Archive for October 11, 2014


September 23, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday he is considering expanding support for Western and Arab operations against the Islamic State group to include military involvement.

His comments Tuesday to Turkish reporters in New York mark a potential shift in Turkey’s position on international efforts to fight the group, hours after the U.S. and Arab allies launched airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria.

Erdogan spoke on the sidelines of an annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he expects a more robust role for Turkey in the fight against the Islamic State group after Ankara secured the release of 49 Turkish hostages that were being held by the extremist group.

Turkey, a U.S. ally and NATO member, has so far not committed to a U.S.-led coalition to take on the militants, who have swallowed large chunks of Syria and Iraq. It made commitments at various regional conferences to help in the effort against the Islamic State group, but help has been limited so far, Kerry said.

On Tuesday, Erdogan seemed to signal that might change. “Of course, we will do our part. God willing, we will also discuss it together with our government,” Erdogan told reporters according to Turkey’s DHA news agency.

Asked what role Turkey was considering, he said: “It includes everything. Both military and political.” President Barack Obama was not scheduled to have a formal bilateral meeting with Erdogan in New York, though the leaders are likely to have some interaction on the sidelines of the session.

Turkey is a main backer of Syrian rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, and has allowed thousands of foreign fighters cross into Syria along their common border.

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September 23, 2014

SURUC, Turkey (AP) — Refugees streaming into Turkey from Syria say their home city, once bustling with 400,000 citizens, has become a ghost town, emptied of all people but a few thousand fighters trying to hold off an onslaught by Islamic militants.

The masses fleeing the brutal offensive by the Islamic State group on the city of Kobani, looming just across the border from Turkey, are part of a wave that has reached 150,000 people since Thursday. Turkey had taken in well over a million Syrian refugees from the 3 ½-year-old conflict already before the latest wave, but this influx is the largest yet, according to the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR.

Arriving weary in Turkey Tuesday — some walking, some limping, some on stretchers — the refugees brought with them stories explaining why so few remain behind in the besieged city. Osman Nawaf, 59, said that he saw about fifty dead bodies hanging headless in a village called Boras that he passed on his three-day walk from a village on the outskirts of Kobani.

Leyla Kuno, a 55-year-old mother of 10 children, said only the fighters remain in the city. “I came today only because there is no one inside our city,” she said. Kurdish forces trying to fend off the Islamic State on Tuesday expressed hopes that the airstrikes carried out by the United States and five Arab countries against the militants might provide yet provide relief.

Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, said airstrikes targeting the Islamic militants would “help” his party’s armed wing in Syria. But fighters staring out at the militants in Kobani said they have seen no let-up so far.

The U.S. and five Arab nations attacked the Islamic State group’s headquarters in eastern Syria in nighttime raids using land- and sea-based U.S. aircraft as well as Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from two Navy ships in the Red Sea and the northern Persian Gulf.

But the bombs did not fall on Islamic State group positions near Kobani. One Kurdish fighter protecting the city, reached by phone near the front line, said that the airstrikes had yet to diminish his enemies’ attack, but said that he hoped that it would eventually hinder resupply of heavy weaponry.

It was not immediately clear why the U.S. and allies did not hit the forces besieging Kobani, given the magnitude and urgency of the humanitarian disaster the militants are causing. Selin Unal, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, which has been assisting the Turkish government in caring for the refugees, called the migration in the last few days: “Probably the biggest wave in the region over a short period, and certainly the biggest for Turkey.”

She said that the needs for the refugees were so huge that her organization was considering airlifting in supplies from other countries. She praised Turkey’s efforts and pleaded for help from abroad, noting that despite taking in the largest number of refugees in the region, Turkey has been receiving less support from abroad than neighboring countries coping with refugees.

Late Tuesday, the European Union said it would increase its aid to refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria by 215 million euros ($280 million). Among other things, the funding would go toward helping those seeking refuge in Turkey over the past few days, it said.

Many of the refugees at an intake center manned by the Turkish relief agency, AFAD, noted that the fighters are protecting their homes and expressed hopes they would be able to resume their lives in Kobani soon.

Many also expressed reluctance about coming to Turkey. Hussain Mohamed Ibn Mustafa, a middle-aged fighter, who had escorted his family across the border to visit a sick brother in a Turkish hospital, said that life had been good in Kobani until this last week and that his family now dreaded life across the border.

