Taliban launch assault on Afghan provincial capital as US ramps up withdrawal

Taliban launch assault on Afghan provincial capital as US ramps up withdrawal
A member of the anti-Taliban “Sangorians” militia fires a heavy machine gun during an ongoing fight with Taliban insurgents in the village of Mukhtar. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 07 July 2021

Taliban launch assault on Afghan provincial capital as US ramps up withdrawal

Taliban launch assault on Afghan provincial capital as US ramps up withdrawal
  • The onslaught came just hours after US forces had completed more than 90 percent of their withdrawal
  • Over the years, the Taliban have launched periodic assaults on provincial capitals across the country

HERAT: The Taliban launched a major assault on a provincial capital in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the first since the US military began its final drawdown of troops from the country, as insurgents press on with a blistering offensive.

Fierce fighting erupted in the western city of Qala-i-Naw, the capital of Badghis, with the militants seizing police headquarters and offices of the country’s spy agency.

Afghanistan’s Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi said government forces were in a “very sensitive military situation,” adding that “the war is raging” with the Taliban.

The onslaught came just hours after Washington announced US forces on the ground had completed more than 90 percent of their withdrawal from Afghanistan, and as the Kabul government held talks with Taliban representatives in neighboring Iran.

The militants have waged a dizzying campaign across Afghanistan since US and NATO forces announced the final withdrawal from the country in early May, seizing dozens of rural districts and stirring fears that the government is in crisis.

“The enemy has entered the city, all the districts have fallen,” Badghis governor Hessamuddin Shams told reporters in a text message.

Badghis provincial council chief Abdul Aziz Bek confirmed the assault, saying some security officials had surrendered to the Taliban.

“The provincial council officials have fled to an army camp in the city. Fighting continues in the city,” added Badghis provincial council member Zia Gul Habibi.

She said the Taliban had entered the city’s police headquarters and the local office of the country’s spy agency, the National Directorate of Security.

In a separate video message sent to reporters, Shams attempted to calm the residents of the city, even as he appeared armed with a rifle with gunfire rattling in the distance.

“My message is please keep your calm. I assure you that we will, all of us, together defend the city,” he said.

As news of the attack spread, social media was flooded with videos of the fight for the city, with some videos showing armed Taliban fighters on motorbikes entering Qala-i-Naw as onlookers cheered.

The fight for the city coincided with a high-level summit across the border in Iran, where an Afghan delegation met with Taliban representatives in Tehran, according to the Iranian foreign ministry.

Opening the Tehran talks, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif welcomed the US departure from its eastern neighbor but warned: “Today the people and political leaders of Afghanistan must make difficult decisions for the future of their country.”

Last week, all US and NATO forces left Bagram Air Base near Kabul — the command center for anti-Taliban operations — effectively wrapping up their exit after 20 years of military involvement that began in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Vital US air support for the Afghan forces has been massively curtailed by the handover.

For months the Taliban have been effectively surrounding several provincial capitals across the country, with observers predicting that the militants were waiting for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces before ordering an onslaught on urban areas.

After they routed much of the north in recent weeks, the fall of Badghis would further tighten the Taliban’s grip on western Afghanistan. Their forces have also inched closer to the nearby city of Herat, near the border with Iran.

If the Taliban capture Qala-i-Naw it will be of “strategic value as it creates a psychological effect of Afghan forces rapidly losing territory like dominoes against an unstoppable force,” said Afghanistan expert Nishank Motwani.

Afghan defense officials have said they intend to focus on securing major cities, roads and border towns in the face of numerous Taliban offensives.

Over the years, the Taliban have launched periodic assaults on provincial capitals across the country, briefly holding urban areas before being dislodged by US airstrikes and Afghan ground forces.


Pakistan FM urges Taliban to keep its promises to international community

Pakistan FM urges Taliban to keep its promises to international community
Updated 22 September 2021

Pakistan FM urges Taliban to keep its promises to international community

Pakistan FM urges Taliban to keep its promises to international community
  • Taliban seem more ‘open-minded’ than last time they were in power, Qureshi tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • ‘Pakistan hasn’t been recognized for what we’ve done (to help the US)’

WASHINGTON: The Taliban should respect international opinion and keep their promises to have an inclusive government and not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorist groups, Pakistan’s foreign minister told reporters in New York at a briefing attended by Arab News.

“It would be a positive step for the Taliban to include ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara groups in their government,” said Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who is attending the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

The Taliban seem to be more “open-minded” than the last time they were in power in the 1990s, he added, calling for reconciliation and respect for human rights, including women’s rights.

“If the Taliban can demonstrate these objectives, it will be positive (for Afghanistan),” Qureshi said. “We believe that the reconciliation process in Afghanistan can’t be completed without the formation of a united government.”

