Taliban attack Afghan government post near Iran border, killing 20 troops

Afghan forces are dying in record numbers with Afghan and US officials warning that the casualty rate is not sustainable. (File/AFP)
Updated 06 November 2018
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Taliban attack Afghan government post near Iran border, killing 20 troops

  • At least 20 soldiers were known to have been killed, several wounded and the others were missing
  • Afghan forces are dying in record numbers with Afghan and US officials warning that the casualty rate is not sustainable

KABUL: Taliban militants attacked a border outpost in western Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing 20 government soldiers in the latest assault likely to compound fears that the security forces are facing an unsustainable casualty toll.
Sparsely populated Farah, on the border with Iran, has seen months of heavy fighting, with hundreds police and soldiers killed. The Taliban threatened to seize the provincial capital in May.
In the latest violence in the province, the insurgents assaulted the border post manned by about 50 Afghan government soldiers before dawn, officials in the area said.
At least 20 soldiers were known to have been killed, several wounded and the others were missing, said a senior military officer who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to media.
“Hours after the attack, we lost contact with the base and we still do not know the whereabouts of the remaining soldiers,” the officer said.
The Taliban, fighting to oust foreign forces and overthrow the Western-backed Kabul government, claimed responsibility saying they had captured the base, killed 30 soldiers and seized weapons and ammunition.
Some officials in Farah have accused Iran, which the United States says is trying to extend its influence in western Afghanistan, of providing the insurgents with money and weapons. Iran denies the accusation.
The attack underlined the struggle Afghan security forces face in confronting the insurgents, who have steadily extended their control in the countryside, even though the government holds all provincial centers.
On Monday, the militants captured an important security post outside the central city of Ghazni, killing 13 members of government forces and underscoring their vulnerability even in areas where defenses have been bolstered.
More than 17 years after US-led forces toppled the Taliban regime, Afghan forces are dying in record numbers with Afghan and US officials warning that the casualty rate is not sustainable.
In September alone, more than 500 Afghan soldiers were killed and hundreds wounded, the Defense Ministry said.
Tentative steps toward peace talks between the Taliban and the United States have had no impact on the level of attacks.
The US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, met Taliban leaders in Qatar last month. The Taliban will also join multilateral peace talks hosted by Russia this week.


Venezuela’s Maduro to throw concert rivaling Richard Branson

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores, attend a meeting with supporters in Caracas, Venezuela January 22, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 9 min 24 sec ago
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Venezuela’s Maduro to throw concert rivaling Richard Branson

  • Maduro’s government has been providing people with deeply discounted boxes of cooking oil, flour and other items, while coming under accusations it is using food as a political tool

CARACAS, Venezuela: President Nicolas Maduro’s government barely missed a beat Monday in announcing plans for its own huge concert to rival one being organized by a billionaire backer of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the government will throw a concert Saturday and Sunday on Venezuela’s side of the border — opposite one in Colombia being spearheaded by Richard Branson, a British adventurer and founder of the Virgin Group.
Rodriguez did not announce the artists who are expected to perform, saying only that the concert would be massive.
“People from all over the world want to take part in this message of love, solidarity and denunciation against the aggression that they’re trying against the Venezuelan people,” Rodriguez said.
Branson told The Associated Press that he hopes the concert he is throwing will save lives by raising money for “much-needed medical help” for crisis-torn Venezuela, which is suffering from hyperinflation and widespread shortages of food and medicine.
He said he is aiming to raise $100 million for suffering Venezuelans and open the borders to emergency aid. Up to 300,000 people are expected to attend Friday’s concert featuring Spanish-French singer Manu Chao, Mexican band Mana, Spanish singer-songwriter Alejandro Sanz and Dominican artist Juan Luis Guerra.
Branson said that it is not funded by any government and that all the artists are performing for free. The plan is to raise donations from viewers watching the concert on a livestream over the Internet.
“Venezuela sadly has not become the utopia that the current administration of Venezuela or the past administration were hoping for, and that has resulted in a lot of people literally dying from lack of medical help,” Branson said in a telephone interview from Necker, his private island in the British Virgin Islands. “I think it will draw attention to the problem on a global basis.”
The concert is being held in Cucuta, a Colombian border city of some 700,000 people that has been swollen by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who have fled hardships in their homeland. The city is the staging point for foreign humanitarian aid — much of it from the US government — that is being blocked from entering Venezuela by Maduro’s socialist administration.
Branson said he hopes that Venezuela’s armed forces, until now loyal to Maduro, will allow the aid to reach Venezuelans.
“We want to make it a joyous occasion,” Branson said in his first interview since he announced the concert on a brief video posted online last week. “And we’re hoping that sense prevails and that the military allows the bridge to be open so that much-needed supplies can be sent across.”
He said he opposes trying to carry the aid in by force, but clearly favors Guaido in his standoff with Maduro.
“I don’t personally feel that force should be used at all by either side,” he said.
“If they (Venezuelan troops) stop the aid coming through and there are pictures of hundreds of thousands of people wanting to come through from both sides, that will send out a potent message, a very powerful message to Venezuela, to everybody, that there is aid that is trying to get across, but the army is stopping it,” Branson said. “That hopefully will mean that Juan Guaido and his people will have a better chance to have another election where sense can prevail.”
Guaido, who heads Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress, declared himself interim president Jan. 23 with the backing of the United States and most South American and European nations, which argue that Maduro’s re-election last May was fraudulent. Guaido has announced that humanitarian aid will enter Venezuela on Saturday, the day after Branson’s concert.
Branson said the initiative follows his involvement with Live Aid and years of work with “The Elders,” a group of elder statesmen and political leaders that he helped establish to avoid conflict and assist in humanitarian situations.
“I talked to Juan Guaido, and the team, the people around him, to see what could be most helpful,” Branson said. “And they said that the thing that Venezuela needed the most was medical help in particular, money to be raised to try to keep doctors and nurses in Venezuela, not leaving Venezuela, and just basic medical help.”
Meanwhile, Guaido said the move by Maduro’s government to put on a rival concert was “desperate.”
“They’re debating whether the aid should come in or not ... They don’t know what to do,” Guaido said Monday. “They’re now making up a concert. How many concerts are they going to stage?“
Venezuela’s information minister also said the government would distribute 20,000 boxes of subsidized food Saturday.
Maduro’s government has been providing people with deeply discounted boxes of cooking oil, flour and other items, while coming under accusations it is using food as a political tool.