“We are like prisoners here,” he said. But he said he would go back soon to fight, noting that Kobani is a strategic town for the control of the Syrian Kurdish region. “If we lose Kobani it means we have lost Kurdistan,” he said.

The developments across the border are also flaring tensions in Turkey. Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of a Kurdish rebel group fighting Turkey for autonomy has now called for a mass mobilization of all Kurds against the Islamic State group.

Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence on a prison island near Istanbul, leads the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has long fought Turkey for autonomy and is affiliated with Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party.

The call could raise tensions at the border where Kurds have clashed with Turkish security forces. Near the frontier, hundreds of Kurds from Turkey have fought with Turkish police firing tear gas and water cannons. The Kurds say Turkey is hampering their efforts to enter Syria and help their brethren.

The area around Turkey’s border town of Suruc was heavily militarized on Tuesday with armored vehicles, though clashes had subsided.

Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey and Mohammed Rasool in Suruc contributed to this report.

September 21, 2014

OGAN, Turkey (AP) — Turkish security forces on Sunday fired tear gas and water on dozens of Kurds in a village on the border with Syria where tens of thousands of Syrian Kurdish refugees have streamed into Turkey to escape the fighting with militants of the Islamic State group.

Authorities temporarily closed the border and refugees were piling on the Syrian side of the frontier. There were conflicting reports as to what caused the clashes. The state-run Anadolu Agency said Kurdish protesters threw stones at the security forces who prevented dozens of Kurdish onlookers from approaching the border.

Private NTV television said the security forces preventing a group of Kurds who claimed they wanted to take aid to beleaguered Kurds in Syria. The U.N. refugee agency on Sunday said some 70,000 Syrians have crossed into Turkey in the past 24 hours. They are seeking refuge from Islamic State militants who have barreled through dozens of Kurdish villages in the Kobani area in northern Syria, near the Turkish border.

UNHCR spokeswoman, Selin Unal, told the Associated Press most of those coming across the border near Syria’s northern town of Kobani are Kurdish women, children and elderly. She urged the international community to step up its aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey, already numbering some 1.5 million.

“Turkey is assisting with all needs but it’s huge numbers,” she said.

September 20, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish authorities say they have freed 49 hostages from one of the world’s most ruthless militant groups without firing a shot, paying a ransom or offering a quid pro quo.

But as the well-dressed men and women captured by the Islamic State group more than three months ago clasped their families Saturday on the tarmac of the Turkish capital’s airport, experts had serious doubts about the government’s story.

The official explanation “sounds a bit too good to be true,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies. “There are some very legitimate and unanswered questions about how this happened.”

The hostages — whose number included two small children — were seized from the Turkish Consulate in Mosul after the Islamic State group overran the Iraqi city on June 11. Turkish leaders gave only the broadest outlines of their rescue Saturday.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the release was the work of the country’s intelligence agency rather than a special forces operation. “After intense efforts that lasted days and weeks, in the early hours our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back,” Davutoglu said.

Davutoglu was the star of the homecoming ceremony Saturday, flying the hostages back to Ankara on his plane and delivering an impassioned address to the crowd. Families rushed the aircraft to greet their returning loved ones. The ex-hostages emerged wearing clean dresses and suits and showed little sign of having been held captive by fanatical militants for more than three months.

The hostages’ joyous reunion at the airport came as an enormous relief after the recent beheadings of other hostages — two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker — by the Islamic State group. The gruesome deaths briefly reignited a debate over whether the U.S. or British government should pay ransoms to free hostages.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported no ransom had been paid and “no conditions were accepted in return for their release,” although it didn’t cite any source for its reporting. The agency said the hostages had been held at eight separate addresses in Mosul and their whereabouts were monitored by drones and other means.

The Iraqi government said it had no information about the rescue. The hostages declined to answer all but the most general questions, although a couple hinted at ill treatment or death threats. Ex-hostage Alptekin Esirgun told Anadolou that militants held a gun to Consul General Ozturk Yilmaz’s head and tried to force him to make a statement.

Another former hostage, Alparslan Yel, said the Islamic militants “treated us a little better because we are Muslims. But we weren’t that comfortable. There was a war going on.” Yilmaz thanked Turkish officials but gave no details about the captivity or release.

“I haven’t seen my family for 102 days. All I want to do is to go home with them,” he told journalists. How the hostages traveled from Mosul to Turkey and why the Islamic State would relinquish such a useful bargaining chip remained unclear.

