Afghan government vows to probe civilian deaths in Kunduz airstrike

Afghan security forces stand guard at an Afghan National Army (ANA) outposts in Kunduz Province. (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2020

Afghan government vows to probe civilian deaths in Kunduz airstrike

  • There have been conflicting reports from lawmakers and residents about number of fatalities
  • Taliban says none of its fighters killed in attack

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry pledged on Sunday to probe “allegations” of at least 12 civilians being killed in an airstrike targeting Taliban fighters in the northern Kunduz province a day earlier.
The pledge followed inconsistencies about the number of casualties, with the insurgent group saying that none of its men had died in the attack.
“The Taliban were the target, and 30 of them were killed. Initial reports indicate no harm was inflicted upon civilians, but we are probing reports by locals about civilian casualties. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces take allegations of civilian harm seriously, and these claims will be investigated,” Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the defense ministry in Kabul, told Arab News.
He added that the ministry would “share any details” about civilian casualties “once the probe is over.”
If confirmed, Saturday’s airstrike in the Khan Abad district, which lies nearly 350 km from Kabul and is mostly controlled by the Taliban, will be the latest in a series of air raids killing civilians in several parts of the country.
It follows a week after crucial intra-Afghan talks between the government and Taliban officials began in Doha, Qatar on Saturday, to end the protracted war and plan a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan.
There were conflicting accounts from civilians and lawmakers in the area about the incident, with two provincial council members, Ghulam Rabbani Rabbani and Sayed Yusuf, saying that at least 12 civilians had died in Saturday’s air raid.
“Since the area is under Taliban’s control, we have not been able to find out exactly how the civilians were killed,” Rabbani told Arab News.
Meanwhile, Nilofar Jalali, a legislator from Kunduz, offered another version of the attack, which she said “hit a residential area before sunrise when people were still in their bed.”
“Children and women are among the dead, and 18 civilians have also been wounded. I informed the defense minister about it; he said he will check and get back to me, but has not,” she told Arab News. However, Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied the reports in a statement on Sunday, saying that “no fighter of the group was killed,” before placing the number of civilian deaths at 23.
Kunduz and other parts of the country have witnessed an escalation in attacks by both the government and the Taliban in recent weeks, despite their negotiators participating in the Qatar talks which are part of a US-facilitated process following 19 years of conflict in the country — Washington’s longest war in history.
The Qatar discussions are based on a historic accord signed between Washington and the Taliban in February this year which, among other things, paves the way for the complete withdrawal of US-led troops from the country by next spring, in return for a pledge from the Taliban not to allow use Afghanistan to harm any country’s, including US, interests.
Kabul’s negotiators in Qatar are pushing the Taliban to declare a cease-fire, while the Taliban say it can be included in the agenda and that both sides must first ascertain “the real cause” of the war.
Some analysts believe that while delegates of the parties are struggling to agree over the mechanism and agenda of the talks in Qatar, their fighters in Afghanistan are “focusing on military tactics to capture grounds” so that they can use it as a “bargaining chip” at the negotiation table.
“Both sides think that if they have more territory then they can argue their case from a position of strength during the talks and use it as leverage,” Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst and a former university teacher, told Arab News.
“The sides have not yet agreed on the mechanism of the talks despite the Qatar talks, which began on the 12th of September. So, this is an indication that things are not going the right way politically, and both sides are trying their luck on the battlefield here.”


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.