Afghanistan’s Taliban announce annual spring offensive

People offer funeral prayers behind the body of a civilian killed in Sunday’s Taliban suicide attack at a voter registration center in Kabul. The Taliban have announced their annual spring offensive in Afghanistan, focused on capturing and killing Americans and their supporters. (AP)
Updated 25 April 2018

Afghanistan’s Taliban announce annual spring offensive

KABUL: The Taliban launched their annual spring offensive on Wednesday, in an apparent rejection of calls for the militants to take up the Afghan government’s offer of peace talks.
Operation Al-Khandaq — named after a famous seventh century battle in Medina in which Muslim fighters defeated “infidel” invaders — will target US forces and “their intelligence agents” as well as their “internal supporters,” a Taliban statement said.
The Taliban said the offensive was partly a response to US President Donald Trump’s new strategy for Afghanistan announced last August, which gave US forces more leeway to go after insurgents.
The annual spring offensive traditionally marks the start of the so-called fighting season, though this winter the Taliban continued to battle Afghan and US forces.
The group also launched a series of devastating attacks in the Afghan capital Kabul, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians.
Al-Khandaq will mainly focus on “crushing, killing and capturing American invaders and their supporters,” the Taliban said.
It added the presence of American bases “sabotages all chances of peace” and were key to “prolonging the ongoing war,” which began with the US-led intervention in 2001 that overthrew the Taliban regime.
Afghanistan’s largest militant group has been under pressure to accept Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s February offer of peace talks, but the statement made no mention of the proposal.
Western and Afghan experts said the Taliban announcement was an apparent rejection of the offer and heralded more intense fighting in the drawn-out war.
“We’re in for a hot and busy summer,” a foreign diplomat in Kabul said.
Afghan political analyst Ahmad Saeedi said the Taliban appeared to consider America’s rejection of the group’s own request for direct peace talks with the US in February as leaving them with “no other choice but to fight.”
“This year they will try to weaken the (Afghan) government even further. They will try to derail the election process,” the Kabul University professor said.
“A weak government would eventually mean forcing the US to talk to them.”
Defense ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish dismissed the Taliban announcement as “propaganda.”
The US-backed Afghan government is under pressure on multiple fronts this year as it prepares to hold long-delayed legislative elections even as its security forces struggle to get the upper hand on the battlefield and prevent civilian casualties.
On Sunday, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd outside a voter registration center in Kabul, killing 60 people and wounding 129, according to the latest figures from the health ministry.
The Daesh group claimed responsibility for the bomb, but Western and Afghan officials suspect Daesh receives assistance from other groups, including the Taliban’s Haqqani Network, to carry out attacks.


Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor temples

Updated 15 November 2019

Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor temples

  • The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom’s tourists
  • Apsara authority plans to end the elephant rides by 2020
PHNOM PENH: Cambodia will ban all elephant rides at the country’s famed Angkor temple park by early next year, an official said Friday, a rare win for conservationists who have long decried the popular practice as cruel.
The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom’s foreign tourists — which topped six million in 2018 — and many opt for elephants rides around the ancient temples.
But these rides “will end by the start of 2020,” said Long Kosal, a spokesman with the Apsara Authority, which manages the park.
“Using elephants for business is not appropriate anymore,” he told AFP, adding that some of the animals were “already old.”
So far, five of the 14 working elephants have been transferred to a community forest about 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the temples.
“They will live out their natural lives there,” Kosal said.
The company that owns the elephants will continue to look after them, he added.
Cambodia has long come under fire from animal rights groups for ubiquitous elephant rides on offer for tourists, also seen in neighboring Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
The elephants are broken in during training and rights groups have accused handlers of overworking them.
In 2016, a female elephant died by the roadside after carrying tourists around the Angkor Wat temple complex in severely hot weather.
The animal had been working for around 45 minutes before she collapsed.