UK hired firm to dissuade Afghan migrants before country fell to Taliban

UK hired firm to dissuade Afghan migrants before country fell to Taliban
The British government gave a firm over £700,000 ($947,200) over five years to tell Afghans not to flee the country. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 January 2022

UK hired firm to dissuade Afghan migrants before country fell to Taliban

UK hired firm to dissuade Afghan migrants before country fell to Taliban
  • Home Office paid Hong Kong-based Seefar over £700,000 to tell people not to travel to the UK

LONDON: The British government gave a Hong Kong-based firm over £700,000 ($947,200) over five years to tell Afghans not to flee the country, according to The Independent, and is set to hand it another £500,000 in the coming years.

The company, Seefar, responsible for websites such as On The Move and The Migrant Project, and which describes itself as “a recognised leader in understanding migration behaviour change” and claims to offer services including “scripting lines for politicians to deliver” was hired in 2016 by the Home Office, with even more money possibly being awarded to it by the Foreign Office in the same period.

In a press release, Seefar said it conducted a “migration communications campaign in Afghanistan” throughout 2020, which had “successfully resulted in more than half of consultees making safer and more informed migration decisions, and avoiding potentially deadly encounters on the journey to Europe.”

Posing as a neutral non-profit organization, Seefar’s On The Move website urges migrants: “Don’t risk your life and waste hard earned money trying to reach the UK.”

The Home Office also paid social media platforms Facebook and Instagram over £23,000 to promote adverts for the company’s sites, which do not list details on safe ways to claim asylum in the UK.

In August 2021, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, with thousands of people killed, tens of thousands left stranded or in hiding, and the country facing a winter of shortages.

Seefar added that it used “unbranded” methods to dissuade Afghans leaving the country, and advised European governments not to link themselves to its methods.

The success of Seefar’s campaigns is set to be rewarded with a further £500,000 for a “organised immigration crime deterrence and influencing communications strategy” which “includes proposals to deter migrants and signposting migrants to credible alternatives … through a multilingual website and telephone service.”

The same month Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, Seefar was also awarded a three-year deal to provide training for “strategic capability development programmes overseas on behalf of the Home Office” in relation to “borders, migration and asylum.”

Tim Naor Hilton, CEO of charity Refugee Action, told The Independent: “We have seen this year the tragic consequences of what happens when ministers waste money on a hostile policy of trying to keep people out, rather than keep people safe.

“The government must spend less time on these murky schemes and more on creating effective safe routes for refugees to claim asylum here.”

A Home Office spokesperson told the paper: “While lives are at risk, we make no apology for using every possible tool at our disposal to provide potentially lifesaving information to migrants.

“Highlighting the threats of these deadly journeys is vitally important in making clear that people risk their lives if they turn to people smugglers.”

Inside Afghanistan’s secret schools, where girls defy the Taliban

Inside Afghanistan’s secret schools, where girls defy the Taliban
Updated 14 sec ago

Inside Afghanistan’s secret schools, where girls defy the Taliban

Inside Afghanistan’s secret schools, where girls defy the Taliban
  • Since seizing power a year ago, the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women to comply with their austere vision of Islam
  • To circumvent the restrictions, Afghan women and girls attend secret schools that have sprung up in rooms of ordinary houses across the country

KABUL: Nafeesa has discovered a great place to hide her schoolbooks from the prying eyes of her disapproving Taliban brother — the kitchen, where Afghan men rarely venture.
Hundreds of thousands of girls and young women like Nafeesa have been deprived of the chance of education since the Taliban returned to power a year ago, but their thirst for learning has not lessened.
“Boys have nothing to do in the kitchen, so I keep my books there,” said Nafeesa, who attends a secret school in a village in rural eastern Afghanistan.
“If my brother comes to know about this, he will beat me.”
Since seizing power a year ago, the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women to comply with their austere vision of Islam — effectively squeezing them out of public life.
Women can no longer travel on long trips without a male relative to escort them.
They have also been told to cover up with the hijab or preferably with an all-encompassing burqa — although the Taliban’s stated preference is for them to only leave home if absolutely necessary.
And, in the cruellest deprivation, secondary schools for girls in many parts of Afghanistan have not been allowed to reopen.
But secret schools have sprung up in rooms of ordinary houses across the country.
A team of AFP journalists visited three of these schools, interviewing students and teachers whose real names have been withheld for their safety.
This is their story.

