Category: Land of Fallen Empires


June 03, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A demonstration in downtown Kabul that left several people dead has entered a second day. More than a thousand people demonstrated Friday demanding more security in the capital following a powerful truck bomb attack in the city that killed 90 people and wounded more than 450.

Scores of protesters passed the night under two big tents on a road near the presidential palace and the blast site. All roads toward the palace and diplomatic areas are being blocked Saturday by police and there is limited movement of vehicles and people.

On Friday, demonstrators rushed toward police who fired warning shots and when they attempted to move closer to the palace, police sprayed them with hoses from a water tanker and later fired tear gas.

June 01, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghans mourned the loss of family members, friends and colleagues on Thursday, a day after a massive truck bomb exploded in the capital leaving at least 90 people dead and more than 450 others wounded in one of the worst extremist attacks since the drawdown of foreign forces from Afghanistan in 2014.

The city’s acting mayor said the explosion damaged property as far as 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away from the blast site and scores of people waited in hospitals to learn the status of family and friends wounded in Wednesday’s attack.

The bomber drove into Kabul’s heavily guarded diplomatic quarter during the morning rush, leaving behind chaos and destruction. Most of the casualties were civilians, including women and children, but the dead also included Afghan security guards.

There was no claim of responsibility. The explosives were hidden in a tanker truck used to clean out septic systems, according to Najib Danish, deputy spokesman for the interior minister. The trucks are common in Kabul, a city of nearly four million people with no sewage system that mostly depends on septic tanks, and where open sewers are common.

The blast gouged a crater about 5 meters (15 feet) deep near Zanbaq Square in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, where foreign embassies are protected by their own security personnel as well as Afghan police and National Security Forces. The nearby German Embassy was heavily damaged.

Also in the area is Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry, the Presidential Palace and its intelligence and security headquarters, guarded by soldiers trained by the U.S. and its coalition partners. The city’s acting mayor said Thursday at a news conference that the bombing caused property damage as far as 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away from the blast site. Abdullah Habibzai said the an initial estimate put the total damage from the bombing at 1 billion Afghanis ($1.5 million), but said that number could rise.

He said city workers had removed around 200 large trucks of garbage and debris by Thursday morning. “We have transported a large number or a large amount of broken glass and windows,” he said. Meanwhile, some people were still missing and families were searching for news about loved ones in local hospitals.

Mohammad Sarwar stood crying behind the gate of an emergency hospital, looking for his nephew, Habibullah, who was missing. “This is the second day that we are searching for my nephew Habibiullah and have been to all Kabul hospitals, still couldn’t find him,” he said.

Afghanistan’s war, the longest ever involving U.S. troops, has shown no sign of letting up and the introduction into the battle of an Islamic State group affiliate has made the country only more volatile.

Although they are small in number, militants from the Islamic State in Khorasan — an ancient name for parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia — have taken credit for several brazen assaults on the capital.

June 01, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide attacker struck the fortified heart of the Afghan capital with a massive truck bomb Wednesday, killing 90 people, wounding 400 and raising new fears about the government’s ability to protect its citizens nearly 16 years into a war with insurgents.

The bomber drove into Kabul’s heavily guarded diplomatic quarter during the morning rush hour, leaving behind a bloody scene of chaos and destruction in one of the worst attacks since the drawdown of foreign forces from Afghanistan in 2014.

Most of the casualties were civilians, including women and children, said Ismail Kawasi, spokesman of the public health ministry. But the dead also included Afghan security guards at the facilities, including the U.S. Embassy, while 11 American contractors were wounded — none with life-threatening injuries, a U.S. State Department official said.

“I have been to many attacks, taken wounded people out of many blast sites, but I can say I have ever seen such a horrible attack as I saw this morning,” ambulance driver Alef Ahmadzai told The Associated Press. “Everywhere was on fire and so many people were in critical condition.”

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, which came in the first week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Taliban flatly denied any involvement in an email to news outlets and condemned all attacks against civilians.

The explosives were hidden in a tanker truck used to clean out septic systems, said Najib Danish, deputy spokesman for the interior minister. The number of dead and wounded was provided by the Afghan government’s media center, citing a statement from the Afghan Ulema Council, the country’s top religious body that includes Muslim clerics, scholars and men of authority in religion and law.

The blast gouged a crater about 5 meters (15 feet) deep near Zanbaq Square in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, where foreign embassies are protected by a battery of their own security personnel as well as Afghan police and National Security Forces. The nearby German Embassy was heavily damaged.

