launched by an Auckland doctor, encouraged people to wear headscarves on Friday to show their support for the Muslim community.
Robyn Molony, 65, was with a group of friend wearing headscarves at Hagley Park, where they walked daily.
“We are wearing headscarves showing our support, love and solidarity, and hope that by everybody doing this it will demonstrate to Muslim women ... that they are one with us,” she said.
Images of a grieving Ardern wearing a black headscarf as she visited families of the victims a day after the attacks were broadcast around the world.
Some women in the capital Wellington were also seen wearing headscarves on their morning commute.

Security high
Armed police have been guarding mosques around New Zealand since the attacks and police said there would be a “heightened presence” on Friday to reassure those attending weekly prayers.
Officers dotted around Christchurch wore green ribbons pinned to their chests as a sign of peace and solidarity. Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist who was living in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, has been charged with murder following the attack.
He was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.
Newspapers across the country ran full-page memorials with the names of the victims, and a call for national mourning.
“A call to unity there is strength,” New Zealand Herald said on its front page.
Candlelight vigils continued until late on Thursday across the country, while volunteers prepared the bodies of the deceased for a mass burial that expected after the prayers.
“All the bodies are washed. We finished around 1.30 a.m. this morning. It was our duty. After we finished there was a lot of emotion, people were crying and hugging,” said a body washer in Christchurch who gave his name as Missouri.

(With Reuters and AP)