Afghan Taliban driven out of Helmand capital, governor says

Afghan families leave their houses after fighting between the Afghan military and Taliban insurgents in Helmand province on Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Abdul Khaliq)
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Updated 17 October 2020

Afghan Taliban driven out of Helmand capital, governor says

  • Insurgent group has lost 300 members in government attacks, officials say

KABUL: Afghan troops have pushed back the Taliban from the outskirts of Helmand’s provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, in the south of the country, with the insurgent group losing 300 men in recent days, Helmand’s governor said on Saturday.

“The Taliban have been driven (out) from the limits of the city and have lost over 300 men, including their commanders and senior members, in Helmand’s fighting,” Mohammed Yasin Khan told reporters, adding that 30 defense and security forces, and seven civilians also died.

The Taliban were unavailable for comment on Saturday and have remained tight-lipped about their losses in Helmand since last week.

Strikes which were thought to be by the group prompted US troops in Afghanistan to bomb advancing Taliban members, accusing them of being “inconsistent” with a peace agreement signed in Qatar in February this year.

The Taliban’s major drive to gain a foothold in Lashkar Gah contravenes the February accord, which bars it from carrying out large-scale offensives and attacks on urban areas.

Both US and NATO have called on the Taliban to immediately halt their strikes.

It follows a surge in violence elsewhere in Afghanistan and is taking place amid the withdrawal of US troops from various parts of the country, including Helmand, which is located near the border with Pakistan and Iran.

The Taliban and Kabul have accused each other of stepping up their attacks.

Meanwhile negotiators from both sides are meeting in Doha, Qatar, for intra-Afghan talks which began on Sept.12 to find a working mechanism to end decades of conflict.

Commenting on the increase in Taliban attacks and the proposed departure of US troops from Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said on Friday that the “violence will not lead the country to peace.”

He added that the Taliban should not be under any illusion that the group can re-establish an Islamic Emirate, which was toppled during the US-led invasion in 2001.

“If they are thinking of reimposing the Taliban emirate after the withdrawal of the international forces, it will not be acceptable for the people of Afghanistan under any circumstances,” Abdullah said.

Shifting stances by US leaders on the timetable for pull-out of troops from Afghanistan has confounded many.

According to the Doha deal, all American troops were expected to leave the country by spring 2021. However, to the surprise of many Afghans and officials in Washington, US President Donald Trump tweeted on Oct. 7 that he wanted all American troops home “by Christmas”.

Adding to the diplomatic and political seesaw, Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien said on Friday that US troops in Afghanistan would be downsized to nearly 2,500 in the first two months of 2021.

In the past, Afghan officials have played down the importance of a reduction or even the departure of all foreign troops from the country, arguing that national forces could fend off the insurgents’ attacks.

However, Javid Faisal, an adviser in the office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said on Saturday that the troops’ departure must be condition-based.

“Conditions on the ground and how things evolve must define any future decision more than wishes and impetuous schedules, as none of the obligations have been met and none of the subsisting threats receded,” he said.

However, Kabul respected Washington’s decision to withdraw troops, government-appointed negotiator Nader Nadery has said in Doha.

“It is a sovereign decision by them; they are a partner with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. They make a decision based on their own policy. Whatever decision they make it is entirely up to them,” Nadery said.

“What is relevant to us is a commitment to a peaceful settlement, and that is what we are engaged to (achieve) in Qatar,” he added.

Experts, however, blamed the “foundation” of the deal for the current impasse in talks and the turmoil in the country.

“The Americans laid a wrong foundation with regards to its deal with the Taliban,” Abdul Satar Saadat, a former adviser to President Ghani, told Arab News on Saturday.

“The US should have brought the Taliban with the government on the same page and then should have signed the agreement with the Taliban and pulled its troops. Now, the Taliban feel emboldened and think can capture power because the government is weak after the pull-out of the troops.”


