Taliban close Afghan health facilities run by Swedish group

Taliban confirmed the closure of facilities. Above, Kabul residents waiting outside US charity hospital. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 July 2019

Taliban close Afghan health facilities run by Swedish group

  • Taliban raided one of the NGO’s clinics last week in which 4 people died
  • The NGO said closing the clinics will affect 6,000 patients

KABUL: The Taliban forced a Swedish non-profit group to close 42 health facilities it runs in eastern Afghanistan, the organization said Wednesday, the latest attempt by the insurgents to show strength amid negotiations to end the country’s nearly 18-year war.

The Taliban currently control nearly half of Afghanistan and are more powerful than at any time since the October 2001 US-led invasion.

In Sweden, Sonny Mansson, the country director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, told The Associated Press that the Taliban threatened the NGO’s staff by saying that if they do not close the facilities, “it would have consequences for themselves and their families.”

“We treat equally anyone who needs medical care regardless of who they are. Everyone who needs help gets it,” Mansson said, adding the closed facilities were in a Taliban-controlled area of Maidan Wardan province while others are still open in the province’s government-controlled areas.

Parwiz Ahmad Faizi, the group’s communications manager, said the facilities were closed after Afghan forces last week raided a clinic run by the NGO in Daimirdad district.

The Afghan troops, acting on intelligence, were allegedly looking for suspected Taliban fighters hiding in the clinic.

Ahmad Khalid Fahim, program director for the Swedish group, said two staff members, a guard and a lab worker, and two other people were killed in the attack, while a fifth person has been missing.

Insurgents contacted the staff and ordered the NGO to shut down, Fahim added. Faizi said the closures will affect health services for around 6,000 patients, particularly women and children.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the closure of the facilities.

The developments come amid stepped-up efforts by the United States to find a negotiated end to the country’s conflict, America’s longest war. Afghan talks that brought together the country’s warring sides ended last week in Qatar’s capital, Doha, with a statement that appeared to move closer to peace by laying down the outlines of a roadmap for the country’s future.

The same Swedish-run health facility in Daimirdad was hit in 2016, in a joint raid by Afghan and foreign forces, said Fahim. Three people were killed in that attack, after which the NGO demanded an investigation but no probe results were ever released.

“We request the Afghan government give us an immediate response as to why the health facility came under attack,” Fahim said.

The Swedish organization, which has been in Afghanistan over 30 years, runs 77 health facilities in six out of nine districts of in Maidan Wardan. The closure of the 42 likely more than slashes its activities in half.

Mansson dismissed claims the Taliban had used their clinic in Daimirdad as shelter, which may have triggered the Afghan forces’ raid.

Mansson said the organization informed the Afghan government of the closures but that the authorities have done little beyond acknowledging the shutdowns and saying “we regret it happen.”

“But we have not seen anything from them,” he added.

Trump backs Johnson on Brexit but sends mixed signals on China at G7

Updated 20 min 9 sec ago

Trump backs Johnson on Brexit but sends mixed signals on China at G7

  • “He’s going to be a fantastic prime minister,” Trump said
  • Trump also appeared to back off from a threatened further escalation in his battle with China

BIARRITZ: US President Donald Trump on Sunday backed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the “right man” for Brexit and sent mixed signals about his trade war with China at a G7 summit dominated by worries about the global economy.
Johnson and Trump were on obviously friendly terms as they sat down for a working breakfast in the southern French resort of Biarritz where Group of Seven leaders are gathering this weekend.
“He’s going to be a fantastic prime minister,” Trump said in their first meeting since Johnson took office last month.
Asked what his advice was for Brexit, Trump replied: “He needs no advice. He’s the right man for the job. I’ve been saying that for a long time.”
In the lead-up to the talks, Johnson had appeared at pains to distance himself from Trump after facing accusations in the past of being too cosy with the American leader.
And at their meeting, Johnson again pressed a common message from European leaders at the summit about Trump’s escalating trade war with China.
“Just to register a faint, sheep-like note of our view on the trade war — we are in favor of trade peace on the whole,” Johnson told Trump.
The 73-year-old US leader promised Johnson “very big trade deal, bigger than we’ve ever had,” but couldn’t resist another undiplomatic dig at the European Union.
Trump compared it to an “anchor around their ankle.”
But to the relief of his partners, Trump also appeared to back off from a threatened further escalation in his battle with China.
“I think they respect the trade war. It has to happen,” Trump told reporters.
Asked whether he was having second thoughts, he replied: “I have second thoughts about everything.”
The Basque resort of Biarritz, which at this time of year usually teems with surfers and sunbathers, has been turned into a fortress for the G7 event with over 13,000 police on duty.
An anti-capitalism demonstration in nearby Bayonne turned ugly Saturday night when the crowd of several hundred tried to get through police barricades and was repelled with water cannon and tear gas.
Earlier on Saturday, organizers in the French border town of Hendaye said 15,000 people rallied in a peaceful march over the Bidassoa River toward the Spanish town of Irun.
G7 summits, gathering Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, were once a meeting of like-minded allies, but they have become a diplomatic battlefield in the Trump era.
“This may be the last moment to restore our political community,” EU Council president Donald Tusk said on Saturday.
Over an open dinner dinner of red tuna at the foot of a landmark lighthouse in the famed surf town of Biarritz, the leaders began talks on Saturday night attempting to narrow their differences.
The US-China trade war, but also fires in the Amazon and the Iranian nuclear crisis, were on the menu.
“You did very well last night President Macron,” Johnson told his French host as the leaders met for a session to discuss the world economy. “That was a difficult one.”
In a sign of the difficulties, Macron thought he had agreed a common G7 position on Iran to try to find a way out of the current impasse that has seen tensions spiral in the Middle East.
Macron said in an interview to French television that they had “agreed on what to say to Iran.”
But Trump, who has previously accused Macron of sending “mixed signals” to Iran, denied it.
“We’ll do our own outreach. But you can’t stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk,” he said.
In a radical break from previous meetings of the elite club, there is to be no final statement at the end of the talks on Monday, an admission of lowered expectations.
Macron has also invited several world leaders from outside the G7 such as India’s Narendra Modi and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi who will join the meeting on Sunday.
Macron is also pushing for action against fires in the Amazon rainforest, despite Brazilian right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s angry response to what he sees as outside interference.