He said the international community should allow Afghanistan to access its frozen assets abroad in order to alleviate its people’s suffering.

The international community, he added, can help stabilize Afghanistan politically and economically, and create an environment where its people do not have to flee and become refugees in neighboring countries.

Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees for decades without international assistance, Qureshi said, adding that Islamabad’s strategic interest lies in a united Afghanistan that will not allow India to use it as a base to “destabilize” his country.

He said Pakistan seeks to recalibrate its relationship with the US based on trade, economic ties and fostering political stability in the region in the aftermath of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

Bilateral ties should transcend the situation in Afghanistan, he said, adding that Pakistan helped and sided with the US in its “war on terror” after the 9/11 attacks, and facilitated American troop movements and logistics during its war in Afghanistan over the past two decades. “Pakistan hasn’t been recognized for what we’ve done (to help the US),” Qureshi said.

Related


Two Taliban among three killed in Jalalabad attack

Two Taliban among three killed in Jalalabad attack
Updated 22 September 2021

Two Taliban among three killed in Jalalabad attack

Two Taliban among three killed in Jalalabad attack
  • The attack in Jalalabad city is the latest on Taliban targets in Nangarhar province
  • Islamic State-Khorasan claimed responsibility for several weekend attacks in Jalalabad

JALALABAD: Two Taliban fighters and a civilian were killed Wednesday by gunmen who attacked a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan, security sources and witnesses said.
The attack in Jalalabad city is the latest on Taliban targets in Nangarhar province, which for years was the main operating base of the Daesh group’s Afghanistan chapter.
A security source and witnesses said unidentified gunmen in a rickshaw attacked a checkpoint in Ghawchak district of Jalalabad and killed two Taliban guards and a civilian bystander.
A Taliban official confirmed the attack, but said the dead were all civilians.
In another incident, local residents said that two Taliban fighters were injured while trying to defuse an improvised explosive device in Jalalabad.
Further details were not immediately available.
Islamic State-Khorasan, the local branch of the militant group, claimed responsibility for several weekend attacks in Jalalabad that killed at least two people.
They were the first deadly blasts since the last US forces withdrew from Afghanistan on August 30.
IS-K also claimed responsibility for a bloody attack that killed more than 100 people at Kabul airport at the end of August.
Although both Daesh and the Taliban are hard-line Sunni Islamist militant groups, they differ on the issues of religion and strategy, which has led to bloody fighting between the two.


Philippines’ Duterte vows accountability for anyone who went ‘beyond bounds’ in drug war

Philippines’ Duterte vows accountability for anyone who went ‘beyond bounds’ in drug war
Updated 22 September 2021

Philippines’ Duterte vows accountability for anyone who went ‘beyond bounds’ in drug war

Philippines’ Duterte vows accountability for anyone who went ‘beyond bounds’ in drug war
  • Human Rights Watch accuse Duterte of trying to mislead the international community into believing his government was investigating unlawful killings

UNITED NATIONS: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday that anyone found to have “acted beyond bounds” in his campaign against illegal drugs would be held accountable under national laws, while appearing to reject an International Criminal Court probe.
Duterte told the United Nations General Assembly he had instructed the justice ministry and police to review the conduct of the campaign, in which more than 6,100 suspected drug dealers have been killed since 2016. Activists say many thousands more, mostly users or small-time peddlers, were killed by mystery gunmen.
“Those found to have acted beyond bounds during operations shall be made accountable before our laws,” Duterte said in a video address to the annual gathering that drew criticism from rights groups.
Human Rights Watch accused Duterte of trying to mislead the international community into believing his government was investigating unlawful killings, noting that out of thousands of drug war killings only one case had resulted in a court conviction.
In a statement, Carlos Conde, Senior Philippines Researcher at Human Rights Watch, said what the public had got instead was “more propaganda and stonewalling by the authorities.”
Duterte made no mention of a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity, which was approved by judges from the International Criminal Court last week, although he appeared to reject outside interference in human rights issues.
“We have recently finalized with the United Nations our Joint Program on Human Rights. This is a model for constructive engagement between a sovereign Member State and the United Nations,” he said.
“Meaningful change, to be enduring, must come from within. The imposition of one’s will over another – no matter how noble the intent – has never worked in the past. And it never will in the future.”
Duterte’s government said last week it will not cooperate with the ICC or allow any investigators into the Philippines. Duterte and his police chiefs have said the killings were in self-defense and his government has insisted the ICC has no right to meddle in the country’s affairs.
Rights groups say Duterte personally incited deadly violence in the drug war and accuse police of murdering unarmed suspects on a massive scale. Rights group say the police summarily executed suspects, which the policy deny.
In February, the Philippine police said they were looking into a government review of the killings after the justice minister made an unprecedented admission to the United Nations of widespread police failures.
In his speech, Duterte also said the Philippines would welcome an unspecified number of Rohingya Muslim refugees who had fled violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
The justice ministry had been ordered to work with the UN High Commissioner on Refugees to make preparations, he said.
“The Philippines has limited resources during these extraordinary times. But what we can do for humanity and to uplift human dignity, we will,” Duterte said.