Outcry grows in France after police filmed beating music producer

Updated 4 min 35 sec ago

Outcry grows in France after police filmed beating music producer

  • Online news site Loopsider published security camera images showing three officers punching, kicking and using their truncheons on the producer, identified as Michel
  • The beating lasted around five minutes, during which Michel said he was repeatedly subjected to racist abuse, before he was dragged out of a building in Paris’ 17th district

PARIS: A video of police beating a black music producer in Paris triggered outrage and condemnation on Thursday, leading to the suspension of several officers and a public backlash that drew in French World Cup football stars.
The incident comes after a string of high-profile probes into police violence and as concern grows over new legislation proposed by the government that would restrict the right of citizens to film and publish images of police on duty.
Online news site Loopsider published security camera images on Thursday showing three officers punching, kicking and using their truncheons on the producer, identified as Michel, as he entered his studio in the French capital late on Saturday.
The beating lasted around five minutes, during which Michel said he was repeatedly subjected to racist abuse, before he was dragged out of the building in the northwestern 17th district of the capital.
He was initially arrested for violence and failure to obey the police. But prosecutors threw out the probe and instead opened an investigation against the police officers themselves for committing violence while in a position of authority.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told French television that the officers “had soiled the uniform of the republic” and that he would press for their dismissal.
Police sources said four officers had been suspended in total.
As the hashtag #Michel trended on French social media, politicians and footballers who played on France’s 2018 World Cup winning team denounced the latest evidence which comes amid a wider debate in France about police methods.
The death in US police custody of George Floyd in May has also reverberated in France where allegations of brutality against police officers are commonplace, particularly in poor and ethnically diverse areas in the country’s major cities.
“People who should have been protecting me attacked me. I did nothing to deserve this. I just want these three people to be punished because we have a good justice system in France,” Michel told journalists on Thursday.
“I was lucky to have videos which protect me, unlike a lot of others, otherwise I would not be here with you today,” he added.
Michel’s lawyer, Hafida El Ali, told AFP that his client had been detained for 48 hours after the beating on the basis of “lies by the police who had outrageously attacked him.”
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz told AFP that he had asked France’s National Police General Inspectorate (IGPN) to shed light on what happened “as quickly as possible.”
Loopsider, which has exposed several episodes of police violence in recent months, said that the images “had to be seen to understand the full extent of the problem.”
Michel told the site he was in the street not wearing a face mask on Saturday, but went inside his studio when police arrived.
The beating took place in the hallway of the building, with the violence captured on CCTV.
Paris’ Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo said she was “profoundly shocked” “by an intolerable act... that is exceptionally serious.”
Football stars on the 2018 squad such as Antoine Griezmann, Samuel Umtiti and Kylian Mbappe all denounced the images.
“Unbearable video, unacceptable violence,” Mbappe wrote on Twitter next to a picture of the injured producer. “Say no to racism.”
There has already been virulent criticism of the police this week after they used tear gas late Monday to remove migrants from a camp set up in central Paris.
Prosecutors have opened probes into that operation after videos showed a journalist being assaulted and an officer tripping a migrant as he runs away from the scene.
The beating of the producer has piled new pressure on Paris police chief Didier Lallement who has faced criticism over the dispersal of the migrant camp, as well as on hard-line Interior Minister Darmanin.
The outcry comes after the lower house of parliament on Tuesday evening gave initial approval to a security bill which would restrict the publication of photos or videos of police officers’ faces.
Media unions say it could give police a green light to prevent journalists from doing their work and potentially documenting abuses, as well as stopping social media users from posting incriminating footage.
A protest against the law has been called for Saturday in Paris.
In a sign that the government was possibly preparing to backtrack, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced late Thursday that he would appoint a commission to redraft Article 24 of the law that would restrict images of the police.
In a reminder of a previous police operation that caused outrage, three officers accused of severely injuring a man named Theodore Luhaka outside Paris in February 2017 are to face trial on charges of involuntary violence, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Luhaka was severely wounded in the area of his rectum by a blow from a truncheon. The judge has followed advice of prosecutors and the officers will not be tried for rape.
President Emmanuel Macron swept to power in 2017 as a centrist who rallied support from across the political spectrum. But with the new security law, critics and even some supporters accuse him of tilting to the right as he seeks re-election in 2022.