“I think it’s fair to say that we haven’t been told the full story,” said Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute who has studied Turkey’s security policy.

It’s also unclear whether the release will change Turkey’s policy toward the Islamic State. It had been reluctant to join a coalition to defeat the militant group, citing the safety of its 49 kidnapped citizens.

But even with the hostages’ release Stein said he doubted that Turkey would suddenly adopt a much more muscular attitude toward the militants. “There will some changes, but not as much as people hope,” he said.

In Washington, one U.S. official said Saturday that while the Obama administration was pleased with Turkey’s contributions so far, it hoped that the change in circumstances of the hostages would allow Turkey to take on a more robust role. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about diplomatic matters.

The successful operation was likely to prove a boon to Turkey’s government. Davutoglu, flanked by Yilmaz and others, made sure to highlight Turkey’s success and blast the political opposition. He also thanked the “nameless heroes” involved in the release.

Satter reported from Istanbul. Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Matt Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

September 28, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of al-Qaida’s Syria affiliate vowed Sunday that his group would “use all possible means” to fight back against airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition and warned that the conflict would reach Western countries joining the alliance.

The U.S. views the affiliate, known as the Nusra Front, as a terrorist group, but Syrian rebels have long seen it as a potent ally against both the Islamic State extremist group — which is the main target of the coalition — and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Syrian rebels, activists and analysts have warned that targeting the Nusra Front will inject more chaos into the Syrian conflict and indirectly help Assad by striking one of his main adversaries. The U.S. insists it wants Assad to step down, but is not targeting his forces, which are best placed to benefit from the airstrikes.

In a 25-minute audio recording, Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani portrayed the U.S.-led coalition as a “Crusader alliance” against Sunni Muslims and vowed to fight back. “We will use all that we have to defend the people of Syria…from the Crusader alliance,” al-Golani said. “And we will use all possible means to achieve this end,” he said, without offering more details.

He went on to warn Western countries against taking part in the alliance in words that echoed those of the late founder of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden. “This is what will cause the battle to be transported to the hearts of your own homes; because Muslims will not stand idly by and watch Muslims be bombed and killed in their countries, while you are safe on your countries. The price of war will not be paid by your leaders alone. You will pay the biggest price,” he said.

The recording appeared genuine and corresponded with Associated Press reporting. The United States and five Arab allies launched an air campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria on Tuesday with the aim of ultimately crushing the extremist group, which has created a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border. The U.S. has been carrying out airstrikes against the group in neighboring Iraq since August.

Some of the initial strikes targeted the Nusra Front, hitting several of its facilities and killing dozens of its fighters. Washington said it was trying to take out an al-Qaida cell known as the Khorasan Group that was actively plotting attacks against Americans and Western interests.

Syrian rebels have expressed anger at the coalition airstrikes, both because they have targeted the Nusra Front — which they see as an ally — and because they are not hitting pro-government forces, which are the best placed to benefit from any rolling back of the Islamic State group. The Nusra Front’s ultimate goal is to impose Islamic law in Syria. But unlike the Islamic State group, it has fought alongside other rebel groups, seeing the overthrow of Assad as its first priority.

Al-Golani warned the airstrikes would weaken the rebels. “Those of our men who were targeted in the shelling… the effect of their loss will be witnessed by the entire conflict, not just on the (Nusra) Front alone.”

The Nusra Front leader also warned other rebel groups not to coordinate with the U.S.-led alliance. Washington has promised to arm and train more Syrian rebels to help fight the Islamic State group. The al-Golani speech came hours after the group’s spokesman warned that Muslims would attack countries taking part in the coalition air raids.

The Islamic State group — an al-Qaida breakaway faction rejected by the global terror network — controls a vast tract of land stretching from the Turkish border in northern Syria to the western outskirts of Baghdad, where it has declared a self-styled caliphate ruled by its brutal version of Islamic law. Its aggressive push across Iraq over the summer spurred the U.S. to form a coalition against the group.

On Sunday, explosions lit the sky for two hours in the northern Syrian town of Tel Abyad as airstrikes, likely by the coalition, targeted a refinery operated by the militant group, said an eyewitness and activists.

“Our building was shaking and we saw fire, some 60 meters (65 yards) high, coming from the refinery,” said Turkish businessman Mehmet Ozer, who lives in the nearby Turkish border town of Akcakale. The Turkish news agency Dogan said the strikes targeted an oil refinery and the local headquarters of the Islamic State group. U.S. Central Command, which is overseeing the air campaign, did not immediately comment on the strikes.

