Pentagon chief: al-Qaeda may seek comeback in Afghanistan

Pentagon chief: al-Qaeda may seek comeback in Afghanistan
Taliban soldiers stand guard in Panjshir province northeastern of Afghanistan, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 09 September 2021

Pentagon chief: al-Qaeda may seek comeback in Afghanistan

Pentagon chief: al-Qaeda may seek comeback in Afghanistan
  • The Taliban had provided al-Qaeda with sanctuary while it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001

KUWAIT CITY: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday the al-Qaeda extremist group that used Afghanistan as a staging base to attack United States 20 years ago may attempt to regenerate there following an American withdrawal that has left the Taliban in power.
Austin spoke to a small group of reporters in Kuwait City at the conclusion of a four-day tour of Persian Gulf states. He said the United States is prepared to prevent an al-Qaida comeback in Afghanistan that would threaten the United States.
“The whole community is kind of watching to see what happens and whether or not al-Qaida has the ability to regenerate in Afghanistan,” he said. “The nature of al-Qaeda and (Daesh) is they will always attempt to find space to grow and regenerate, whether it’s there, whether it’s in Somalia, or whether it’s in any other ungoverned space. I think that’s the nature of the organization.”
The Taliban had provided al-Qaeda with sanctuary while it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The US invaded and overthrew the Taliban after it refused to turn over al-Qaeda leaders following the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the United States. During the course of the 20-year US war, al-Qaeda was vastly diminished, but questions have arisen about its future prospects with the Taliban back in Kabul.
“We put the Taliban on notice that we expect them to not allow that to happen," Austin said, referring to the possibility of al-Qaeda using Afghanistan as a staging base in the future.
In a February 2020 agreement with the Trump administration, Taliban leaders pledged not to support al-Qaeda or other extremist groups that would threaten the United States. But US officials believe the Taliban maintain ties to al-Qaeda, and many nations, including Gulf Arab states, are concerned that the Taliban's return to power could open the door to a resurgence of al-Qaeda influence.
Austin has asserted that the US military is capable of containing al-Qaeda or any other extremist threat to the United States emanating from Afghanistan by using surveillance and strike aircraft based elsewhere, including in the Persian Gulf. He also has acknowledged that it will be more difficult without US troops and intelligence teams based in Afghanistan.
Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared together in Qatar on Tuesday in a show of US gratitude for that Gulf state's help with the transit of tens of thousands of Afghans and others evacuated from Kabul. Blinken also visited an evacuee transit site in Germany, and Austin visited Bahrain and Kuwait.
Together, the Austin and Blinken trips were meant to reassure Gulf allies that President Joe Biden’s decision to end the US war in Afghanistan in order to focus more on other security challenges like China and Russia does not foretell an abandonment of US partners in the Middle East. The US military has had a presence in the Gulf for decades, including the Navy’s 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain. Biden has not suggested ending that presence, but he — like the Trump administration before him — has called China the No. 1 security priority, along with strategic challenges from Russia.
Austin, a retired Army general, has a deep network of contacts in the Gulf region based in part on his years commanding US and coalition troops in Iraq and later as head of US Central Command, which oversees US military operations in the Middle East. This week's trip, however, was his first to the Gulf since taking office in January.
Austin had been scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia on Thursday as the final stop on his Gulf tour. But on Wednesday evening his spokesman, John Kirby, announced that the visit had been dropped due to “scheduling issues.” Kirby offered no further explanation but said Austin looked forward to rescheduling.
Austin indicated that his visit was postponed at the Saudis' request. “The Saudis have some scheduling issues; I can't speak to exactly what they were,” he said.
 


