Taliban seize four more districts as fighting intensifies in Afghanistan

Afghan Taliban fighters have captured four more districts from government forces in the past 24 hours amid an escalation in fighting. (AFP/File Photo)
Afghan Taliban fighters have captured four more districts from government forces in the past 24 hours amid an escalation in fighting. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 05 June 2021

Taliban seize four more districts as fighting intensifies in Afghanistan

Afghan Taliban fighters have captured four more districts from government forces in the past 24 hours amid an escalation in fighting. (AFP/File Photo)
  • More than 100 civilians dead across key provinces in war-torn country

KABUL: Afghan Taliban fighters have captured four more districts from government forces in the past 24 hours amid an escalation in fighting across the country.

It comes after the US began withdrawing its remaining troops from the war-torn state more than a month ago, officials said on Saturday.

The Do Aab district in eastern Nuristan, one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, was seized by the Taliban overnight, while Shinkai in southern Zabul, Deh Yak in adjacent Ghazni and Gizab in neighboring Daikundi province were overtaken on Friday.

“The security forces were under Taliban siege for a month in Do Aab. There were more than 300 of them who handed over their weapons to the Taliban and withdrew from their areas as part of a deal,” Ismail Aikan, a lawmaker from Nuristan province, told Arab News.

He added that the Taliban were “now advancing” toward the Noragam region and Do Aab, a strategic district linking Nuristan with the Panjshir province — long seen as an invincible and rugged region that troops belonging to the former Soviet Union and Taliban previously failed to capture.

A lawmaker from Zabul province in southern Afghanistan lamented the loss of the area to the Taliban, who “captured it without any resistance” after overrunning a key army base in Shahjoy, another district of Zabul.

“The troops abandoned their region. The Taliban have stepped up pressure on the government,” Hamidullah Tokhi told Arab News.

“There have been complaints about shortage of troops, lack of equipment and frustration among forces who are forced to leave the areas and just rescue their lives,” he added.

However, the government said that forces had “made a tactical retreat from Do Aab district.”

Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian also confirmed the “evacuation of troops from Deh Yak” district in Ghazni province, but refused to share details about Shinkai and other districts.

The Taliban have carried out a string of attacks near vulnerable provincial capitals across Afghanistan since May 1, when the withdrawal process for the nearly 3,000 US-led foreign troops began.

It has resulted in an uptick in violence, which analysts say is a sign that the group is assessing the government’s capacity to safeguard the country once the withdrawal process is completed on Sept. 11.

Shafiq Haqpal, a Kabul-based analyst, listed the “halt of air support of foreign forces to the Afghan government, since the drawdown of US forces, lack of coordination among government leaders and weakness in delivering equipment to battle zones on time” as key reasons behind the Taliban’s advances.

“At the same time, the government says it has pulled up troops from some populated areas to avoid civilian casualties,” he told Arab News, adding the Taliban wanted to “show their might and seek concessions on the negotiations” when the stalled intra-Afghan peace talks resume in Doha, Qatar.

Since last month, at least four other districts have also fallen to the Taliban, two of them close to the capital city, Kabul, in the Maidan Wardak province.

Earlier, the Taliban claimed that “hundreds of government soldiers have defected to the group,” in the captured districts in one month alone.

The Taliban were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Saturday.

The seizure of the districts follows media reports of hundreds of civilians, government forces and Taliban being killed in recent days, while “thousands of non-combatants have been forced to leave their homes.”

On Friday night, government forces were accused of “mistakenly” killing a local commander and 12 of his men in an air raid in the Kohistan district, according to Abdul Wali Niazi, a lawmaker from Badakhshan.

“The government, instead of targeting the enemies, mistakenly killed the commander and his men. Eight others were badly wounded in the incident,” Niazi told Arab News.

Media reports said the attack was carried out by the defense ministry, which refused to comment on the matter when contacted by Arab News on Saturday.

Friday’s airstrike comes a day after a group of civilians lost their lives in a separate attack by the army in the southern Helmand province after they reportedly “looted” an army base seized by the Taliban on Wednesday.

Mirwasi Khadem, a lawmaker from Helmand, told Arab News that “based on local sources, almost 100 civilians were killed and wounded” in the air raid in the Yakh Chal area of Helmand’s Nahre Saraj district.

The defense ministry refused to comment on the exact death toll among civilians but expressed “regret” over “a number of locals who, with the Taliban, had entered the base and looted military equipment, and were also killed and wounded in the attack.”

