Tag Archive: Land of Fallen Empires


September 28, 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s presidential polls closed Saturday amid fears that accusations of fraud and misconduct could overwhelm any election results, while insurgent attacks aimed at disrupting voting in the country’s north and south caused dozens of casualties.

An upsurge in violence in the run-up to the elections, following the collapse of U.S.-Taliban talks to end America’s longest war, had already rattled Afghanistan in the past weeks. Yet on Saturday, many voters expressed equal fear and frustration over relentless government corruption and the widespread chaos at polling stations.

A deeply flawed election and contested result could drive the war-weary country into chaos. Many Afghans found incomplete voters’ lists, unworkable biometric identification systems aimed at curbing fraud, and in some cases hostile election workers.

Ruhollah Nawroz, a representative of the Independent Complaints Commission tasked with monitoring the process, said the problems are countrywide. Nawroz said he arrived at a polling center in the Taimani neighborhood of Kabul, the capital, at 6 a.m. and “hour by hour I was facing problems.”

Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time and closed at 5 p.m. after the Independent Election Commission (IEC) extended polling by one hour. Preliminary results won’t be out until Oct. 17, with a final vote count on Nov. 7. If no candidate wins 51 percent of the vote, a second round will be held between the two leading candidates.

Voter Hajji Faqir Bohman, who was speaking on behalf of disgruntled voters at the Taimani polling center, said the polling was so disorganized and flawed that even if his candidate wins “I will never believe that it was a fair election.”

The leading contenders are incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and his partner in the five-year-old unity government, Abdullah Abdullah, who already alleges power abuse by his opponent. Cameras crowded both men as they cast their vote earlier in Kabul, with Ghani telling voters they too had a responsibility to call out instances of fraud.

A young woman, Shabnam Rezayee, was attacked by an election worker after insisting on seeing the voter’s list when she was told her name was not on the list. Rezayee said the worker hurled abuses at her, directing her insults at her ethnicity. She then punched and scratched her.

When it ended and the attacker left, Rezayee found her name on the list and voted. “I am very strong,” she said. In Kabul, turnout was sporadic and in the morning hours it was rare to see a crowded polling center. Afghans who had patiently lined up before the voting centers were opened, entered in some locations to find that election officials had yet to arrive by opening time.

Imam Baksh, who works as a security guard, said he wasn’t worried about his safety as he stood waiting to mark his ballot, wondering whom he would vote for. “All of them have been so disappointing for our country,” he said.

The government’s push to hold the vote was in itself controversial. In an interview with The Associated Press last week, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who still wields heavy influence, warned that the vote could be destabilizing for the country at a time of deep political uncertainty and hinder restarting the peace process with the Taliban.

On Saturday, one of the first reports of violence came from southern Afghanistan, the former spiritual heartland of the Taliban. A bomb attack on a local mosque where a polling station was located wounded 15 people, a doctor at the main hospital in the city of Kandahar said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak with the media.

The wounded included a police officer and several election officials, along with voters. Three were in critical condition. In northern Kunduz, where Taliban have previously threatened the city — even briefly taking control of some areas — insurgents fired mortar rounds into the municipality and attacked Afghan security forces on its outskirts, said Ghulam Rabani Rabani, a council member for the province.

Rabani said the attacks are to “frighten people and force them to stay in their homes and not participate in the election.” He said ongoing fighting has wounded as many as 40 people. Tens of thousands of police, intelligence officials and Afghan National Army personnel were deployed throughout the country to protect the 4,942 election centers. Authorities said 431 polling centers will stay closed because it was impossible to guarantee their security since they were either in areas under Taliban control or where insurgents could threaten nearby villages.

At one polling station in Kabul’s well-to-do Shahr-e-Now neighborhood, election workers struggled with biometric machines as well as finding names on voters’ lists. Ahmad Shah, 32, cast his vote, but said the election worker forgot to ink his finger — which is mandatory to prevent multiple voting by the same person.