Husband of detained Iranian-British woman on hunger strike

Husband of detained Iranian-British woman on hunger strike
Updated 24 October 2021

Husband of detained Iranian-British woman on hunger strike

Husband of detained Iranian-British woman on hunger strike
  • Richard Ratcliffe started his fast on Sunday outside the British government’s Foreign Office in central London
  • He plans to maintain a “constant vigil” by sleeping in a tent outside the building’s main entrance

LONDON: The husband of UK charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been detained more than five years in Iran, has gone on a hunger strike again after a court decided she has to spend another year in prison.
Richard Ratcliffe started his fast on Sunday outside the British government’s Foreign Office in central London.
He plans to maintain a “constant vigil” by sleeping in a tent outside the building’s main entrance in an effort to pressure Prime Minister Boris Johnson to secure the release of his wife and other detained dual British-Iranian nationals, Amnesty International said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe served five years in prison after being taken into custody at Tehran’s airport in April 2016 and convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny.
In May, she was sentenced to an additional year in prison on charges of spreading “propaganda against the system” for having participated in a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009 — a decision upheld this month by an appeals court. The verdict includes a one-year travel ban, meaning she wouldn’t be able to leave Iran until 2023.
Ratcliffe went on a 15-day hunger strike two years ago outside the Iranian Embassy, a move he credits with getting their 7-year-old daughter Gabriella released.
“We are now giving the UK government the same treatment. In truth, I never expected to have to do a hunger strike twice. It is not a normal act,” Ratcliffe said on his change.org petition.
He said Iran remains the “primary abuser” in Nazanin’s case, but the “UK is also letting us down.”
“It is increasingly clear that Nazanin’s case could have been solved many months ago – but for other diplomatic agendas. The PM needs to take responsibility for that.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, and was arrested as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family. Rights groups accuse Iran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies.
Iran doesn’t recognize dual nationalities, so detainees like Zaghari-Ratcliffe can’t receive consular assistance.


Taliban kill three ‘Daesh kidnappers’ in shootout

Taliban kill three ‘Daesh kidnappers’ in shootout
Updated 24 October 2021

Taliban kill three ‘Daesh kidnappers’ in shootout

Taliban kill three ‘Daesh kidnappers’ in shootout
  • The clash erupted in Herat when the new Taliban government's fighters cornered the gang in a high-rise building
  • An interior ministry spokesman said the three Daesh-Khorasan members were involved in major kidnappings

HERAT: Taliban forces fought a three-hour gun battle with a group of alleged Daesh kidnappers on Sunday, killing three of them, officials said.
The clash erupted in the western Afghan city of Herat when the new Taliban government's fighters cornered the gang in a high-rise building, Herat Police Command said in a statement.
Local residents said they heard light and heavier weapons used in the fighting. Police said three Daesh members were killed and two Taliban were wounded in the clash.
Videos circulating on social media appeared to show that at least one suspect was shot dead after he had been detained and disarmed, during a scuffle with his captors.
The footage also showed victorious Taliban forces driving through town with three corpses exposed on the back of a pick-up truck, as cheering supporters followed on scooters.
Interior ministry spokesman Qari Sayed Khosti tweeted the three Daesh-Khorasan members were involved in major kidnappings across Herat province.
"Special forces surrounded them, and they started firing. The men were killed in a shootout with security forces."
The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in mid-August, overthrowing the previous US-backed government, and have vowed to restore stability after a 20-year war.
But their efforts have been undermined by a series of attacks claimed by Daesh-K, another hardline Sunni extremist group that has a bitter rivalry with the Taliban.


Man shot dead in Kashmir as security tight for minister’s visit

Man shot dead in Kashmir as security tight for minister’s visit
Updated 24 October 2021

Man shot dead in Kashmir as security tight for minister’s visit

Man shot dead in Kashmir as security tight for minister’s visit
  • The victim, a milk seller in Kashmir, is the 12th civilian killed by militants or security forces this month
  • Amit Shah, India’s home minister, has been in Kashmir since Saturday