Decades of turmoil have played havoc with Afghanistan’s education system, so Nafeesa is still studying secondary school subjects even though she is already 20.
Only her mother and older sister know about it.
Her brother fought for years with the Taliban against the former government and US-led forces in the mountains, returning home after their victory imbued with the hard-line doctrine that says a woman’s place is the home.
He allows her to attend a madrassa to study the Qur'an in the morning, but in the afternoon she sneaks out to a clandestine classroom organized by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).
“We have accepted this risk, otherwise we will remain uneducated,” Nafeesa said.
“I want to be a doctor... We want to do something for ourselves, we want to have freedom, serve society and build our future.”

When AFP visited her school, Nafeesa and nine other girls were discussing freedom of speech with their female teacher, sitting side-by-side on a carpet and taking turns reading out loud from a textbook.
To get to class, they frequently leave home hours earlier, taking different routes to avoid being noticed in an area made up mostly of members of the Pashtun ethnic group, who form the bulk of the Taliban and are known for their conservative ways.
If a Taliban fighter asks, the girls say they are enrolled in a tailoring workshop, and hide their schoolbooks in shopping bags or under their abaya and burqa overgarments.
They not only take risks, but also make sacrifices — Nafeesa’s sister dropped out of school to limit any suspicions her brother might have.

No justification in Islam

Religious scholars say there is no justification in Islam for the ban on girls’ secondary school education and, a year since taking power, the Taliban still insist classes will be allowed to resume.
But the issue has split the movement, with several sources telling AFP a hard-line faction that advises supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada opposed any girls’ schooling — or at best, wanted it limited to religious studies and practical classes such as cooking and needlework.
The official line, however, remains that it is just a “technical issue” and classes will resume once a curriculum based on Islamic rules is defined.
Primary girls still go to school and, for now at least, young women can attend university — although lectures are segregated and some subjects cut because of a shortage of female teachers.
Without a secondary school certificate, however, teenage girls will not be able to sit university entrance exams, so this current crop of tertiary female students could be the country’s last for the foreseeable future.
“Education is an inalienable right in Islam for both men and women,” scholar Abdul Bari Madani told AFP.
“If this ban continues, Afghanistan will return to the medieval age... an entire generation of girls will be buried.”

Lost generation

It is this fear of a lost generation that spurred teacher Tamkin to convert her home in Kabul into a school.
The 40-year-old was almost lost herself, having been forced to stop studying during the Taliban’s first stint in power, from 1996 to 2001, when all girls’ schooling was banned.
It took years of self-study for Tamkin to qualify as a teacher, only for her to lose her job at the education ministry when the Taliban returned last year.
“I didn’t want these girls to be like me,” she told AFP, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“They should have a better future.”
With the support of her husband, Tamkin first turned a storeroom into a class.
Then she sold a family cow to raise funds for textbooks, as most of her girls came from poor families and couldn’t afford their own.
Today, she teaches English and science to about 25 eager students.
On a rainy day recently, the girls trickled into her classroom for a biology lesson.
“I just want to study. It doesn’t matter what the place is like,” said Narwan, who should be in grade 12, sitting in a room packed with girls of all ages.
Behind her, a poster on a wall urges students to be considerate: “Tongue has no bones, but it is so strong that it can break the heart, so be careful of your words.”
Such consideration by her neighbors has helped Tamkin keep the school’s real purpose hidden.
“The Taliban have asked several times ‘what’s going on here?’ I have told the neighbors to say it’s a madrassa,” Tamkin said.
Seventeen-year-old Maliha believes firmly the day will come when the Taliban will no longer be in power.
“Then we will put our knowledge to good use,” she said.

'We are not afraid'

On the outskirts of Kabul, in a maze of mud houses, Laila is another teacher running underground classes.
Looking at her daughter’s face after the planned reopening of secondary schools was canceled, she knew she had to do something.
“If my daughter was crying, then the daughters of other parents must also be crying,” the 38-year-old said.
About a dozen girls gather two days a week at Laila’s house, which has a courtyard and a garden where she grows vegetables and fruit.
The classroom has a wide window opening to the garden, and girls with textbooks kept in blue plastic folders sit on a carpet — happy and cheerful, studying together.
As the class begins, one by one they read out the answers to their homework.
“We are not afraid of the Taliban,” said student Kawsar, 18.
“If they say anything, we will fight it out but continue to study.”
But the right to study is not the only aim for some Afghan girls and women — who are all too frequently married off into abusive or restrictive relationships.
Zahra, who attends a secret school in eastern Afghanistan, was married at 14 and now lives with in-laws who oppose the idea of her attending classes.
She takes sleeping pills to fight her anxiety — worried her husband’s family will force him to make her stay home.
“I tell them I’m going to the local bazaar and come here,” said Zahra of her secret school.
For her, she says, it is the only way to make friends.