“What sort of system is this?” he asked, frustrated that he had risked his safety to vote and expressed fear that fraud will mar the election results. “It’s a mess.” Still, 63-year old Ahmad Khan urged people to vote.

“It is the only way to show the Taliban we are not afraid of them,” he said, though he too worried at the apparent glitches in the process. In Kabul traffic was light, with police and the army scattered throughout the city, stopping cars and looking for anything out of the ordinary. Larger vehicles were not being allowed into the capital on Saturday, which is normally a working day but for the elections was declared a holiday.

Campaigning for Saturday’s elections was subdued and went into high gear barely two weeks ahead of the polls as most of the 18 presidential candidates expected a deal between the United States and the Taliban to delay the vote. But on Sept. 7, President Donald Trump declared a deal that seemed imminent dead after violent attacks in Kabul killed 12 people, including two U.S.-led coalition soldiers, one of whom was American.

While many of the presidential candidates withdrew from the election, none formally did so, leaving all 18 candidates on the ballot. Elections in Afghanistan are notoriously flawed and in the last presidential polls in 2014, allegations of widespread corruption were so massive that the United States intervened to prevent violence. No winner was declared and the U.S. cobbled together the unity government in which Ghani and Abdullah shared equal power — Ghani as president and Abdullah as chief executive, a newly created position.

Constant bickering and infighting within the government frustrated attempts to bring in substantive legislation as security, which has been tenuous, continued to deteriorate, frustrating Afghans and causing many to flee as refugees.

Neighboring Pakistan, routinely accused of aiding insurgents, said it was re-opening its borders with Afghanistan after receiving a request from the Afghan defense minister to allow Afghans to return home to vote. Pakistan had announced the border would be closed Saturday and Sunday.

Associated Press writer Mukhtar Amiri in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.

September 28, 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghans headed to the polls on Saturday to elect a new president amid high security and Taliban threats to disrupt the elections, with the rebels warning citizens to stay home or risk being hurt.

Still at some polling stations in the capital voters lined up even before the centers opened, while in others election workers had yet to arrive by poll opening time. Imam Baksh, who works as a security guard, said he wasn’t worried about his safety as he stood waiting to mark his ballot, wondering who he would vote for.

“All of them have been so disappointing for our country,” he said. The leading contenders are incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and his partner in the 5-year-old unity government, Abdullah Abdullah, who already alleges power abuse by his opponent. Cameras crowded both men as they cast their vote, with Ghani telling voters they too had a responsibility to call out instances of fraud.

Fear and frustration at the relentless corruption that has characterized successive governments ranks high among the concerns of Afghanistan’s 9.6 million eligible voters. Even in the early hours of voting, complaints had begun to be raised such as polling stations in the posh Wazir Akbar region opening late and biometric machines, aimed at curbing fraud, not working.

In the northern Taimani neighborhood of mostly ethnic Hazaras, two-thirds of the voting registration papers had yet to arrive and angry voters were told their names were not on the list. Abdul Ghafoor, who spoke on behalf of dozens of men waiting to cast their ballot, said that of about 3,000 registered voters only 400 appeared on the list that had arrived at the center.

Ghafoor said he was told to return at 2 p.m. and that he would be allowed to vote even if his name was not on the list and without using the biometric machine. “But how can they do this? My vote won’t count if I am not on a list,” he said.

In Khoja Ali Mohfaq Herawi mosque in Kabul’s well-to-do Shahr-e-Now neighborhood, election workers struggled with biometric machines as well as finding names on voters’ lists. Ahmad Shah, 32, cast his vote, but said the election worker forgot to ink his finger — which is mandatory to prevent multiple voting by the same person.

“What sort of system is this?” he asked, frustrated that he had risked his safety to vote and expressed fear that fraud will mar the election results. “It’s a mess.” Still, 63-year old Ahmad Khan urged people to vote.

