Afghan government airstrikes kill 24 civilians – witnesses

Above, an A-29 Super Tucano aircraft during handover ceremony of planes from US to the Afghan forces in Kabul on Sept. 17, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 September 2020

Afghan government airstrikes kill 24 civilians – witnesses

  • Sayed Ramazan in northern Kunduz province is Taliban controlled
  • Villagers say initial airstrike targeted a house belonging to a Taliban fighter

KABUL: Government airstrikes in the north of Afghanistan killed 24 civilians, including children, and wounded six others, witnesses told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The two witnesses contacted by the AP said that most of those killed in Saturday’s airstrikes, which struck the village of Sayed Ramazan in northern Kunduz province, were civilians. The Khanabad district in the province where the village is located is Taliban controlled.
The Afghan Defense Ministry, however, said the airstrikes killed 30 Taliban fighters, but added an investigation was being held into claims that civilians were among those killed.
The airstrikes come as Taliban and government-appointed negotiators are meeting for the first time in Qatar to discuss the future of Afghanistan and an end to decades of war and conflict.
Villagers said an initial airstrike targeted a house belonging to a Taliban fighter, whose home doubled as a check post that stops and frisks people to ensure they are not connected to the government. The explosion set fire to a nearby home, trapping a family inside, said Latif Rahmani who witnessed the airstrikes.
Speaking to the AP by phone, Rahmani said farmers and villagers ran to douse the fire and rescue trapped family members inside when a second airstrike hit, killing many of them.
Rahmani, who said he was working on his house at the time of the airstrike, warned his neighbors against running toward the burning buildings for fear of a second airstrike.
“I yelled at people and told them not to go because maybe there would be another bombing, but they ran to help and to put out the fire,” Rahmani said.
A second witness in the area, Kalamuddin, who like many Afghans uses just one name, said the lone Taliban fighter living in the house that was initially hit had been killed. He said five children were among the 24 civilians that had been killed.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the airstrikes and said the Taliban had no military operations in the area at the time of the airstrike.
The United Nations has harshly criticized both sides in the conflict for the relentless killing of civilians in Afghanistan’s protracted war.
The peace talks in Qatar are part of a US brokered deal with the Taliban that will eventually lead to US withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
In early July, Afghan national army personnel fired mortars into a busy market in southern Helmand, killing 23 people. The Defense Ministry is still investigating the incident.
Also Saturday, at least six rockets were fired at NATO’s Resolute Support base in southern Kandahar. No casualties were reported and no one claimed responsibility. NATO said in a statement that if the Taliban were behind the rocket fire, it could jeopardize the US peace deal in which the Taliban have promised not to attack US and NATO forces.


US official warns Taliban attacks could derail Afghan peace

Updated 20 October 2020

US official warns Taliban attacks could derail Afghan peace

  • Khalilzad urges militant group to honor ‘historic opportunity’ and end decades of war

KABUL: The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation warned on Monday that increasing attacks by the Taliban could undermine the historic peace deal signed between Washington and the militant group in February.

Zalmay Khalilzad also said the strikes could derail the ongoing intra-Afghan talks in Doha, Qatar, that look to end the protracted conflict in the country.

“Continued high levels of violence can threaten the peace process and the agreement, and the core understanding that there is no military solution. Violence today remains distressingly high in spite of the recent reaffirmation of the need for a substantial reduction,” he said in tweets on Monday.

Since last week, the Taliban have unleashed a series of attacks in parts of Afghanistan, particularly in the southern Helmand province, where more than 35,000 people have been displaced over recent days, Afghan officials told Arab News.

In response, US forces in the country launched several airstrikes on Taliban positions, which the insurgent group described as a breach of the February accord on Sunday.

Responding to the Taliban’s accusations, Khalilzad said they were “unfounded charges of violations and inflammatory rhetoric,” and “do not advance peace.”

Washington also accused the Taliban of breaking the historic agreement, which, among other things, looks to finalize a complete withdrawal of US-led troops from the country.

Khalilzad said the airstrikes were conducted to support Afghan troops as part of Washington’s commitment to defend them, if necessary.

He added that the Taliban attacks in Helmand, including some in the provincial capital that targeted Afghan security forces, led to a recent meeting in Doha where both sides agreed to “decrease attacks and strikes.” And while levels of violence in Helmand have fallen, it “remains high” across the country, the Afghan-born diplomat added.

Some Afghan observers said the motive behind Taliban attacks was to gain an “upper hand” in negotiations.

However, Khalilzad warned of the risks involved in using this strategy.

“The belief that says violence must escalate to win concessions at the negotiations table is risky. Such an approach can undermine the peace process and repeats past miscalculation by Afghan leaders,” he said, urging all sides to honor the “historic opportunity for peace, which must not be missed.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Monday that the group had “no comment” on Khalilzad’s statements and that US forces had “violated the Doha agreement in various forms by carrying out excessive airstrikes.”

Mujahid added that he had “no information” on the state of attacks in Helmand province.

However, Omar Zwak, a spokesman for Helmand’s governor, told Arab News that “fighting subsided in various parts of Helmand” over the past two days.

Meanwhile, an anonymous senior official in President Ashraf Ghani’s government praised Khalilzad for “beginning to get realistic” and “breaking silence over repeated Taliban attacks.”

Another figure, Kabul-based lawmaker Fawzia Zaki, said: “The government and Afghan people, in general, insisted on enforcement of a cease-fire or a drastic reduction of violence before the beginning of the intra-Afghan dialogue.”

For it to be effective, Khalilzad and Washington “need to exert growing pressure to make them listen to the righteous demands of ours,” Zaki added.

However, experts have warned of the “growing impatience” of both sides.

Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst, told Arab News: “Khalilzad’s comments clearly show that Washington is becoming impatient with Taliban attacks and the lack of progress in the talks.”

He said that US President Donald Trump is “hoping to see a breakthrough soon,” so that he can “portray it as a success of his administration for his re-election campaign.

“But that is not happening. Maybe Washington has realized that won’t happen, so they are beginning to come out and warn the Taliban against the consequences of their attacks,” Haqpal added.