Taliban torn over reforms one year after seizing power

Taliban torn over reforms one year after seizing power
Updated 28 min 45 sec ago

Taliban torn over reforms one year after seizing power

Taliban torn over reforms one year after seizing power
  • The group’s hard-line core, composed of battle-hardened veteran fighters, is against any significant ideological change that could be viewed as a sign of capitulation to their enemies in the West

KANDAHAR: One year on from the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, some cracks are opening within their ranks over the crucial question of just how much reform their leaders can tolerate.
Infamous during their first reign for their brutal crackdowns on rights and freedoms, the Islamists vowed to rule differently this time.
On a superficial level at least, they appear to have changed in some respects.
Officials in Kabul have embraced technology, while cricket matches are cheered in full stadiums.
Televisions were banned under the Taliban government’s first incarnation, while Afghans now have access to the Internet and social media.
Girls are allowed to attend primary school and women journalists are interviewing government officials — unthinkable during the Taliban’s first stint in power in the 1990s.
The group’s hard-line core, composed of battle-hardened veteran fighters, is against any significant ideological change that could be viewed as a sign of capitulation to their enemies in the West.
“You have one (Taliban) camp, which is pushing ahead with what they’re seeing as reforms, and another camp that seems to think even these meagre reforms are too much,” said Ibraheem Bahiss, an Afghanistan analyst with International Crisis Group.

The United States and its allies — which had bankrolled Afghanistan for 20 years — have locked the country out of the global banking system and billions in frozen assets abroad, as they hold out for reforms from the Taliban.
Without significant progress, it is the Afghan people who suffer as the country reels under a massive economic crisis that has seen some families choose between selling their organs or their infant daughters.
On whether the Taliban are even capable of reform, analysts are wary that recent policy changes amount to little more than “tokenism.”
“There are some cases where we could point to an evolution in policy, but let’s be very clear... We’re still looking at an organization that has refused to move beyond very retrograde, dogmatic views,” said Michael Kugelman, an Afghanistan specialist with the Washington-based Wilson Center think tank.
Most secondary schools for girls remain closed. Many women have been forced out of government work, while many fear venturing out and being chastised by the Taliban.
Simple joys such as music, shisha and card games are strictly controlled in the most conservative areas, while protests have been crushed and journalists regularly threatened or detained.
Demands from the West for an inclusive government were ignored, and the assassination of Al-Qaeda’s leader in Kabul last week underlined the Taliban’s ongoing ties with jihadist groups.
It is from the Taliban’s power base of southern Kandahar that the secretive supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada gathers his powerful inner circle of veteran fighters and religious clerics to impose a harsh interpretation of sharia.
And for them, ideological concerns outweigh any political or economic drivers to effect change.
“The needs of the Afghans remain the same as 20 years ago,” Mohammad Omar Khitabi, a member of a council of clerics who advise Akhundzada in Kandahar, told AFP.
His thoughts are echoed by Kandahar’s Vice and Virtue Director Abdul Rahman Tayabi, another close aide of the supreme leader.
“Our people do not have too many demands, like people in other countries might have,” he told AFP.
Afghan families were left stunned in March when Akhundzada overturned the education ministry’s decision to reopen secondary schools for girls.
Some analysts believe he felt uneasy over what could be seen by hard-liners as an act of surrender to the West on girls’ rights.
Hopes of restoring international money flows were shattered — to the dismay of many Taliban officials in Kabul, some of whom spoke out against the decision.
Relations with Western diplomats — who meet regularly with Taliban ministers but have no access to Akhundzada — suffered a major setback.
A slew of directives that harked back to the first reign of the Taliban quickly followed.
“The decisions that (Akhundzada) has made so far are all based on the opinions of religious scholars,” said Abdul Hadi Hammad, the head of a madrassa and member of the supreme leader’s advisory council.
Akhundzada has stressed the need for unity in the movement as he carefully seeks to balance several factions — including competing groups that claim the credit for the 2021 victory over US-led forces.
While advisers to Akhundzada claim the Taliban can survive without foreign income, unlocking billions of dollars in frozen assets abroad would be a crucial lifeline.
“We know the Taliban can be transactional, but they cannot appear to be transactional,” a Western diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Within the movement, no one dares openly challenge Akhundzada’s power, but discontent is quietly growing among the lower ranks.
“Taliban guards are getting their salaries late, and their salaries are low too. They are unhappy,” said one mid-level Taliban official based in northwestern Pakistan, who asked not to be named.
Many have returned to their villages or traveled to Pakistan to take up different work, another Taliban member added.
Attempts by the movement to shore up revenue through lucrative coal mining have sparked infighting in the north, exacerbated by ethnic divisions and religious sectarianism.
With winter only a few months away, food security and freezing temperatures will put even more pressure on the leaders of one of the world’s poorest countries.
These mounting stresses have the potential to worsen divisions, Kugelman said, though likely not enough to force any dramatic shift in policy.
“If the Taliban leadership start to feel very real threats to their political survival, then could they change?” he asked.
“Given that they are ideologically focused, that may not be the case.”