“It is the only way to show the Taliban we are not afraid of them,” he said, though he too worried at the apparent glitches in the process. Tens of thousands of police, intelligence officials and Afghan National Army personnel have been deployed throughout the country to protect the 4,942 election centers. Authorities said 431 polling centers will stay closed because it was impossible to guarantee their security since they were either in areas under Taliban control or where insurgents could threaten nearby villages.

In Kabul traffic was light, with police and the army scattered throughout the city, stopping cars and looking for anything out of the ordinary. The Taliban said they would take particular aim at Afghanistan’s cities.

Outfitted in bullet-proof vests, their rifles by their side, soldiers slowed traffic to a crawl as they searched vehicles. Larger vehicles were not being allowed into the capital on Saturday, which is a usual working day but for the elections was declared a holiday.

Neighbor Pakistan, routinely accused of aiding insurgents, announced it was closing its borders with Afghanistan Saturday and Sunday to further protect security in the war-weary country. Campaigning for Saturday’s elections was subdued and went into high gear barely two weeks ahead of the polls as most of the 18 presidential candidates expected a deal between the United States and the Taliban to delay the vote. But on Sept. 7, President Donald Trump declared a deal that seemed imminent dead after violent attacks in Kabul killed 12 people, including two U.S.-led coalition soldiers, one of whom was American.

While many of the presidential candidates withdrew from the election, none formally did so, leaving all 18 candidates on the ballot. Elections in Afghanistan are notoriously flawed and in the last presidential polls in 2014, allegations of widespread corruption were so massive that the United States intervened to prevent violence. No winner was declared and the U.S. cobbled together the unity government in which Ghani and Abdullah shared equal power — Ghani as president and Abdullah as chief executive, a newly created position.

Constant bickering and infighting within the government frustrated attempts to bring in substantive legislation as security, which has been tenuous, continued to deteriorate, frustrating Afghans and causing many to flee as refugees.

Associated Press writer Mukhtar Amiri contributed to this report.

October 21, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections entered a second day on Sunday following violence and chaos that caused delays and interruptions on the first day of polling. Independent Elections Commission Chairman Abdul Badi Sayat said more than 3 million people out of 8.8 million registered voters cast their ballots on Saturday. The biggest turnout was in Kabul and the lowest in the southern Uruzgan province.

Polling on Sunday continues in 401 voting centers, including 45 in Kabul. Polls close at 4 p.m. (1130 GMT). The results of the polling will not be released before mid-November and final results will not be out until December.

The first parliamentary elections since 2010 are being held against a backdrop of near-daily attacks by the Taliban, who have seized nearly half the country and have repeatedly refused offers to negotiate with the Kabul government. The U.S.-backed government is rife with corruption, and many Afghans have said they do not expect the elections to be fair.

Officials at polling stations struggled with voter registration and a new biometric system that was aimed at stemming fraud but instead created enormous confusion because many of those trained on the system did not show up for work. The biometric machines arrived just a month before polls and there was no time to do field testing.

The U.N. mission in Afghanistan praised those who had made an effort to vote despite the technical issues, many of whom waited in long lines for hours as polling stations remained open late. “Those eligible voters who were not able to cast their vote, due to technical issues, deserve the right to vote,” it said in a statement.

The Taliban had vowed to attack the election, and on the first day of polling at least 36 people were killed in nearly 200 attacks, including 27 civilians, according to Interior Minister Akhtar Mohammed Ibrahimi. He said security forces killed 31 insurgents in gun battles.

October 20, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections in eight years suffered from violence and chaos Saturday, with a multitude of attacks killing at least 3 people, key election workers failing to show up and many polling stations staying open hours later than scheduled to handle long lines of voters.

Problems surrounding the elections — already three years overdue — threaten to compromise the credibility of polls which an independent monitoring group said were also marred by incidences of ballot stuffing and intimidation by armed men affiliated with candidates in 19 of the country’s 32 provinces. Some areas have yet to vote, including Kandahar, where the provincial police chief was gunned down Thursday.