The U.S.-led coalition has been targeting Islamic State-held oil installations across Syria, aiming to cripple the group’s finances. The group is believed to earn some $3 million a day from selling smuggled oil on the black market as well as kidnapping and extortion.

The coalition includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan. Several European countries also are contributing to U.S. efforts to strike the Islamic State group in Iraq, including France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and Britain.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 19 civilians have been killed so far in coalition strikes in Syria. Most recently, six oil workers in the far northeast province of Hassakeh were killed overnight, said the Observatory, which obtains information from a network of activists on the ground.

Overall, some 190,000 people have been killed in Syria’s three-year conflict, and nearly one-half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million people has been displaced.

Butler reported from Sanliurfa, Turkey. Associated Press reporter Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara.

September 04, 2014

NEW DELHI (AP) — Al-Qaida has expanded into India, the leader of the terror group said in a video released Thursday, vowing that its militants would bring Islamic law to the entire subcontinent and “wage jihad against its enemies.”

At least three Indian states with large Muslim populations have been put on alert in the wake of the video’s release, local TV stations reported, though there was no indication of an increased security presence.

The new group “is the fruit of a blessed effort of more than two years to gather the mujahedeen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity,” al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri said in the video, which was seen online by the SITE monitoring group.

While his comments raised concerns in India, al-Zawahri’s message seemed largely directed at his own rivals in the international jihad movement, and with raising al-Qaida’s profile in the wake of repeated successes by the Islamic State militant group.

Al-Qaida has been increasingly overshadowed by the Islamic State, whose fighters have captured wide swaths of Syria and Iraq and recently beheaded two American journalists. Al-Qaida “is struggling for its legitimacy in the eyes of the radicalized Muslim world,” said Ajai Sahni, a top Indian security analyst with the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management.

“Osama bin Laden has been killed and (al-Qaida’s) entire top leadership, apart from Zawahri and a few others, one by one have been decimated by the American drone attacks,” he said. While al-Zawahri’s statement referred to the “Indian subcontinent” — a term that most commonly refers to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal — his comments were widely seen as directed at India, a largely Hindu nation with a large Muslim minority.

Al-Zawahri said the group, Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian subcontinent, would fight for an Islamic state and laws across the region, “which was part of the Muslims’ territories before it was occupied by the infidel enemy.”

The leader of the new group, Essam Omar, said in an audio recording released with the video, that Jews and Hindus — who he referred to as “apostates of India” — “will watch your destruction by your own eyes.”

Fighters will “storm your barricades with cars packed with gunpowder,” Omar said, decrying what he called the region’s “injustice toward Muslims.” Until recently, India had largely seen itself as beyond the recruiting territory of international jihadists like al-Qaida. Over the past few months, however, the Islamic State has grown in prominence in India, and is increasingly believed to be gaining followers here. Last month, an Indian engineering student who had traveled to Iraq with friends, and who was thought to have joined the Islamic State, was reported killed.

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh met Thursday morning with top security and intelligence officials to discuss the threat. A spokesman for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said the statement was “a matter of serious concern. But there is nothing to worry about. We have a strong government at the federal level.”

India, though, has a notoriously underfunded and ill-trained security infrastructure. In 2008, a small group of Pakistani militants attacked Mumbai, India’s financial hub, effectively shutting down the city for days and killing 166 people.

New Delhi also has been trying for years to put down an insurgency in Kashmir, India’s only majority-Muslim state, where militants are fighting to bring independence to the Himalayan region or join it to neighboring Pakistan. The fighting has left thousands of people dead.

AP Writers Ashok Sharma and Nirmala George contributed to this report.

October 03, 2014

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s foreign minister says Prime Minister Edi Rama will visit Belgrade later this month in the first visit to Serbia by an Albanian premier in 68 years.

Ditmir Bushati said Friday that the situation of the ethnic Albanian minority in the southern Serbian province of Presevo and the recognition of Kosovo’s independence would be part of the talks in the Oct. 22 visit.

Belgrade has not recognized the 2008 independence of Kosovo, formerly a province of Serbia but with an ethnic Albanian majority population. The last time an Albanian head of state visited Belgrade was in 1946, when late communist dictator Enver Hoxha met with Yugoslavia’s then-leader, Josip Broz Tito, after World War II. The former allies’ relations soured in 1949.

Now both countries aim to join the European Union.

