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.


Italy’s Lombardy region to impose virus curfew

Updated 20 October 2020

Italy’s Lombardy region to impose virus curfew

  • The curfew from 11pm to 5am is expected to begin on Thursday night and last to November 13
  • More than 10,000 new Covid-19 infections were recorded in Italy on Friday for the time ever

ROME: Italy’s northern Lombardy region prepared Tuesday to impose a nighttime curfew, the most restrictive anti-coronavirus measure the country has seen since emerging from a national lockdown in the spring.
The curfew from 11pm (2100GMT) to 5am is expected to begin on Thursday night and last to November 13.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza gave his consent late Monday to the more restrictive measure proposed by the regional government, after an hours-long meeting.
“It’s an appropriate and symbolically important initiative that shouldn’t have particularly serious economic consequences,” Regional President Attilio Fontana said in the newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday.
More than 10,000 new Covid-19 infections were recorded in Italy on Friday for the time ever, with Lombardy the hardest hit region, as it was in the beginning of the health crisis in February.
The region, which includes Italy’s financial hub of Milan, reported 1,687 new cases on Monday, with Italy’s southern Campania region coming a close second with 1,593.
Since Italy became the first hard-hit European country earlier this year, more than 36,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the country.
On Saturday, Lombardy ordered its bars to shut at midnight and prohibited the consumption of food and drink in public outside areas.
Italy has put in place recent restrictions to try to stem the new wave of infections, but none have so far imposed a curfew.
They include banning amateur contact sports, such as football matches, school trips, and restricting bars and restaurants to table service after 6pm.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said he does not envision another country-wide lockdown, which would further sap Italy’s struggling economy, but has said that he would not rule out limited ones.
Lombardy’s curfew is expected to only allow people to leave their home for reasons of health, work or necessity.
The new decree will also call for large shopping centers to be shut on weekends, according to Italian media reports.