Stakes were high in these elections for Afghans who hoped to reform Parliament, challenging the dominance of warlords and the politically corrupt and replacing them with a younger, more educated generation of politicians. They were also high for the U.S., which is still seeking an exit strategy after 17 years of a war there that has cost more than $900 billion and claimed more than 2,400 U.S. service personnel.

The most serious attack on the polls was in a northern Kabul neighborhood where a suicide bomber blew himself up just as voting was about to end, killing three people and wounding another 20, many of them seriously, said Dr. Esa Hashemi, a physician at the nearby Afghan Hospital.

The police and Interior Ministry officials reported a total of 15 casualties, without providing details on the number of those killed and wounded. However, Najib Danish, a ministry spokesman, said police officers were among the dead.

Polling stations also struggled with voter registration and a new biometric system that was aimed at stemming fraud, but instead created enormous confusion because many of those trained on the system did not show up for work. Also, the biometric machines were received just a month before polls and there was no time to do field testing.

Many polling stations opened as much as five hours behind schedule. The Independent Election Commission was uncertain how many of the estimated 21,000 polling stations closed by 4 p.m. local time, the original closing time. Polling was extended until 8 p.m. local time for all those polling stations that opened late, and those that could not open before 1 p.m. local time will open Sunday.

Afghanistan’s deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq expressed outrage at the chaotic start to polling and assailed election preparation by the country’s election commission. “The people rushed like a flood to the polling stations, but the election commission employees were not present, and in some cases they were there but there were no electoral materials and in most cases the biometric systems was not working,” he said.

“The widespread reports today of confusion and incompetence in the administration of the elections … suggest that bureaucratic failures and lack of political will to prioritize organizing credible parliamentary elections may do more to delegitimize the election results than threats and violent attacks by the Taliban and Daesh,” said Andrew Wilder, vice-president of Asia Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, using the Arabic acronym name for the Islamic State group.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani marked his ballot at the start of voting. In a televised speech afterward, he congratulated Afghans on another election and praised the security forces, particularly the air force, for getting ballots to Afghanistan’s remotest corners.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he said, also reminding those elected that they are there to serve the people and ensure the rule of law. North of Kabul, thousands of outraged voters blocked a road after waiting more than five hours for a polling station to open, said Mohammad Azim, the governor of Qarabagh district where the demonstration took place.

Election Commission Commissioner Abdul Badi Sayat said dozens of teachers who had been trained in the new biometric system had not shown up for work at the polling stations. It wasn’t clear whether that was related to a Taliban warning directed specifically at teachers and students telling them to stay away from the polls.

“The long lines at many polling stations today, despite the threats and violent attacks by the Taliban and Daesh, clearly demonstrate that the problem with Afghan elections is not the enthusiasm of Afghan voters for a democratic future,” said Wilder.

The Defense Ministry said it had increased its deployment of National Security Forces to 70,000 from the original 50,000 to protect polling stations. Elections in the provinces of Kandahar and Ghazni have been delayed as well as in 11 of the country’s nearly 400 districts.

The Independent Election Commission registered 8.8 million people. Wasima Badghisy, a commission member, called voters “very, very brave” and said a turnout of 5 million would be a success. At a polling station in crowded west Kabul, Khoda Baksh said he arrived nearly two hours early to cast his vote, dismissing Taliban threats of violence.

“We don’t care about their threats. The Taliban are threatening us all the time,” said 55-year-old Baksh, who said he wanted to see a new generation of politicians take power in Afghanistan’s 249-seat Parliament. He bemoaned the current Parliament dominated by warlords and corrupt elite. “They have done zero for us.”

In the run-up to the elections, two candidates were killed while polling in Kandahar was delayed for a week after a rogue guard gunned down the powerful provincial police chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq. In the capital of Kabul, security was tight, with police and military personnel stopping vehicles at dozens of checkpoints throughout the congested city.

