40 killed in airstrike, car bomb in Afghanistan

The attack was claimed by a Taliban spokesman. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 September 2019

40 killed in airstrike, car bomb in Afghanistan

  • Taliban have vowed to step up attacks ahead of crucial Afghan presidential polls
  • In one incident, 25 civilians, were killed in an airstrike by foreign troops

KABUL: At least 40 Afghan civilians died on Thursday in two separate attacks in Afghanistan, officials said, in the rising violence ahead of the presidential election on Sept. 28 which the Taliban have threatened to derail.

In one incident, 25 civilians, were killed in an airstrike by foreign troops in Khogyani district of eastern Nangarhar province, an official source and one lawmaker, Aryan Youn, from the province confirmed.

The attack in Nangarhar occured in a forest area of a mountainside where laborers were collecting nuts from the trees, Youn told Arab News over the phone.

“It is a heavily civilian area, and unfortunately we have learnt that 25 people have been killed in the airstrikes by foreign forces,” she said.

A local official source, requesting anonymity, said the attack happened close to an area where Daesh local sympathizers had a presence in the past.

The US-led NATO force could not be reached immediately for comment and it did not respond to emails from reporters. If confirmed, the casualties will be among the highest for months caused by an airstrike in Afghanistan.

Hours after the airstrike, an explosive-laden truck launched by the Taliban rammed into an intelligence agency’s compound near a hospital in Qalat, the provincial capital of southern Zabul province. At least 15 people died, 13 of them civilians, and 90 others were wounded, according to the Interior Ministry spokesman, Nasrat Rahimi.

Gul Islam Seyal, spokesman for the governor of Zabul, told Arab News that most of the victims, mostly women and children, were patients at the nearby hospital.

“This is not jihad, it is killing the poor civilians,” Shafiqullah, an attendant with one of the patients at the hospital, said.

President Ashraf Ghani said that the Taliban had lost the power to stand up to the security forces and were thus resorting to “terrorist attacks on public places.”

Civilians have borne the brunt of violence in Afghanistan for years.

The Taliban have publicly warned they will disrupt the election process. A few days ago 25 people died in a suicide attack in Parwan province, where President Ghani was addressing a campaign rally.

“The ongoing violent attacks orchestrated by the Taliban demonstrate blatant disregard for the people and institutions of #Afghanistan,” the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet.

“For Afghans to reconcile, the Taliban must demonstrate commitment to peace & the future of the country by reducing violence,” he added.

Pompeo made no mention of any possible intention on the part of Washington to resume talks with the Taliban.

Pakistan shuts Taftan border after coronavirus kills six in Iran

Updated 9 min 27 sec ago

Pakistan shuts Taftan border after coronavirus kills six in Iran

  • Flights to and from Iran unaffected despite deaths
  • Health emergency declared in border districts 

KARACHI: Pakistan has sealed its Taftan border and stopped pilgrims from traveling via the crossing to Iran after six coronavirus deaths were reported in the neighboring country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.
Afghanistan has also suspended travel to the neighboring country as fears across the region continued to grow over a jump in new coronavirus infections.
There are several shrines in Iran which are frequented by a large number of Shiites from Pakistan. Hundreds of people access the Taftan border crossing between the countries on a daily basis.
Pakistan has stopped all movement from crossing points, launched screening procedures and introduced additional patrols along the border “until the situation is under control,” Mir Zia Ullah Langove, home minister of southwestern Balochistan province, said.
“We are trying to take every possible precaution,” he told Arab News, adding that these were efforts being taken by the provincial government, with assurance from Prime Minister Imran Khan that the federal government would also be extending its help.
The move to seal the border follows Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan’s decision to declare a health emergency in all provincial districts bordering Iran on Saturday. But reports of the coronavirus deaths have had no impact on flights to and from Iran.
“The staff of the health ministry is already present at the airports and a passenger is allowed entry only after clearance of health declaration,” Abdul Sattar Khokhar, Civil Aviation Authority of Pakistan spokesman, told Arab News as he dismissed reports of a temporary halt on flights to Iran.
“There is no reality in reports that flight operations to Iran have been stopped. We had neither stopped flight operations to and from China and nor will it be stopped to any other country.”
Imran Zarkon, who is chief of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said 1,000 masks had been distributed in border areas and a temporary hospital tent with 100-beds had been set up to deal with an emergency as part of preventive efforts.
“Qom is the most affected area of Iran where the pilgrims go, so if there is any possibility of virus coming to Pakistan it will be through Taftan and authorities here are on high alert,” he told Arab News.
But these steps have failed to console the people of Balochistan, with some expressing concern about illegal movement along the porous border.
“Iran shares over #1000 KM long porous border with #Balochistan #Pakistan, #coronaravirus deaths are alarming news for the region,” Sanallah Baloch, a Balochistan lawmaker, tweeted on Saturday. “Daily 100s of people cross these borders without formal procedures, region is poverty-stricken with no medical facility.”
In a statement released Sunday, Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said he had discussed the matter with Iranian officials to safeguard Pakistani nationals visiting the country.
Qadri also spoke to Dr. Zafar Mirza, state minister for health, on the deployment of medical teams to Taftan town along the border.
Iranian health authorities said 28 people were being treated for the virus in at least four different cities, including Tehran.
Both Afghanistan and Pakistan share long, porous borders with Iran that are often used by smugglers and human traffickers, while millions of Afghan refugees currently live in the Islamic Republic — raising fears that the virus could easily spread over the border.
“To prevent the spread of the novel #coronavirus and protect the public, Afghanistan suspends all passenger movement (air and ground) to and from Iran,” the office of the National Security Council of Afghanistan said in a statement posted on Twitter.
A provincial official in Pakistan and the country’s Frontier Corps also confirmed that the country had sealed the land border with Iran.
Earlier Sunday, Iran reported eight deaths from the novel coronavirus, the highest toll of any country outside China, as the supreme leader accused foreign media of trying to use the outbreak to sabotage a general election.
The latest three deaths Iran reported on Sunday were among 15 new confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus, bringing the overall number of infections to 43 and fatalities to eight — the highest death toll outside of China, the epicenter of the epidemic.
Four new infections surfaced in the capital Tehran, seven in the holy city of Qom, two in Gilan and one each in Markazi and Tonekabon, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.
Authorities have ordered as a “preventive measure” the closure of schools, universities and other educational centers in 14 provinces across Iran from Sunday.
Desperate and jobless Afghans have crossed the porous border with Iran for years in search of work to support their struggling families back home.
But hundreds of thousands of Afghans have returned home in recent years as US sanctions have battered the Iranian economy.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a Facebook post on Sunday said the country is closing its border with Iran for two weeks and suspending air traffic after reports of coronavirus cases there.
(With AFP and Reuters)