Also in the area is Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry, the Presidential Palace and its intelligence and security headquarters, guarded by soldiers trained by the U.S. and its coalition partners. “The terrorists, even in the holy month of Ramadan, the month of goodness, blessing and prayer, are not stopping the killing of our innocent people,” said President Ashraf Ghani.

President Donald Trump spoke with Ghani after the attack, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned it as a “senseless and cowardly act.” “The United States stands with the government and the people of Afghanistan and will continue to support their efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity for their country,” Tillerson said in a statement.

Afghanistan’s war, the longest ever involving U.S. troops, has shown no sign of letting up, and the introduction into the battle of an Islamic State affiliate has made the country only more volatile. Although they are small in number, militants from the Islamic State in Khorasan — an ancient name for parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia — have taken credit for several brazen assaults on the capital.

“Let’s be clear: This is an intelligence failure, as has been the case with so many other attacks in Kabul and beyond. There was a clear failure to anticipate a major security threat in a highly secured area,” said Michael Kugelman of the U.S.-based Wilson Center.

“The fact that these intelligence failures keep happening suggest that something isn’t working at the top, and major and urgent changes are needed in security policy,” he said by email. Still, there are questions about whether a U.S. pledge to send more troops to Afghanistan will curb the violence.

“The sad reality is that more foreign troops would not necessarily ensure these attacks happen less,” Kugelman said. “But they could help by supplementing training programs meant to enhance Afghan intel collection capacities, which have long been a deficiency in Afghanistan.”

There are currently 8,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan with a U.S. promise of more to come. Afghan lawmaker and analyst Nasrullah Sadeqizada bemoaned the abysmal security, saying “the situation is deteriorating day by day.”

In an interview, Sadeqizada criticized U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, saying they have done little to improve protection in the country. “If the situation continues to deteriorate, Afghans will lose all trust in the foreigners who are in Afghanistan as friends,” he warned.

Gen. Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, former deputy interior minister, said more troops won’t help, although he urged the global community to stay committed to Afghanistan. “I don’t think that more U.S. or NATO soldiers can solve the security problems in Afghanistan,” he said.

“When we had more than 100,000 foreign soldiers, they were not even able to secure Helmand province” in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban controls roughly 80 percent of the area, he said. In the past year, U.S. troops have largely focused on thwarting a surge in Taliban attacks.

The stricken neighborhood was considered Kabul’s safest, with the embassies protected by dozens of 10-foot-high blast walls and government offices guarded by security forces. More than 50 cars were either destroyed or damaged.

“I’ve never seen such a powerful explosion in my life,” said Mohammad Haroon, who owns a nearby sporting goods store. All the windows in his shop and others around him were shattered, he added. Shocked residents soaked in blood stumbled in the streets before being taken to hospitals. Passers-by helped them into private cars, while others went to the nearby Italian-run Emergency Hospital.

Besides the German Embassy, damage was reported at the embassies of China, Turkey, France, India and Japan, according to officials from those countries. Other nearby embassies include those of the U.S., Britain, Pakistan and Iran, as well as the NATO mission.

Nine Afghan guards at the U.S. Embassy were killed and 11 American contractors were wounded, with one Afghan guard missing, according to a U.S. State Department official, who was not authorized to talk publicly on the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity. None of the wounded Americans appeared to have life-threatening injuries, the official said.

The BBC said one of its drivers was killed and four of its journalists were wounded. Afghanistan’s private TOLO Television also reported a staffer killed; Germany said an Afghan security guard outside its embassy was among the dead.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that along with an Afghan guard who was killed, a German diplomat was slightly wounded and an Afghan staffer had severe injuries. Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the attack, saying that “terrorism has no borders.”

It “targets all of us — whether in Manchester or Berlin, Paris, Istanbul, St. Petersburg or today in Kabul,” she said in the southern German city of Nuremberg. “Today we’re united in shock and sadness across all borders,” she added.

She vowed: “We will lead the fight against terrorism, and we will win it.” Germany has had troops in Afghanistan for 15 years, primarily in the north in and around Mazar-e-Sharif. It is one of the biggest contributors to the NATO-led Resolute Support mission, with about 980 soldiers supporting and training Afghan forces.

Neighboring Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the bomb damaged residences of some of its diplomats and staff and caused some minor injuries.

Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez reported this story in Kabul and AP writer Kathy Gannon reported from Islamabad. AP writers Amir Shah in Kabul, Matthew Lee in Washington and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

Washington (AFP)

May 4, 2017

The Pentagon will ask the White House next week to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan to break a deadlocked fight with the Taliban, a senior official said Thursday.