Israel opens West Bank crossing near prison break

Israel opens West Bank crossing near prison break
Updated 22 September 2021

Israel opens West Bank crossing near prison break

Israel opens West Bank crossing near prison break
  • Jalameh crossing into the northern West Bank would be open for the first time since September 6, when the prisoners escaped

TEL AVIV: Israel on Wednesday reopened a crossing with the occupied West Bank for the first time since six prisoners tunneled out of a nearby Israeli prison, a rare escape that triggered a massive search before they were all recaptured.
The Israeli military body that oversees civilian affairs in the West Bank said the Jalameh crossing into the northern West Bank would be open for the first time since Sept. 6, when the prisoners escaped.
Six prisoners — five of them accused of deadly attacks against Israelis — tunneled out of Gilboa prison in northern Israel through a shaft in the floor of their bathroom in the biggest jailbreak of its kind in decades. They later split up into groups of two, and the final pair were apprehended over the weekend in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin.
The incident marked an embarrassing security breach for Israel and sparked a massive manhunt in northern Israel and the occupied West Bank. Lawyers for two of the prisoners said they were beaten during their arrest.
Palestinians consider prisoners held by Israel to be heroes of their national cause, and many celebrated the escape on social media.


Locked-down Melbourne tightens security for COVID-19 protests

Locked-down Melbourne tightens security for COVID-19 protests
Updated 22 September 2021

Locked-down Melbourne tightens security for COVID-19 protests

Locked-down Melbourne tightens security for COVID-19 protests
  • Police made more than 60 arrests on Tuesday after more than 2,000 protesters
  • Protesters again gathered in groups roaming across city streets on Wednesday

SYDNEY: Police fanned out across the center of Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne on Wednesday in a bid to keep a lid on a third day of protests over COVID-19 lockdown curbs, as the state of Victoria recorded another rise in infections.
Police made more than 60 arrests on Tuesday after more than 2,000 protesters damaged property, blocked a busy freeway and injured three police after authorities shut construction sites for two weeks to limit the spread of the disease.
Protesters again gathered in groups roaming across city streets on Wednesday despite pleas for them to remain home, but largely avoided clashes with busloads of police, while state police chief Shane Patton vowed to prevent more violence.
“I’m not going to talk about the tactics we’ll deploy today,” Patton told media in Melbourne. “I want them to be completely unaware of what we’re going to do and what capacity they may face.”
By early afternoon, television footage showed several hundred protesters had gathered at the Shrine of Remembrance, a memorial near the city center honoring service in war, under the watch of police.
“There has been a couple of arrests,” Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent told radio station 3AW.
The protests followed a decision by authorities to make vaccines mandatory for construction workers and to enforce the closure of building sites from Tuesday, citing non-compliance with health rules.
Authorities and union officials have said extremist and far-right groups had joined the protest.
“There were some people there who you would say were from the building industry. There were others who were not ... they are not there to protest, they are there for a fight, pretend to be protesting,” said the state’s premier, Daniel Andrews.
Protesters have refused to speak to reporters on the scene, chanting “fake news” when approached, media said.
Australia’s largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne, as well as its capital, Canberra, have been in lockdown for weeks to contain a Delta outbreak.
It is the sixth lockdown for Melbourne, the most of any Australian city since the pandemic began.
Authorities aim to resume daily activities in Sydney and Melbourne in a staggered fashion, easing some curbs when the share of fully vaccinated adults in the population reaches 70 percent, which is expected next month.
Further relaxations will follow when the figure hits 80 percent.
Some 54 percent of people aged 16 and above are fully vaccinated in the most populous state of New South Wales and 45 percent in Victoria.
Despite the easing talk, Sydney canceled plans for a traditional 9 p.m. New Year’s Eve fireworks display for a second year in a row, but will probably stick with plans for a separate midnight display.
A city spokesperson said authorities aimed to limit the “mixing of crowds” between the two.
Victoria recorded 628 new infections on Wednesday, the year’s biggest one-day rise, exceeding the previous high of 603 a day before. New South Wales, whose capital is Sydney, had a total of 1,035 new infections, up from 1,022 on Tuesday.
Australia’s tally of infections stands at about 90,300, including 1,186 deaths, with eight new deaths reported.