Afghan forces, Taliban continue to clash even as peace talks start

Above, Afghan security forces stand guard at an outposts after an attack by Taliban militants in Kunduz Province on March 4, 2020. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 13 September 2020

Afghan forces, Taliban continue to clash even as peace talks start

  • ‘With the start of intra-Afghan talks we were expecting the Taliban to reduce the number of their attacks, but unfortunately their attacks are still going in high numbers’

KABUL: Taliban and Afghan government forces clashed across Afghanistan hours after the start of long-awaited peace talks in Doha on Saturday, officials said, underscoring the uphill challenge of settling a 19-year insurgency. Talks between the two sides were to begin shortly after a US-Taliban agreement in February, but began only over the weekend after months of delays, caused in part by continuing Taliban offensives in the war-torn country.
“With the start of intra-Afghan talks we were expecting the Taliban to reduce the number of their attacks, but unfortunately their attacks are still going in high numbers,” Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, said.
Representatives from a number of countries who spoke at the inauguration of the peace talks called on the Taliban to announce an immediate cease-fire before negotiators sat down to find a way to end decades of war in Afghanistan.
The Taliban did not say anything about a possible cease-fire at the ceremony.
Achieving a significant reduction in violence and how to get to a permanent cease-fire would be among the first issues the sides would discuss when they meet on Sunday, the head of Afghanistan’s peace council, Abdullah Abdullah, told Reuters on Saturday.
No meeting between the two has been reported by either side in Doha on Sunday, but Qatar’s state news agency reported teams led by Taliban’s political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Abdullah had met the Qatari Emir.
Aman said that, on Friday, the eve of the inauguration of the talks, the Taliban had carried out 18 attacks against government forces and installations across the country, inflicting heavy casualties.
“We don’t have exact information about Taliban attacks on Saturday, but I can say the number of attacks has increased instead of decreased.”
Taliban attacks on Saturday night were confirmed by officials in the provinces of Kapsia and Kunduz.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that the insurgent group attacked a convoy of Afghan forces that had arrived to launch an operation along a key highway in Kunduz.
He added that security forces carried out air and artillery strikes on Saturday night in the provinces of Baghlan and Jowzjan.


Study finds AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine follows genetic instructions

Updated 22 October 2020

Study finds AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine follows genetic instructions

  • Bristol University virology expert David Matthews: The vaccine is doing everything we expected and that is only good news in our fight against the illness
  • AstraZeneca, which is developing the vaccine with Oxford University researchers, is seen as a frontrunner in the race to produce a vaccine to protect against COVID-19

LONDON: AstraZeneca’s Oxford COVID-19 vaccine accurately follows the genetic instructions programmed into it by its developers to successfully provoke a strong immune response, according to a detailed analysis carried out by independent UK scientists.
“The vaccine is doing everything we expected and that is only good news in our fight against the illness,” said David Matthews, an expert in virology from Bristol University, who led the research.
AstraZeneca, which is developing the vaccine with Oxford University researchers, is seen as a frontrunner in the race to produce a vaccine to protect against COVID-19.
The first data from late-stage large-scale clinical trials being conducted in several countries around the world, including Brazil, the United States and Britain, are expected to be released before the end of the year.
The vaccine — known either as ChAdOx1 or AZD1222 — is made by taking a common cold virus called an adenovirus from chimpanzees and deleting about 20% of the virus’s instructions. This means it is impossible for the vaccine to replicate or cause disease in humans.
The Bristol researchers’ focus was to assess how often and how accurately the vaccine is copying and using the genetic instructions programmed into it by its designers. These instructions detail how to make the spike protein from the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19.
Once the spike protein is made, the immune system reacts to it, training the immune system to identify a real COVID-19 infection.
“This is an important study as we are able to confirm that the genetic instructions underpinning this vaccine ... are correctly followed when they get into a human cell,” Matthews said in a statement about the work.
His team’s research was not peer reviewed by other scientists, but was published as a preprint before review.