After a steady downsizing of US troop numbers since 2011, US military commanders say they need to strengthen the numbers on the ground to better support Afghan forces and help retake territory lost to the Taliban.

According to US media, the Pentagon will ask for 3,000 to 5,000 more soldiers, mainly to be assigned to advise and train Afghan military and police.

US troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies, also now in an advisory capacity.

But that is a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago, and the Afghan military has struggled to fill the void amid an unrelenting Taliban insurgency.

“I expect that these proposals will go to the president within the next week,” said Theresa Whelan, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

The intent is “to move beyond the stalemate and also to recognize that Afghanistan is a very important partner for the United States in a very tricky region.”

NATO officially ended its combat operations against the Taliban at the end of 2014, and its current mission is to support Afghan troops in training and advice.

Last year, with the Kabul government struggling to hold ground against the Taliban, former president Barack Obama authorized US air strikes against the Taliban in limited cases, to ensure Afghan forces on the ground would have a “strategic advantage.”

The new Trump administration could go beyond that to permit more direct engagement between US forces and the Taliban, General Raymond Thomas, commander of the US Special Operations Command, told the same hearing Thursday.

“Changes to the rules of engagement are being considered,” he said.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Pentagon_to_request_thousands_more_troops_for_Afghanistan_next_week_999.html.

April 22, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Authorities on Saturday raised the casualty toll to 100 in an attack on a military compound in northern Afghanistan a day earlier by gunmen and suicide bombers wearing army uniforms.

Gen. Daulat Waziri, spokesman for the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense, said the attack Friday on a compound of the 209th Corps of the Afghan National Army left dozens of soldiers and other personnel dead or wounded.

The defense ministry had said Friday night that eight soldiers were killed and 11 others were wounded based on initial reports. Gen. Mohammad Radmanish, deputy spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said the militants entered the base in Balkh province using two military vehicles and attacked army personnel inside the compound’s mosque.

“Two suicide bombers detonated their vests full of explosive inside the mosque of the army corps while everyone was busy with Friday prayers,” he said. Waziri said there were 10 attackers, including the two who carried out the suicide attacks. Eight others were killed in a gun battle with soldiers.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the assault in an email sent to media. President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday traveled to the base and strongly condemned the attack, according to a tweet from the official Twitter account of the presidential palace.

“The attackers are infidels,” Ghani was quoted as saying in the tweet. Reports conflicted on the death toll, but a source within the army corps who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media, said more than 130 were killed and around 80 others were wounded.

In March, an attack on a military hospital in the capital Kabul killed 50 people. Responsibility for that attack was claimed by the Islamic State group. According to officials, five attackers were involved, including one suicide bomber who detonated an explosives belt and four gunmen who stormed the building.

The 209th corps is located in the Dihdadi district of Balkh. It is one of seven corps of the country’s Ministry of Defense, which is responsible for providing security for Afghanistan’s northern and northeastern provinces.

April 13, 2017

DOLJEVAC, Serbia (AP) — Fatima Bakhshi stays close to her mother and two sons, afraid she might lose them as they trudge through the cold Balkan darkness. The smuggler they’ve paid to escort them safely into Western Europe orders them to squeeze into a car with more than a dozen other migrants.

Bakhshi, the boys in her lap, is crammed so tightly in the back that she can barely breathe. The driver swerves and she yells at him to stop. Other migrants snap at her to keep quiet and she dozes off. All she wants is a new life with relatives in Ireland, away from a brutish husband and a controlling father back in Afghanistan.

In an instant, on a road in southern Serbia, the 26-year-old’s dream turns into a nightmare. The car hits a barrier and overturns, killing Bakhshi’s mother and another person. Bakhshi’s younger son is hurt, and she is so badly wounded that her legs must be amputated above the knees.

“I wake up in the hospital, I see I didn’t have feet, there is doctors,” Bakhshi says in broken English. “Where is my mother? Where is my feet? I am calling, crying, all the time I am crying.” Bakhshi’s tragedy highlights the dangers facing migrants — particularly women — who rely on smugglers to take them on dangerous journeys through Central and Eastern Europe in hopes of finding new lives in more prosperous countries to the west. She doesn’t remember many details of her journey and finds others too hard to talk about, including how they found the smuggler and how much they paid. The driver of the car fled and it’s not clear if he was ever found.

Tens of thousands of people remain stranded across the Balkans after countries throughout Europe last year tightened migration rules and border controls. Most are fleeing war or poverty in the Middle East or Africa.

Bakhshi fled a life of abuse in Afghanistan. When she was 16, her father pulled her out of school to marry a man 10 years her senior whom she had never seen before. She says he turned out to be a drug addict who harassed and beat her severely.

