Taliban launch annual spring offensive with attack in eastern Afghanistan

In this file photo from March 9, 2016, smoke billows from a building after a Taliban attack in Gereshk district of Helmand province in Afghanistan. Days before the resumption of US-led peace talks, Taliban announced their military spring offensive in a statement. (Reuters)
Updated 13 April 2019

Taliban launch annual spring offensive with attack in eastern Afghanistan

  • Days before resumption of US led peace talks and ahead of meetings with Afghan representatives this month, Taliban announce military spring offensive
  • As weather warmed across Afghanistan, hundreds of Afghan troops and civilians had already been killed in Taliban attacks

KABUL: Taliban fighters mounted a big attack in eastern Afghanistan on the weekend heralding the start of their annual spring offensive despite ongoing preparations for another round of peace talks, and ahead of planned meetings with Afghan representatives this month. 

A Taliban statement said the objective of the Al-Fat’h “victory” offensive was “eradicating occupation, cleansing our Muslim homeland from invasion and corruption, establishing an Islamic system along with defending and serving our believing fellow countrymen.”

Hours after the announcement, a large number of Taliban fighters stormed the Shirzad district center in eastern Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan, putting heavy pressure on government forces, local officials said.

As the weather warmed across Afghanistan, combat had already intensified in recent weeks and hundreds of Afghan troops and civilians were killed, making the official launch of Al-Fath largely symbolic.

Last month, the Afghan government pre-empted the Taliban and mounted its own spring military offensive amid Afghan leaders’ rising frustrations at being left out of the US-led peace talks with the Taliban. 

“The Taliban’s spring offensive announcement is reckless,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the American peace envoy, said on Twitter. “It is irresponsible to suggest that an increase in violence is warranted because the government announced a security plan. The Afghan people have clearly voiced their desire for peace.”

Friday’s clashes took place days before the expected resumption of talks between Khalilzad and Taliban officials in Doha.

Representatives from a range of Afghan groups are also expected to be present but the talks will once again exclude the Afghan government, which the Taliban dismiss as a US- appointed “puppet” regime.

International travel restrictions were lifted on members of the Taliban’s negotiating team, including its leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, and the last round of US-Taliban talk had raised hopes of a cease-fire soon. 

However, the new offensive underlined how far Afghanistan remains from peace more than 17 years after US-backed forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001.

“Even as large parts of our homeland have been freed from the enemy yet the foreign occupying forces continue exercising military and political influence in our Islamic country,” the Taliban statement said.

In response, the Afghan defense ministry described the Taliban’s annual exercise as “propaganda”, adding that the country’s security forces will be ready with “full preparedness” to deter and counter any attacks.

As well as assurances that civilians would be protected, the Taliban called on Afghan government soldiers and police, who have been suffering thousands of casualties a month, to abandon their posts and join the insurgency.

“We again call on troops working in enemy ranks to shun senseless hostility and futile resistance, to join the Mujahideen and gain guarantees of safeguarding life and wealth,” it said.

The Taliban have made gains as moves toward a possible peace deal continued, with government forces in control of just over half the country, according to US estimates.

US President Donald Trump was reported last year to be planning to withdraw about half of the 14,000 US forces in Afghanistan, adding pressure to secure a peace agreement with the Taliban to prevent the country collapsing.

Waheed Mozhdah, a political analyst and former Taliban official told Arab News that both the government and the Taliban are stepping up their attacks in order to seek concessions on the negotiating table.

“The fact that both sides have declared new operations show that there will be some tough times ahead. While the talks continue, they plan to expand their military activities so they can have an upper hand,” he said.

Pakistan Medical Association, doctors fear coronavirus surge as lockdowns lifted nationwide

Updated 09 August 2020

Pakistan Medical Association, doctors fear coronavirus surge as lockdowns lifted nationwide

  • Islamabad’s PIMS hospital had less than 10 coronavirus patients before Eid Al-Adha but new patients coming in since
  • Pakistan announced on Thursday it was opening virtually all sectors closed down in March to stem the spread of COVID-19

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) and infectious disease experts on Thursday warned of a possible surge in coronavirus cases due to a premature lifting of restrictions, as the government announced a day earlier that it was opening virtually all sectors closed down in March to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Pakistan shut schools and land borders nearly five months ago, decided to limit domestic and international flights and discouraged large gatherings to try to halt the spread of the coronavirus. But with infections and deaths down nearly 80 percent since their peak as per government records, the government decided on Thursday to lift the lockdowns to help the country return to normalcy.
Pakistan celebrated the Eid Al-Adha religious holiday last week. After the last major Islamic festival, of Eid Al-Fitr, in May, infections rose to their peak in Pakistan.
Dr. Nasim Akhtar, head of infectious diseases at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad, told Arab News the coronavirus ward at her hospital only had five to six patients before Eid, but new patients had once again started coming in.
“Cases registered a sharp increase after Eid Al-Fitr, and this can happen now again with the lifting of the lockdowns,” she said, adding that the government should have waited at least two more weeks to reopen restaurants and other public places.
“This is a bit early, and may worsen the situation again,” Akhtar said.
The World Health Organization has said “extreme vigilance” was needed as countries begin to exit from lockdowns, amid global concerns about a second wave of infections.
Germany earlier reported an acceleration in new coronavirus infections after it took early steps to ease its lockdown. South Korea, another country that had succeeded in limiting virus infections, saw a new outbreak.
“The next week is crucial to see if the infections soar as just one week has passed now since the Eid holidays,” Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, secretary-general of the Pakistan Medical Association, told Arab News.



Cases could also surge during the Islamic month of Muharram, which begins in late August, he said, and due to independence day celebrations on August 14. Huge crowds come out all over the world, including in Muslim-majority Pakistan, to commemorate the slaying of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh).
“We think that the opening of all these things in a hurry ... probably this will create problems for us,” Sajjad said.
He said infections had risen sharply in the United States and Brazil after the nations lifted restrictions when cases initially declined. Spain reported 1,772 new coronavirus infections on Aug 6, marking the biggest jump since a national lockdown was lifted in June.
University of Health Sciences vice chancellor Javed Akram, however, called the reopening of public places a “wise decision.”
“The government cannot keep the cities and businesses under lockdown forever,” he said. “People should follow health guidelines to fight the virus.”