September 29, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was sworn in Monday as Afghanistan’s new president, replacing Hamid Karzai in the country’s first democratic transfer of power since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban.

Moments after Ghani Ahmadzai took the oath, he swore in his election challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, as chief executive, fulfilling a political pledge he had taken to share power and defuse election tensions that had threatened to spark violence between the country’s north and south.

In his first speech, Ghani Ahmadzai called on the Taliban and other militants to join the country’s political process and lay down their weapons. However, extremist violence Monday killed at least 12 civilians and police officers as foreign forces prepare to withdraw from the country at the end of the year.

“We are tired of war,” Ghani Ahmadzai said in a televised address. “Our message is peace, (but) this doesn’t mean we are weak.” Ghani Ahmadzai, a former World Bank official and Afghan finance minister, wore a dark black turban popular in the country’s south as he swore in his two vice presidents and then Abdullah.

Abdullah, a former foreign minister, spoke first and thanked Karzai for his service and the people of the country for casting votes in the millions despite the threat of attack from Taliban militants who tried to thwart the election process.

“We are committed as one in the national unity government,” Abdullah said. “Our commitment will be fulfilled together as unified team to create national unity.” Ghani Ahmadzai then congratulated Karzai for a peaceful and democratic transition of power, and he thanked Abdullah for making the national unity government possible. The new president also promised to confront the country’s endemic corruption.

“We want to be held accountable. I am your leader but I am no better than you. If I make mistakes, you should hold me accountable,” Ghani Ahmadzai said. Karzai — the only president Afghanistan and the West have known since the invasion — wore a wide smile as he greeted his presidential guards upon entering the palace. Karzai has said he is glad to be stepping down after more than a decade of what the U.S. ambassador recently said was one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

The inauguration caps a nearly six-month election season that began when ballots were first cast in April. A runoff election in June between Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah stretched on for weeks as both sides leveled charges of fraud. The United Nations helped carry out what it said was the most thorough recount in its history, a count that reduced Ghani Ahmadzai’s vote percentage from 56 percent to 55 percent, but still gave him the win.

But the real power struggle was taking place in marathon talks between the two sides, often brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials. The political deal the sides agreed to created the new position of chief executive that Abdullah will now fill.

The inauguration took place eight days after the political deal was signed between Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah. Though Kerry played a big role in the political deal, the short notice of the inauguration date and events elsewhere in the Middle East did not allow him to attend. Instead, the U.S. was represented by John Podesta, counselor to President Barack Obama. Other notable guests included Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain and Indian Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari.

U.S. officials have said they expect Ghani Ahmadzai to sign a security agreement with the U.S. shortly after his inauguration to allow about 10,000 American troops to stay in the country after the international combat mission ends on Dec. 31.

Even as the inauguration unfolded in the heavily guarded presidential palace, two bomb attacks took place on the road connecting the country’s main airport with the palace. One roadside bomb did not result in any deaths or injuries, but a second attack about a kilometer (half mile) from the airport by a suicide bomber killed six or seven people, police officer Abdul Latif said.

A bigger attack took place in the eastern province of Paktia. Police Capt. Mohammed Hekhlas said that a car bomb exploded near a government compound as gunmen attacked, sparking a gun battle that killed seven Taliban militants. Another police official, who gave his name as Azimullah, said four police officers and two civilians also were killed.

For Afghans watching the inauguration, that threat of violence and insecurity remained one of their top concerns. “I hope Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai can bring peace and the rule the law in Afghanistan as former Afghan President Hamid Karzai could not bring peace,” said Abdul Rahman, a 30-year-old police officer. “Our people have been suffering from the instability and poverty.”

September 22, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s new president-elect pledged in his victory speech on Monday to give women prominent roles in his government and told his nation that women are important to the country’s future.

The remarks by President-elect Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai came a day after the landmark power-sharing deal signed by Afghanistan’s two presidential candidates. The agreement resolved a drawn-out dispute that threatened to plunge Afghanistan into political turmoil while complicating the withdrawal of U.S. and foreign troops.

Ghani Ahmadzai also said his former opponent — Abdullah Abdullah, who will fill the newly created role of government chief executive — has turned from competitor to colleague and that the two are committed to improving Afghanistan.

The country’s election commission on Sunday announced Ghani Ahmadzai as the winner of a two-man runoff, ending an election process that began with a first round of voting in April. The announcement came only hours after Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah signed a political deal to form a national unity government.