Civilian casualties caused by both Afghan and US-led foreign troops hunting for insurgents have been one of the main reasons for the Afghan population’s dwindling support for the government and defense forces.

Although the UN has linked several civilian casualties to militant attacks in recent years, it has also reported a spike in civilian deaths due to air raids and operations carried out by government and foreign troops.

In its annual Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict report released in February, the UN’s human rights agency and its assistance mission in the country said that there was a “disturbing spike” in civilian deaths, with 3,035 fatalities and 5,785 injuries registered in 2020.


German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose
Updated 22 September 2021

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose
  • UN credentials committee is reviewing a request from the Taliban to address the General Assembly
  • "To schedule a show at the United Nations won't serve anything," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Germany on Wednesday voiced opposition to the Taliban’s request to address the United Nations, saying the “show” by Afghanistan’s new rulers would serve no purpose.
The UN credentials committee is reviewing a request from the Taliban to address the General Assembly on behalf of Afghanistan, which is still represented at the world body by the ambassador from the government that collapsed last month.
“To schedule a show at the United Nations won’t serve anything,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
“What’s important are concrete deeds and not just words, including on human rights and in particular the rights of women and on an inclusive government and distancing from terrorist groups,” he said.
Maas said it was important to communicate with the Taliban, but said: “The UN General Assembly is not the appropriate venue for that.”
A senior US official suggested that the credentials committee, which includes the United States, would not make a decision before the General Assembly ends on Monday.
“It will take some time to deliberate,” the official said.
No nation has recognized the Taliban, whose brutal 1996-2001 regime enjoyed recognition from only three countries — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


Get a grip, PM Johnson tells France after submarine row

Get a grip, PM Johnson tells France after submarine row
Updated 22 September 2021

Get a grip, PM Johnson tells France after submarine row

Get a grip, PM Johnson tells France after submarine row
  • The new defence partnership between Britain, the US and Australia was announced last week and will give Australia access to nuclear powered submarine technology
  • France accused U.S. President Joe Biden of stabbing it in the back

LONDON, Sept 22 : British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told France on Wednesday to get a grip and give allies in the United States and Australia a break over a row about a trilateral nuclear submarine deal that tore up a separate French contract.
The new defense partnership between Britain, the United States and Australia was announced last week and will give Australia access to nuclear powered submarine technology.
France accused US President Joe Biden of stabbing it in the back and acting like his predecessor Donald Trump after Paris was pushed aside from a historic defense export contract to supply Australia with submarines.
Paris recalled ambassadors from the United States and Australia.
Speaking a day after he met Biden in Washington, Johnson told reporters: “I just think it’s time for some of our dearest friends around the world to ‘prenez un grip’ about all this, ‘donnez-moi un break’, because this is fundamentally a great step forward for global security.” He was translating the English phrases ‘get a grip’ and ‘give me a break’ literally into French.
“It is not trying to shoulder anybody out, it is not adversarial toward China, for instance, it is there to intensify links and friendship between three countries,” he said. (Reporting by William James, editing by Elizabeth Piper)


Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US
Updated 22 September 2021

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US
  • The women, whose identities were not revealed, left Afghanistan with assistance from the New York-based NGO Zaka Khan
  • Greece is currently home to 40,000 long-term Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, making it the largest migrant population in the country

ATHENS: Greece on Wednesday said it was temporarily hosting six Afghan women MPs and their families who fled Afghanistan ahead of eventual resettlement in the United States.
Greece was hosting a “symbolic” number of Afghans who are “defenders of fundamental values, freedom of expression and gender equality,” the foreign ministry said.
“Six Afghan MPs arrived in Athens via Tbilisi (Georgia) a few hours ago, accompanied by family members,” it said, revising an earlier statement referring to seven MPs.
“(They) will be hosted in Greece for a short time until resettlement procedures to the United States are completed,” it said.
The women, whose identities were not revealed, left Afghanistan with assistance from the New York-based NGO Zaka Khan, the ministry said.
Greece took part in US-led evacuation efforts in August to remove a small number of people from Afghanistan following the Taliban return to power after two decades.
A ministry source said Greece has so far taken in around 65 Afghan evacuees, and evacuated three Greek nationals.
Greece is currently home to 40,000 long-term Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, making it the largest migrant population in the country, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