Commission deputy spokesman Aziz Ibrahimi said results of Saturday’s voting will not be released before mid-November and final results will not be out until later in December.

October 20, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Some Afghans lined up for hours to cast their vote Saturday in Parliamentary elections that are being protected by tens of thousands of security forces, who are on alert nationwide following a campaign marred by relentless violence.

As voting began, polling workers struggled with a new biometric system and in several polling stations workers took an extraordinary amount of time to locate names on voter lists. In some polling stations in the capital Kabul voting started as much as an hour late causing small disturbances by frustrated voters, some of whom had come to vote nearly two hours before polls opened.

The new biometric machines meant to curtail fraud were late additions to Afghanistan’s elections and had not been tested in the field nor had workers had more than a few weeks to learn the system. Even the Independent Election Commission chairman Abdul Badih Sayat warned ahead of polling that the system might experience glitches and asked for voters’ patience.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani marked his ballot at the start of voting. In a televised speech afterward, he congratulated Afghans on another election and praised the security forces, particularly the air force, for getting ballots to Afghanistan’s remotest corners. He also reminded those elected to Parliament that they are there to serve the people and ensure the rule of law.

The Independent Election Commission registered 8.8. million people. Wasima Badghisy, a commission member, called voters “very, very brave” and said a turnout of 5 million will be a success. At a polling station in crowded west Kabul, Khoda Baksh said he arrived nearly two hours early to cast his vote, dismissing Taliban threats of violence.

“We don’t care about their threats. The Taliban are threatening us all the time,” said 55-year-old Baksh, who said he wanted to see a new generation of politicians take power in Afghanistan’s 249-seat Parliament. He bemoaned the current Parliament dominated by warlords and a corrupt elite. “They have done zero for us.”

Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah waited to mark his ballot as polling workers struggled to move voters through the process. “Holding the election is a huge step in the lives of the Afghan people,” Abdullah said after casting his vote. “The beginning of the process was a bit slow, but that was just because of a new system and the Independent Election Commission employees needed more instruction.”

The first violence to be reported since the start of polling occurred in a northern Kabul neighborhood. Qarbagh district Gov. Azim Dilagha said a small explosion frightened voters but no injuries were reported.

In the run-up to the elections, two candidates were killed while polling in Kandahar was delayed for a week after a rogue guard gunned down the powerful provincial police chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq. In the capital of Kabul, security was tight, with police and military personnel stopping vehicles at dozens of checkpoints throughout the congested city.

Commission deputy spokesman Aziz Ibrahimi said results of Saturday’s voting will not be released before mid-November and final results will not be out until later in December. More than 50,000 Afghan National Security Forces personnel have been deployed to protect the 21,000 polling stations. Insecurity forced the election commission to close nearly a third of its polling centers and cancel elections in 11 of nearly 400 districts. As well as Kandahar, elections will not be held in Ghazni province, where polls have been postponed until next year.

The Taliban have vowed to disrupt Saturday’s vote, warning teachers and students not to allow schools to be used for as precincts and warning Afghans to stay away from the polls. Ghani said Afghans alone are carrying out elections as he praised the millions of voters who registered, defying threats from insurgents.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “The more than 8 million people who registered have shown that they themselves will decide the future of Afghanistan.”

Associated Press writer Kathy Gannon in Kabul contributed.

August 16, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — As Afghanistan’s Shiites mourned their dead and held funeral services Thursday, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the horrific suicide bombing in Kabul that targeted a Shiite neighborhood the previous day, killing 34 students.

Grieving families gathered to bury their dead but even amid the somber atmosphere there was no respite from violence, underscoring the near-daily, persistent threats in the war-battered country. Two gunmen besieged a compound belonging to the Afghan intelligence service in a northwestern Kabul neighborhood early Thursday, opening fire as Afghan security forces moved in to cut them off. The standoff lasted for nearly six hours before police killed the gunmen and secured the area. The Islamic State group, in a posting on its Aamaq News Agency, claimed more than 200 people were killed or wounded in Wednesday’s suicide bombing.