Rival cartels clash in Mexican border city Juarez, killing 11

Rival cartels clash in Mexican border city Juarez, killing 11
Updated 13 August 2022

Rival cartels clash in Mexican border city Juarez, killing 11

Rival cartels clash in Mexican border city Juarez, killing 11
  • Across town, convenience stores were shot at and set on fire. FEMSA, the parent company of the Oxxo chain, said in a statement that one of its employees and a woman who was applying for a job were killed in the violence

MEXICO CITY: Hundreds of Mexican soldiers were sent to the border city of Juarez Friday after a prison face-off between members of two rival cartels caused a riot and shootouts that killed 11 people, most of them civilians, authorities said.
Los Chapos, members of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel formerly led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and local group Los Mexicles clashed in a prison Thursday afternoon, Deputy Security Minister Ricardo Mejia said.
A riot then broke out, leaving two shot to death and four injured with bullet wounds, Mejia said, speaking alongside Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at a regular news conference. Another 16 were injured in the fighting, he said.

Members of the Mexican Army arrive in Ciudad Juarez to reinforce security after different violent events in the last hours, at the airport in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico August 12, 2022. (REUTERS)

Officials did not say what caused the clash.
Following the riot, the Mexicles rampaged in the city, authorities said, killing nine civilians. Among them were four employees of a radio station, including one announcer, Mejia said.
Across town, convenience stores were shot at and set on fire. FEMSA, the parent company of the Oxxo chain, said in a statement that one of its employees and a woman who was applying for a job were killed in the violence.
Around 1 a.m. Friday morning, six alleged members of Mexicles were arrested by local police, with help from the Army and National Guard, Mejia said.
By Friday afternoon, some 300 Army soldiers were scheduled to arrive in town, with another 300 to follow. “(Juarez) Mayor Cruz Perez has let us know that (the city) is now in a state of calm; public order has been reestablished,” Mejia said.
“We hope it doesn’t happen again, because innocent people were attacked,” Lopez Obrador said.
Thursday’s attacks follow clashes between cartels and the military in central Mexico, which led to taxis, buses and some 20 Oxxo stores being set ablaze, Lopez Obrador said.
“We should not and cannot get used to this type of event,” said retail group ANTAD. “Mexico does not deserve it.”

FBI seized top secret documents in Trump estate search; Espionage Act cited

FBI seized top secret documents in Trump estate search; Espionage Act cited
Updated 13 min 26 sec ago

FBI seized top secret documents in Trump estate search; Espionage Act cited

FBI seized top secret documents in Trump estate search; Espionage Act cited
  • Agents took more than 30 items, including 20-plus boxes
  • Trump says the seized records were “all declassified“

WASHINGTON: The FBI recovered “top secret” and even more sensitive documents from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, according to court papers released Friday after a federal judge unsealed the warrant that authorized the sudden, unprecedented search this week.
A property receipt unsealed by the court shows FBI agents took 11 sets of classified records from the estate during a search on Monday.
The seized records include some marked not only top secret but also “sensitive compartmented information,” a special category meant to protect the nation’s most important secrets that if revealed publicly could cause “exceptionally grave” damage to US interests. The court records did not provide specific details about information the documents might contain.
The warrant says federal agents were investigating potential violations of three different federal laws, including one that governs gathering, transmitting or losing defense information under the Espionage Act. The other statutes address the concealment, mutilation or removal of records and the destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.
The property receipt also shows federal agents collected other potential presidential records, including the order pardoning Trump ally Roger Stone, a “leatherbound box of documents,” and information about the “President of France.” A binder of photos, a handwritten note, “miscellaneous secret documents” and “miscellaneous confidential documents” were also seized in the search.