The deal allowed the international community — including the U.S. and NATO — to breathe a sigh of relief, as the settlement greatly decreases the chances of ethnic vote violence. Ghani Ahmadzai has also pledged to sign a security agreement that would allow about 10,000 U.S. military trainers and advisers to remain in the country next year after all U.S. and NATO combat troops withdraw.

The speech Monday took on the air of a campaign celebration, with a large crowd of supporters in attendance. Ghani Ahmadzai clasped the hands of female supporters and he and others raised their hands over their heads, a notable moment in a country where women are often socially segregated.

The 65-year-old Ghani Ahmadzai said he wants Afghan women represented at the highest levels of government, including on the Supreme Court, where no female justices have ever served. He continued the theme during the nationally televised speech.

“In the face of these girls I can see future Afghan leaders,” he said as he told his “sisters” in attendance that they have equal rights in society and government. Mary Akrami, the head of the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Centre, said she welcomed such sentiments but hoped they would be followed by action. She noted that Afghan women suffer heavily from family violence.

The incoming president is viewed as worldly and well-educated. A former finance minister, he has worked at the World Bank and earned a PhD from New York’s Colombia University. Perhaps to increase his religious bona fides in a devoutly Muslim country, Ghani Ahmadzai peppered his speech with references to Islam and said God is first and Afghanistan second.

In a message that appeared to be aimed at power brokers outside of Kabul, Ghani Ahmadzai said the national unity government’s aim is to “end all parallel structures.” He also promised a public report card every six months on the implementation of the constitution.

To the annoyance of many Afghans, the election commission did not officially release vote totals of the June runoff — ballots that underwent a long audit for fraud — when it announced Ghani Ahmadzai as the winner. Leaked results showed Ghani Ahmadzai had about 55 percent and Abdullah roughly 45 percent of the vote.

One of Abdullah’s final demands in talks with Ghani Ahmadzai was that the election commission refrain from releasing the vote count because of the fraud he alleges took place. Under the four-page power sharing contract, the president leads the Cabinet but the chief executive manages the Cabinet’s implementation of government policies. The chief executive will also chair regular meetings of a council of ministers, essentially the same Cabinet group but designed to manage implementation.

The 13-year war against the Taliban has largely been turned over to Afghan security forces, a development that has seen casualties among Afghan soldiers rise significantly this year.

Associated Press writers Rahim Faeiz and Amir Shah contributed to this report.

August 30, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber in a truck blew himself up at an intelligence headquarters in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing at least two people and setting off an intense firefight with security forces, officials said.

After the bombing outside the headquarters of the National Directorate of Security in Jalalabad, militants battled with security forces for an hour before authorities were able to put down the attack, said Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the Nangarhar governor.

He would not say how many attackers were involved or whether they were all killed or some escaped. He said authorities were searching the grounds. Abdulzai put the death toll at two and said they were both from the NDS, but Najibullah Kamawal, the top provincial health official, said six bodies had been brought to the hospital.

Conflicting death tolls are common in the immediate aftermath of such bombings. Kamawal said 45 people were wounded. The powerful explosion shook the entire neighborhood, breaking nearby windows and startling residents.

“It was early morning and we were sleeping at home. A strong explosion happened followed by firing. When I came out of my room I was covered with dust, and my kids and I got injured from broken windows,” said Ahmad Shah.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to The Associated Press. Jalalabad is one of Afghanistan’s biggest cities, sitting on a major trade route into neighboring Pakistan. But the city is also located in one of the country’s most troubled regions.

Taliban militants are easily able to hide in the forbidding, mountainous terrain, and often cross back and forth into neighboring Pakistan. Afghan security officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan of giving sanctuary to militants that attack Afghanistan, something Pakistan denies.

In May, militants attacked the provincial justice building in Jalalabad, killing at least five civilians before authorities were able to retake the building. Militants in March attacked a police station in Jalalabad, sparking a four-hour battle with police that ended with eleven people dead.

This is the first year that Afghan security forces have operated largely on their own, without U.S. or international forces. The NATO-led security force is scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of the year, although a small number of U.S. and international troops may stay behind to advise and assist the Afghan forces. But that is contingent on Afghanistan signing a security arrangement with the U.S., something President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to do.

Both of the men vying to replace him in the country’s presidential election have said they will sign the agreement, but that has been stalled as the winner from the disputed vote has still not been named.

__ Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana contributed to this report.