Taliban surround Afghan city as commandos launch counterattack

Taliban surround Afghan city as commandos launch counterattack
A smoke plume rises from houses amid ongoing fight between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in the western city of Qala-i- Naw, the capital of Badghis province, on July 7, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 July 2021

Taliban surround Afghan city as commandos launch counterattack

Taliban surround Afghan city as commandos launch counterattack
  • With the US troop pullout “90 percent complete,” according to the Pentagon, fears are mounting that Afghan forces will be stretched without the vital air support of the US military.

HERAT: Taliban fighters on motorbikes roamed a provincial Afghan capital Thursday after a day of heavy fighting that saw them storm the city in their most brazen assault since the United States stepped up its troop withdrawal.
The government flew in hundreds of commandos to Qala-i-Naw in Badghis, the first provincial capital to face an all-out assault by the Taliban since May 1 when the insurgents launched a blistering campaign to capture new territory.
With the US troop pullout “90 percent complete,” according to the Pentagon, fears are mounting that Afghan forces will be stretched without the vital air support of the US military.
Residents in Qala-i-Naw had either fled the city or stayed indoors Thursday after more than 24 hours of intense fighting that saw the Afghan air force launch strikes on Taliban positions.
“The Taliban are still in the city,” resident Aziz Tawakoli told AFP.
“You can see them going up and down the streets on their motorcycles.”
He said many of the city’s 75,000 people had fled their homes — either to neighboring districts or to Herat.
“The shops are closed and there is hardly anyone on the streets,” Tawakoli said, adding that helicopters and planes had bombed Taliban targets through the night.
Badghis provincial council member Zia Gul Habibi said the Taliban suffered casualties, but also surrounded the city.
“All districts are under their control... People are really in fear,” she said.
“All shops and government institutions are closed. There are still reports of sporadic fighting.”

Parisila Herawai, a rights activist in the city, expressed concern for the safety of women in particular.
“It is an emergency situation for all women, especially activists,” she told AFP.
“If the Taliban plan to remain in the city, we will not be able to work.”
On Wednesday, the Taliban briefly seized the police headquarters and the local office of the country’s spy agency but were later pushed back.
As news of the assault spread, social media was flooded with videos of clashes — with some showing armed Taliban fighters on motorbikes entering the city, as onlookers cheered.
Local officials said some security officers had surrendered to the Taliban, and the insurgents opened the gates of the city jail, freeing hundreds of prisoners.
Most had since been recaptured, officials said.
Overnight, the defense ministry said it rushed hundreds of commandos to the city to launch a “large scale operation,” spokesman Fawad Aman said on Twitter.
The attack on Qala-i-Naw comes as the Taliban carry out a blistering campaign across the country but mostly in the north, capturing dozens of districts since early May.
The fighting appeared to be spreading in neighboring Herat province where officials acknowledged losing two districts to the insurgents.
Rights group Human Rights Watch said the insurgents were forcing people from their houses in northern areas that they have captured.
“The Taliban’s retaliatory attacks against civilians deemed to have supported the government are an ominous warning about the risk of future atrocities,” said HRW associate director Patricia Gossman.
“The Taliban leadership has the power to stop these abuses by their forces but haven’t shown that they are willing to do so,” she said.


MP’s killer targeted two other politicians before murdering Sir David Amess

MP’s killer targeted two other politicians before murdering Sir David Amess
Updated 19 sec ago

MP’s killer targeted two other politicians before murdering Sir David Amess

MP’s killer targeted two other politicians before murdering Sir David Amess
  • Ali Harbi Ali, 25, is accused of murder and preparing acts of terrorism in a Daesh-inspired attack
  • The attack has prompted a re-think of security for British parliamentarians

LONDON: The man accused of murdering British parliamentarian Sir David Amess had also planned attacks on two other politicians, a court heard on Wednesday.

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, is alleged to have spent two years plotting an act of terrorism before he finally killed Sir David last Friday, in what prosecutors will argue was a Daesh-inspired attack.

He is said to have spied on two other members of parliament this year, scoping out their homes, constituency meetings and their movements at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

Ali was charged with murder on Wednesday over the fatal stabbing of Sir David, as well as preparing acts of terrorism between May 2019 and September this year.

It is understood that prosecutors will allege that Ali, a British man of Somali descent, may have targeted his victim because of his record of voting on Syrian airstrikes, the Times reported.

Ali allegedly contacted Sir David asking for an appointment at in his constituency surgery, claiming he was moving to the area and needed advice. James Cable, for the prosecution, said Ali traveled by train from his home in London to Southend, where Sir David was the local MP.