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UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways
Updated 22 September 2021

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways
  • Members of campaign group Insulate Britain have shut down parts of London's M25 highway
  • “Invading a motorway is reckless and puts lives at risk,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter

LONDON: Environmental activists who have repeatedly blocked Britain’s busiest highway face possible imprisonment after a judge granted an injunction against the protesters, Britain’s transport secretary said Wednesday.
Members of campaign group Insulate Britain have shut down parts of London’s M25 highway, which circles the British capital, five times in just over a week by sitting on the ground, painting the name of their group on the road and raising placards in front of traffic. Some have also targeted other highways.
Police have arrested dozens of the protesters, who demand the government improve home insulation to reduce emissions from heating and powering homes.
“Invading a motorway is reckless and puts lives at risk,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter. “I asked National Highways to seek an injunction against M25 protesters which a judge granted last night.”
The injunction means that activists will face contempt of court with possible imprisonment if they continue blocking roads.
Insulate Britain spokeswoman Zoe Cohen said protesters “understand that the risks they are taking are because that we have tried everything else to make the government protect us from the predicted impacts of climate chaos.”
“That involves the loss of all that we cherish, our society, our way of life and law and order,” she told BBC radio.
Cohen said her group wants the government to update insulation in social housing by 2025 and all homes by 2030, “because this is the most effective way to reduce emissions and save lives from fuel poverty.”
The group said it will end its campaign as soon as it hears a “meaningful commitment” by the government to its demands.
The High Court order, which officially came into force on Wednesday, prohibits anyone from “blocking, endangering, slowing down, preventing, or obstructing the free flow of traffic onto or along or off the M25 for the purposes of protesting.”


Carlos the Jackal seeks shorter French jail term at new trial

Carlos the Jackal seeks shorter French jail term at new trial
Updated 22 September 2021

Carlos the Jackal seeks shorter French jail term at new trial

Carlos the Jackal seeks shorter French jail term at new trial
  • Carlos, who carried out several attacks in support of the Palestinian cause, was convicted of murder in 2017 and sentenced to life in prison
  • He became one of the world’s most wanted fugitives after leading a brazen attack on a meeting of the OPEC oil cartel in Vienna in 1975

PARIS: Carlos the Jackal, the Venezuelan militant who was behind some of the biggest terror attacks of the 1970s and 1980s, appeared in a Paris court Wednesday in an attempt to have one of his three life sentences reduced.

The self-styled revolutionary, whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, has been behind bars in France since 1994, when French police caught up with him in Sudan after two decades on the run.

“I’ve been on forced holiday in France for twenty-seven and a half years,” the moustachioed white-haired defendant, now 71, quipped at the start of the proceedings.

The trial is the third in four years over a grenade attack in Paris in 1974 that killed two people and injured dozens.

Carlos, who carried out several attacks in support of the Palestinian cause, was convicted of murder in 2017 and sentenced to life in prison, a verdict that was upheld on appeal.

But in 2019, France’s highest court sent the case back to court to reconsider his sentence, saying he should not have been convicted of both carrying and using a grenade because it amounted to being convicted twice of the same offense.

Three days of hearings have been scheduled.

Carlos has always denied responsibility for the attack at the Publicis Drugstore at Saint-Germain-des-Pres, in the heart of Paris’s Left Bank.

No DNA evidence or fingerprints were found after the bombing, but a former comrade-in-arms linked Carlos to the attack.

Investigators believe the assault was designed to pressure France into freeing a jailed militant from a far-left Japanese group.

Carlos is also serving life sentences over the 1975 murders of two French policemen and a police informer, as well as for a series of bombings in Paris and Marseille in 1982 and 1983 that killed a total of 11 people and left dozens injured.

Born into a wealthy family in Caracas on October 12, 1949, Carlos joined a communist group as a teenager and studied in Moscow before joining a hard-line Marxist Palestinian group.

“I am a professional revolutionary; revolution is my job,” he told a French court in 2018.

He became one of the world’s most wanted fugitives after leading a brazen attack on a meeting of the OPEC oil cartel in Vienna in 1975.

Carlos and five other gunmen took 11 energy ministers and dozens of others hostage.

Three people were killed before Austrian authorities agreed to supply Carlos with a plane to fly him and his team to Algiers with around 40 hostages.

The hostages were later released in return for a hefty ransom, and their abductors walked free.