SRINAGAR: Indian paramilitaries shot dead a civilian in Kashmir on Sunday, residents said, as authorities tightened security across the disputed territory for a visit by a top Indian minister.
The victim, a milk seller in the southern Kashmir Valley, is the 12th civilian killed by militants or security forces this month as attacks increase in the Muslim-majority region.
New Delhi has about 500,000 troops and paramilitaries in Kashmir seeking to contain a rebel movement agitating for independence or the region’s merger with Pakistan.
Police said the man was hit in “crossfire” during “militant action” near a police paramilitary camp in the village of Zainapora and that the incident was being investigated.
Villagers told AFP the man had been fatally shot without provocation.
Amit Shah, India’s home minister and effective deputy to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been in Kashmir since Saturday, adding to security concerns.
It is Shah’s first trip to the Himalayan region — also claimed by Pakistan — since New Delhi canceled Kashmir’s semi-autonomy in August 2019 and placed it under direct rule.
His visit follows a series of targeted killings by militants, with minority Hindus and Sikhs as well as migrant workers from elsewhere in India the main targets.
Sandbag bunkers have been erected across Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar and snipers positioned on rooftops around the building where Shah is staying.
Police have in recent days impounded hundreds of motorbikes in the city and intensified checks on pedestrians including women and children. Motorbikes have been used for drive-by killings.
India’s chief of defense staff General Bipin Rawat said security monitoring was being intensified to thwart attacks by rebels.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947.
Rebels launched an insurgency in 1989 and the fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mainly civilians.


Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’
Updated 24 October 2021

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’
  • The seventh aerial bombardment in the war-hit region this last week

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s military launched an air strike on a rebel-held facility in Tigray’s west on Sunday, a government official said, the seventh aerial bombardment in the war-hit region in a week.

“Today the western front of (Mai Tsebri) which was serving as a training and military command post for the terrorist group TPLF has been the target of an air strike,” government spokeswoman Selamawit Kassa said, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been locked in a war against the TPLF since last November, though Tigray itself had seen little combat since late June, when the rebels seized control of much of Ethiopia’s northernmost region and the military largely withdrew.

But on Monday Ethiopia’s air force launched two strikes on Tigray’s capital Mekele that the UN said killed three children and wounded several other people.

Since then there have been three more strikes on Mekele and another targeting what the government described as a weapons cache in the town of Agbe, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the west.

The strikes coincide with ramped-up fighting in Amhara region, south of Tigray.

They have drawn rebukes from Western powers, with the US last week condemning “the continuing escalation of violence, putting civilians in harm’s way.”

A strike Friday on Mekele forced a UN flight carrying 11 humanitarian personnel to turn back to Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, and the UN subsequently announced it was suspending its twice-weekly flights to the region.

The conflict has spurred fears of widespread starvation, as the UN estimates it has pushed 400,000 people in Tigray into famine-like conditions.


Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government
Updated 24 October 2021

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government
  • Pakistan government had agreed to drop pending charges against the party's leader
  • The head of the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labiak party was arrested last year amid demonstrations against France over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad

LAHORE: A radical Islamist party agreed Sunday to suspend for three days its march of thousands toward the capital Islamabad after Pakistan agreed to drop pending charges against the party's leader.
Party supporters Saturday departed the eastern city of Lahore, clashing for a second straight day with police who lobbed tear gas into the crowd. The group began its journey a day earlier with the goal of reaching Islamabad to pressure the government to release Saad Rizvi, head of the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party. Rizvi was arrested last year amid demonstrations against France over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.
Raja Basharat, provincial law minister, told The Associated Press that under the agreement Punjab will withdraw charges against Rizvi and release all those detained during the protest march by Tuesday.
Rizvi had been detained pre-emptively on a charge of inciting people to assemble unlawfully. It was unclear when he would be released.
Basharat also said the agreement stipulates that the federal government will honor a previous agreement with the TLP to address diplomatic ties with France over the publication of the caricatures.
Sajid Saifi, spokesman for Rizvi’s party, confirmed the minister’s account and said thousands of party supporters will stay in the town of Mureedke waiting for the release of party leaders and members who have been detained.
Pakistan Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters that the TLP's demand that the French ambassador to Pakistan be expelled over the caricatures would be taken to a parliamentary committee in the coming days.
Basharat, Ahmed and Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri took part in the talks with the TLP executive council.
Violent clashes erupted between security forces and the Islamists in Lahore killing at least two police and injuring about a dozen, police said. Saifi claimed four party supporters were killed by police fire and “many” others were injured. Police said the demonstrators torched several police vehicles there.
Ahmed said the government was unaware of any deaths of TLP supporters.
Rizvi’s party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 elections, campaigning on the single issue of defending the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. It has a history of staging violent protests to pressure the government to accept its demands.