British MPs run regular open, accessible meetings with members of the public called surgeries. The government has said it will now offer to provide security at those surgeries in future.

Nick Price, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “We will submit to the court that this murder has a terrorist connection, namely that it had both religious and ideological motivations.”

Police have said the investigation into the killing continues and have called on the public to come forward if they have relevant information.

Matt Jukes, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner, said: “A large team of detectives have been working around the clock to find out as much as we can about what happened and why. If there are members of the public who have further information that might help the investigation, I urge them to come forward.”


Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit

Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit
Updated 37 min 2 sec ago

Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit

Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit
  • The queen underwent the tests after she canceled a scheduled trip to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland
  • She is due to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — next year

LONDON: Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II was back at Windsor Castle on Friday and in good spirits after revelations that she spent the night in a London hospital earlier this week.
Buckingham Palace said the 95-year-old British monarch went to the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in London on Wednesday for “preliminary investigations.” She returned to her Windsor Castle home at lunchtime on Thursday and was understood to be back at her desk by afternoon, undertaking light duties.
The queen underwent the tests after she canceled a scheduled trip to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland, and the palace said she had “reluctantly” accepted medical advice to rest for a few days. The matter was not related to COVID-19.
The palace does not normally offer a running account of the monarch’s health, citing her privacy. However, in this case it confirmed the queen’s hospital stay after The Sun newspaper reported the news.
On the whole, there is a rule of thumb is that if a senior member of the royal family undergoes a procedure or an operation, there is a medical bulletin, royal expert Robert Hardman told the BBC. But that doesn’t apply to tests.
The attention paid to the development merely reflects the great affection the global community has for the monarch, said Hardman, author of “Queen of the World,” which chronicles the monarch’s influence and stature around the globe.
“She hates people making a fuss of her in general but particularly to do with health,” he told the BBC. “And I think there’s a concern to sort of maintain the dignity of the office, and I know that one reason why nothing was said about yesterday’s trip to hospital was that they sort of didn’t suddenly want sort of huge banks of cameras and 24-hour news setting up outside the hospital.”
There has been some disquiet this week about Elizabeth’s health. Only days ago, she was seen using a walking stick at a Westminster Abbey service marking the centenary of the Royal British Legion, an armed forces charity. Though she had used a cane in 2003, it was after she underwent knee surgery.
Focus then turned to her hectic schedule, which has in recent days included audiences with diplomats, a reception at Windsor Castle for global business leaders, and attending the horse race at Ascot Racecourse.
In less than two weeks she is due to host world leaders at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland — a big engagement cited as one reason why she might want to rest up in advance.
Though Elizabeth has enjoyed robust health throughout her life, she is Britain’s longest-lived and longest-reigning monarch. She is due to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — next year.
Elizabeth has ruled since 1952 and was widowed this year when Prince Philip died at age 99 in April. She has cut back on her workload in recent years but still keeps a busy schedule of royal duties.
She recently declined the honor of being named “Oldie of the Year” by The Oldie magazine. Her office said that “Her Majesty believes you are as old as you feel, as such The Queen does not believe she meets the relevant criteria to be able to accept.”


New airstrikes hit capital of Ethiopia's Tigray region

New airstrikes hit capital of Ethiopia's Tigray region
Updated 22 October 2021

New airstrikes hit capital of Ethiopia's Tigray region

New airstrikes hit capital of Ethiopia's Tigray region
NAIROBI: Ethiopia's government says it has again carried out airstrikes in the capital of the country's Tigray region. It's the fourth time this week as a nearly year-long war intensifies.
Government spokesman Legesse Tulu tells The Associated Press that Friday's strikes targeted a former military training center near Mekele that's now serving as a “battle network hub” for the rival Tigray forces.
Residents in Mekele confirmed the strikes. One said they occurred near Mekele University. There was no immediate information on any casualties.
Spokesmen for the Tigray forces have denied that sites targeted earlier this week were used in relation to the fighting. Health workers and other residents have said at least three children have been killed and more than a dozen people injured.
Thousands of people have been killed since November, when a political falling-out between the Tigray forces who long dominated the national government and the current administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed erupted in fighting.
Tigray's 6 million people are now under a government blockade, while Tigray forces in recent months have taken the fighting into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions. The United Nations says more than 2 million people are now displaced.
On Thursday, Ethiopia's government claimed to a successful strike against another military base used by the Tigray forces near Mekele, but Tigray forces spokesman Getachew Reda asserted that air defenses prevented the plane from hitting targets in the city.
An airstrike on Wednesday hit an industrial compound the government said was used by the Tigray forces to repair weapons. A Tigray spokesman denied the site had military significance and said it was used to produce cars and tractors.
Two other airstrikes hit the city on Monday.
Tigray remains under a communications blackout, making it difficult to verify claims.
The strikes came amid reports of renewed heavy fighting in Amhara, despite repeated international calls for a cease-fire in the war. On Wednesday, spokesman Getachew claimed advances had put the government-held towns of Dessie and Kombolcha “within artillery range,” prompting alarm.
Dessie hosts a large number of displaced people who have fled fighting further north.