A year ago, she tried to leave her abusive husband and return to her parents’ home, but her father wouldn’t take her in. Her mother decided to help her get away. The two set off with the boys, now ages 5 and 9. Details of the journey are hazy, but Bakhshi recalls that they first went to Pakistan, then to Iran, Turkey, Greece and Macedonia. They spent eight months in a refugee camp in Greece, then were detained and pushed back to Greece once from Macedonia, before finally reaching Serbia in December.

“It’s very hard. You don’t understand because you don’t see,” Bakhshi said of the ordeal. “It’s very hard (on) my feet, walking to mountain and from Iran to Turkey. It’s very hard.” “I come here with my mother, I think I’ll be happy with my kids and then I had accident in car,” she said.

More than three months after the Dec. 29 crash, Bakhshi is now out of the hospital, staying in a small care home in the village of Doljevac, in southern Serbia. She has started a rehabilitation program that should result in prosthetic limbs. Her children are well, by her side.

Faced with her immense loss, bed-ridden and desperate, Bakhshi speaks in a hushed, low voice, smiling only at the sight of her boys playing nearby. She said her only wish remains to join her mother’s brother and other relatives in Ireland so her children can have a future in a larger family.

“I don’t want to live, I live just for my kids,” she said sadly, bowing her head. “Before I liked learning. Now it’s very hard. I just sleep.” The United Nations refugee agency in Serbia, the UNHCR, has declared Bakhshi a refugee and offered to help resettle her in an as-yet-undecided third country where she can have access to a better treatment than in impoverished Serbia. But the agency cannot guarantee it will be Ireland.

“This depends on the quotas that are at hand,” said Davor Rako, an associate protection officer for the UNHCR. “At this point in time, unfortunately, Ireland does not have a quota for UNHCR, for settlement.”

Vladimir Bogosavljevic, a psychologist with Indigo, a group for children and youth that also works with migrants, has worked with Bakhshi and her children. He said he hopes to enroll the boys in a local school, but that the family is anxious not to separate at all. Bogosavljevic appealed to “people of good will and in high places” to help Bakhshi and the boys join their relatives in Ireland because “so far that is her only wish.”

“It’s important to give her hope,” he said. Bakhshi said that for her, Ireland also means a connection to her late mother, whom she considers the only friend she’s ever had. “Always my mother helped me. Why my mother died?” she sobbed. “I had just mother in life. Why is like this, why?”

February 07, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber struck an entrance to Afghanistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, killing at least 19 people in the latest in a series of attacks on the country’s judiciary. The attacker was on foot, and targeted a side door as court employees and other people were exiting the building in downtown Kabul, the Interior Ministry said. Public Health Minister Ferozuddin Feroz said 41 people were wounded, including 10 in critical condition.

No one immediately claimed the attack, which bore the hallmarks of the Taliban. The insurgents have been at war with the U.S.-backed government for 15 years and have increasingly targeted the judiciary since the execution of six convicted insurgents last May.

Shortly after the executions, a suicide bomber targeted a minibus carrying court employees in Kabul during the morning rush hour, killing 11 people in an attack claimed by the Taliban, which called it an act of revenge.

In June, three Taliban fighters stormed a court building in the eastern Logar province, killing seven people, including a newly appointed chief prosecutor, before being shot dead by police. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the Supreme Court attack, which he blamed on the “enemies of our people.” The U.S. Embassy in Kabul called it “an attack on the very foundation of Afghan democracy and rule of law.”

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a roadside bomb killed a top district official in the western Farah province as he returned home from a mosque, local police spokesman Iqbal Baher said. The Taliban claimed the attack.

January 11, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban say they did not plant the bomb in southern Afghanistan that wounded the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador and other diplomats the day before. They issued a short statement on Wednesday, blaming an “internal local rivalry” for the attack at the Kandahar governor’s guesthouse that killed five people and wounded 12.

The Taliban claimed attacks earlier on Tuesday in Kabul that killed at least 38 people and wounded dozens. The Taliban have denied some attacks in the past — attacks that diplomats and security forces later attributed to the group.

Tuesday’s Kandahar assault wounded Gov. Homayun Azizia, as well as UAE Ambassador Juma Mohammed Abdullah al-Kaabi and what Emirati officials described as “a number of Emirati diplomats.” Emirati officials did not respond to a request for comment.

January 11, 2017

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — The killing of five diplomats from the United Arab Emirates in a bombing in southern Afghanistan marks the deadliest attack ever for the young nation’s diplomatic corps, though it’s too soon to tell who was behind it or if the Gulf envoys were even the targets.