The receipt for property seized by the FBI at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida is shown in this photo taken on Aug. 12, 2022. (AP)

Trump’s attorney, Christina Bobb, who was present at Mar-a-Lago when the agents conducted the search, signed two property receipts — one that was two pages long and another that is a single page.
In a statement earlier Friday, Trump claimed that the documents seized by agents were “all declassified,” and argued that he would have turned them over if the Justice Department had asked.
While incumbent presidents generally have the power to declassify information, that authority lapses as soon as they leave office and it was not clear if the documents in question have ever been declassified. And even an incumbent’s powers to declassify may be limited regarding secrets dealing with nuclear weapons programs, covert operations and operatives, and some data shared with allies.
Trump kept possession of the documents despite multiple requests from agencies, including the National Archives, to turn over presidential records in accordance with federal law.
The Mar-a-Lago search warrant served Monday was part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the discovery of classified White House records recovered from Trump’s home earlier this year. The Archives had asked the department to investigate after saying 15 boxes of records it retrieved from the estate included classified records.
It remains unclear whether the Justice Department moved forward with the warrant simply as a means to retrieve the records or as part of a wider criminal investigation or attempt to prosecute the former president. Multiple federal laws govern the handling of classified information, with both criminal and civil penalties, as well as presidential records.
US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, the same judge who signed off on the search warrant, unsealed the warrant and property receipt Friday at the request of the Justice Department after Attorney General Merrick Garland declared there was “substantial public interest in this matter,” and Trump said he backed the warrant’s “immediate” release. The Justice Department told the judge Friday afternoon that Trump’s lawyers did not object to the proposal to make it public.
In messages posted on his Truth Social platform, Trump wrote, “Not only will I not oppose the release of documents ... I am going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents.”

The Justice Department’s request was striking because such warrants traditionally remain sealed during a pending investigation. But the department appeared to recognize that its silence since the search had created a vacuum for bitter verbal attacks by Trump and his allies, and felt that the public was entitled to the FBI’s side about what prompted Monday’s action at the former president’s home.
“The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing,” said a motion filed in federal court in Florida on Thursday.
The information was released as Trump prepares for another run for the White House. During his 2016 campaign, he pointed frequently to an FBI investigation into his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, over whether she mishandled classified information.
To obtain a search warrant, federal authorities must prove to a judge that probable cause exists to believe that a crime was committed. Garland said he personally approved the warrant, a decision he said the department did not take lightly given that standard practice where possible is to select less intrusive tactics than a search of one’s home.
In this case, according to a person familiar with the matter, there was substantial engagement with Trump and his representatives prior to the search warrant, including a subpoena for records and a visit to Mar-a-Lago a couple of months ago by FBI and Justice Department officials to assess how the documents were stored. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
FBI and Justice Department policy cautions against discussing ongoing investigations, both to protect the integrity of the inquiries and to avoid unfairly maligning someone who is being scrutinized but winds up ultimately not being charged. That’s especially true in the case of search warrants, where supporting court papers are routinely kept secret as the investigation proceeds.
In this case, though, Garland cited the fact that Trump himself had provided the first public confirmation of the FBI search, “as is his right.” The Justice Department, in its new filing, also said that disclosing information about it now would not harm the court’s functions.
The Justice Department under Garland has been leery of public statements about politically charged investigations, or of confirming to what extent it might be investigating Trump as part of a broader probe into the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol and efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
The department has tried to avoid being seen as injecting itself into presidential politics, as happened in 2016 when then-FBI Director James Comey made an unusual public statement announcing that the FBI would not be recommending criminal charges against Clinton regarding her handling of email — and when he spoke up again just over a week before the election to notify Congress that the probe was being effectively reopened because of the discovery of new emails.
The attorney general also condemned verbal attacks on FBI and Justice Department personnel over the search. Some Republican allies of Trump have called for the FBI to be defunded. Large numbers of Trump supporters have called for the warrant to be released hoping they it will show that Trump was unfairly targeted.
“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” Garland said of federal law enforcement agents, calling them “dedicated, patriotic public servants.”
Earlier Thursday, an armed man wearing body armor tried to breach a security screening area at an FBI field office in Ohio, then fled and was later killed after a standoff with law enforcement. A law enforcement official briefed on the matter identified the man as Ricky Shiffer and said he is believed to have been in Washington in the days leading up to the attack on the Capitol and may have been there on the day it took place.

Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus

Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus
Updated 13 August 2022

Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus

Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus
  • David Petraeus said Afghanistan’s ‘economy has collapsed, many of the people are literally starving and the Taliban regime (has taken) the country back to the 8th or 9th century
  • He added that women in the country now ‘have very little opportunity to contribute to the economy, the business world, even to society’

LONDON: A former US military commander warned that the Taliban has allowed Al-Qaeda to return and Daesh to become “very dangerous” amid the disastrous situation in Afghanistan in the 12 months since US troops withdrew.

“Gen. David Petraeus said that in the year since Western forces left, the country had returned to the 8th or 9th century, with the new regime imposing an ‘ultra-conservative’ vision of Islam,” according to a report by The Guardian newspaper, which cited an interview he gave to Times Radio.

The report added that the West “left behind hundreds of thousands of people whose security was jeopardized because of their service in the Afghan government or work alongside Western troops.”

“I think it is still a tragic, heartbreaking and, frankly, disastrous situation. Clearly the Taliban have allowed Al-Qaeda to return. The Islamic State appears very dangerous,” Petraeus said, using an alternative name for the terrorist organization Daesh.

“The economy has collapsed, many of the people are literally starving and the Taliban regime has imposed an ultra-conservative vision of Islam that takes the country back to the 8th or 9th century … and in which women have very little opportunity to contribute to the economy, the business world, even to society.”

He added: “The vast majority of the coalition forces who were carrying out training and assistance in the country until last summer had wanted to stay.”

The Guardian said that intelligence chiefs “previously warned that withdrawing from the country could weaken the ability of the UK and US to gain an accurate picture of terrorist activity on the ground.”

Since the departure of US-led Western troops on Aug. 31 last year and the resultant Taliban takeover, warnings and threats from the West to the group about its actions have been ignored, The Guardian said, and British security agencies have major concerns that it will continue to allow a resurgence of extremist groups, in particular Al-Qaeda “who could exploit a security vacuum.”

Petraeus also said a number of resources had been employed to carry out strikes against individuals who pose a threat, including Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri who was killed by a US drone strike on his hideout in the Afghan capital, Kabul, this month.

Meanwhile, almost 60 percent of journalists in Afghanistan have lost their jobs or fled the country since the Taliban takeover, according to a survey published on Friday by Reporters Without Borders.

The France-based nongovernmental organization said 219 of the nation’s 547 media organizations have shut down in the past year and women are the worst affected, with 76 percent of them losing their jobs. The survey found that only 656 female journalists in the country are still working, the vast majority of them in Kabul, compared with 2,756 a year ago.

“Journalism has been decimated during the past year in Afghanistan,” said Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders. “The authorities must undertake to end the violence and harassment inflicted on media workers, and must allow them to do their job unmolested.”

Accusations of immorality are frequently used to remove women working in the media from their posts.

“The living and working conditions of women journalists in Afghanistan have always been difficult, but today we are experiencing an unprecedented situation,” Meena Habib, a journalist in Kabul, told Reporters Without Borders. “They work in conditions that are physically and mentally violent and tiring, without any protection.”

Some media outlets were forced to shut by Taliban rules banning the broadcast of music and other content, while others have been unable to continue without international funding.

In addition, a decree issued last month by Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada warned against “defaming and criticizing government officials without proof.” It was the latest in a series of measures aimed at curbing press freedoms.

At least 80 journalists have been detained for varying lengths of time by Taliban security forces in the past year, including three who are currently imprisoned, Reporters Without Borders said. The organization ranked Afghanistan 156th out of 179 countries in its 2022 press freedom index.

(With additional reporting by AFP)