Somalia’s president, prime minister agree to speed up election

Somalia’s president, prime minister agree to speed up election
Updated 22 October 2021

Somalia’s president, prime minister agree to speed up election

Somalia’s president, prime minister agree to speed up election
  • Somalia was meant to choose a new president this month
  • Somalia has had only limited central rule since a dictator was toppled 30 years ago

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s president and prime minister resolved a dispute over appointments to security bodies, allowing a stalled process to elect a new parliament and president to go ahead, the government spokesman said late on Thursday.
Somalia was meant to choose a new president this month, culminating a complicated indirect election process that would also select a parliament.
But that was halted during a dispute between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble over who would head the National Intelligence Service Agency.
The president and the prime minister had each appointed a different candidate to replace the head of the agency, who was suspended last month after an agent went missing.
Under the agreement, the president’s appointee will now take up the post in an acting capacity, while the man chosen by the prime minister will be given a different role as a state minister. A separate disagreement over who would head the internal security ministry was also resolved, the spokesman said.
Somalia has had only limited central rule since a dictator was toppled 30 years ago, and has never conducted a free election.
Under the indirect electoral process, regional councils are meant to choose a senate, which could be completed this week. Clan elders will then pick members of a lower house of parliament, now set to take place next month. The parliament will pick a new president at a date that has not yet been set.
Roble and Mohamed clashed in April when the president unilaterally extended his four-year term by two years, prompting army factions loyal to each man to seize rival positions in the capital, Mogadishu.
The confrontation was resolved when the president put Roble in charge of security and organizing the delayed elections. 


Mumbai cinemas reopen after 18 months as life swings back

Mumbai cinemas reopen after 18 months as life swings back
Updated 22 October 2021

Mumbai cinemas reopen after 18 months as life swings back

Mumbai cinemas reopen after 18 months as life swings back
  • Theaters opened to half capacity, following the guidelines released last month
  • Mumbai city has been one of the country’s worst-affected by the pandemic

MUMBAI, India: Movie theaters in India’s entertainment capital Mumbai reopened on Friday after more than 18 months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, the last of the many virus restrictions to go amid a decline in infections.
Theaters opened to half capacity, following the guidelines released last month, but struggled to lure the public back and mostly re-released earlier hits. Many shows were running with fewer audiences, movie ticketing portal BookMyShow showed.
To minimize the danger of the virus, only those with COVID-19 vaccination certificates or with a “safe status” on the state-run health app will be allowed to enter the theaters. Masks and temperature checks are mandatory and no food or beverages will be allowed inside.
Theaters elsewhere in the country are already running shows.
Mumbai city has been one of the country’s worst-affected by the pandemic but has gradually reopened following a decline in both COVID-19 cases and deaths. Cinemas there, however, are among the last public places to reopen — a hugely symbolic move in the country’s financial capital also known for its Bollywood film industry.
Every year, the $2.8 billion industry produces more than 2,000 films. Bollywood’s success over the years has embedded moviegoing into India’s contemporary culture and been a boon for the economy.
The restrictions imposed on movie theaters to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have hurt operators. But the industry is expected to rebound. Indian filmmakers have lined up major big-ticket releases ahead of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, when sales peak and audiences flock to theaters.
The return to cinemas in Mumbai comes a day after India celebrated its one billionth COVID-19 vaccine dose. About half of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people have received at least one dose while around 20 percent are fully immunized, according to Our World in Data.
India witnessed a crushing coronavirus surge earlier this year but life has swung back to normal. Markets buzz with activity, foreign tourists are allowed again and the country is gearing up to celebrate Diwali.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said India’s vaccine drive is an example of what it can achieve if the citizens and the government come together with a common goal. He said the milestone has silenced India’s critics.
“Injecting 1 billion doses is not a mere figure but a reflection of the country’s determination. India has scripted a new chapter in its history. The world will now take India more seriously after this landmark,” Modi said in a speech that was televised live across the country.
Modi also exhorted people to buy Indian-made goods to boost the economy, which is expected to gain from the festival season purchases.
“There are some among us who only trust foreign brands even for everyday necessities. The success of Made in India vaccines is a paradigm shift,” he said.