The federation of seven sheikhdoms, founded in 1971 on the Arabian Peninsula, said it would fly the nation’s flag at half-staff for three days in honor of the dead from the attack Tuesday in Kandahar.

The Taliban denied planting the bomb, even as the insurgents claimed other blasts Tuesday that killed at least 45 people. No other group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Kandahar, a province in Afghanistan’s Taliban heartland.

The bomb targeted a guesthouse of Kandahar Gov. Homayun Azizi, who was wounded in the assault along with UAE Ambassador Juma Mohammed Abdullah al-Kaabi. The attack killed 11 people and wounded 18, said Gen. Abdul Razeq, Kandahar’s police chief, who was praying nearby at the time of the blast.

Razeq said investigators believe someone hid the bomb inside a sofa at the guesthouse. He said an ongoing construction project there may have allowed militants to plant the bomb. “Right now we cannot say anything about who is behind this attack,” he told The Associated Press, while adding that several suspects had been arrested.

On Wednesday, broken glass from the powerful blast still littered the blood-stained ground outside of the guesthouse, with thick black soot still visible on the building. Some furniture sat outside, apparently moved as part of the construction.

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the UAE prime minister and vice president, offered condolences for the families of the dead and condemned the attack. “There is no human, moral or religious justification for the bombing and killing of people trying to help” others, he wrote on Twitter.

On the Afghan side, authorities said the dead included two lawmakers, a deputy governor from Kandahar and an Afghan diplomat stationed at its embassy in Washington. The attack inside the heavily guarded compound represents a major breach of security, even in Afghanistan, a country long torn by war. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday condemned the attack and ordered an investigation.

The Taliban is usually quick to take credit for attacks, particularly those targeting the government or security forces. They claimed attacks earlier on Tuesday in Kabul at a compound of government and legislative offices that killed at least 38 people and wounded dozens. Another Taliban-claimed suicide bombing on Tuesday killed seven people in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.

But on Wednesday, the Taliban issued a short statement blaming an “internal local rivalry” for the Kandahar attack. The Taliban have denied some attacks in the past that diplomats and security forces later attributed to the group. Other insurgent groups, including an Islamic State affiliate, also operate Afghanistan.

A Taliban attack targeting Emirati officials would be surprising. The UAE was one of only three countries, along with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to recognize the Taliban government during its five-year rule of Afghanistan.

Emirati combat troops deployed to Afghanistan after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, who had harbored al-Qaida before and after the Sept. 11 attacks. The UAE had troops there for years as part of the NATO-led mission, training members of the Afghan armed forces and often winning the support of locals by praying with them in community mosques and respecting their traditions as fellow Muslims.

Multiple daily commercial flights link the countries, with Dubai serving as an important commercial hub for Afghan businessmen. Over the years, Taliban and Afghan officials also have met in Dubai to try to start peace talks.

Although the UAE is only 45 years old, Emirati diplomats have come under attack in the past, some felled by assassins’ bullets. Saif Ghubash, the UAE’s first minister of state for foreign affairs, died after being shot in an October 1977 attack at Abu Dhabi International Airport, an attack that apparently targeted Syrian Foreign Minister Abdul-Halim Khaddam. Khaddam later blamed the attack on Iraq.

In 1984, the UAE’s ambassador to France was assassinated outside his Paris home by a gunman. A diplomatic club was named in honor of the slain envoy, Khalifa al-Mubarak, in the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi, in 2015.

Another Emirati diplomat was wounded in a shooting in Rome in 1984. Reports at the time linked those two attacks to the Arab Revolutionary Brigades, a Palestinian militant group. Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, said Tuesday’s attack wouldn’t stop the UAE’s humanitarian efforts abroad.

He wrote on Twitter: “We will not be discouraged by despicable terrorist acts carried out by the forces of evil and darkness.”

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

December 15, 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A Kabul airport official says 34 Afghan asylum seekers returned home after being deported from Germany the previous day. The Kabul airport chief of police, Mohammad Asif Jabarkhil, says the deportees — all young men without families — landed around 5 a.m.

Many expressed disappointment over their deportation, saying they had lived and worked in Germany for years and were now forced to come back without any job prospects. Sidiq Kuchai, a 23-year-old from northern Baghlan province who was in Germany for seven years, says he “had a good job and was working in a restaurant in Cologne.

Kuchai, who was among those who returned on Thursday says that in Afghanistan he has “no job and no security.” He added: “I am not happy, everything is different for me here.”