The bomber, who had walked into a classroom in a one-room building at a Shiite educational center in the neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, where he set off his explosives, was identified as “the martyrdom-seeking brother Abdul Raouf al-Khorasani.” Afghanistan’s IS affiliate is known as The Islamic State in Khorasan Province, after an ancient name of the area that encompassed parts of present-day Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The bombing also wounded 57 students, according to Health Ministry spokesman Wahid Majroh. Earlier on Thursday, the ministry revised an earlier death toll from the attack down to 34, not 48. Most of the victims were young men and women, high school graduates preparing for university entrance exams in the Shiite area’s educational center.

Kabul hospitals were completely overwhelmed in the immediate aftermath of the attack as officials collected data on the casualties, leading to the confusion and the initial wrong toll. The Dasht-e-Barchi area is populated by members of Afghanistan’s minority ethnic Hazaras — a Shiite community that has in the past been targeted by similar large-scale attacks.

IS, which considers Shiites to be heretics, frequently targets them, attacking their mosques, schools and cultural centers. In the past two years, there have been at least 13 attacks on the Shiite community in Kabul alone.

Fifteen of the victims’ bodies were taken Thursday to a Hazara community compound in Kabul where a mass funeral service was being held. The remaining victims were taken to their villages to be buried there, said Gulam Hassan, the cousin of one of the victims.

The attack, which came at the end of more than a week of assaults that have left scores of Afghan troops and civilians dead, shows how militants are still able to stage large-scale attacks — even in the capital of Kabul — and undermine efforts by Afghan forces to provide security and stability on their own.

Amnesty International on Thursday denounced the attack on the Shiites, calling it a war crime. “The deliberate targeting of civilians and the targeting of places of education is a war crime,” said Samira Hamidi, Amnesty’s South Asia campaigner. “Mounting civilian casualties show beyond any doubt that Afghanistan and, in particular, its capital, Kabul, are not safe.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has also condemned the “terrorist” attack on the Shiites that “martyred and wounded the innocent” — students attending class — and ordered an investigation to determine how the bomber had managed to sneak into the compound, which has its own guards.

Survivors on Thursday struggled to come to terms with the bombing. In a Kabul hospital, Anifa Ahmadi sat by the bedside of her 17-year-old daughter Sima, who was wounded in the attack. Sima was in the front row of the classroom in the single-room building where the explosion occurred.

“I had told her and told her, ‘Don’t go to school. We are under attack everywhere. No place is safe for us.’ But she said ‘No, no, no’,” the mother said. Sima appeared undeterred despite injuries to her legs and arms and said she would go back to school. “I won’t let anyone stop me, I will resist all terrorist attacks to have the future I want,” she said.

Nahida Rahimi, a doctor at Kabul’s Isteqlal Hospital, where some of the wounded are being treated, said a mother told her she had lost a son in Wednesday’s bombing after already losing another a year earlier in another suicide bombing, also in Kabul, that targeted Shiites.

“We were both crying,” the doctor said. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, four policemen were killed and four were seriously wounded late Wednesday when they tried to defuse a car bomb they found in southern Kandahar province, according to Zia Durrani, provincial police spokesman.

Kandahar was the religious heartland of the Taliban during their five-year rule that ended with the 2001 invasion by U.S. and NATO forces following the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

Associated Press writer Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report.

August 15, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber targeted students preparing for university exams in a Shiite neighborhood of Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 48 people and wounding 67 in an attack blamed on the Islamic State group, officials said.

The bombing was the latest large-scale assault on Afghanistan’s Shiite community, which has increasingly been targeted by Sunni extremists who consider Shiites to be heretics. It comes amid a particularly bloody week in Afghanistan that has seen Taliban attacks kill scores of Afghan troops and civilians.

The bomber detonated his explosives inside a private building in the Dasht-i Barcha area of Kabul where a group of young Shiite men and women, all high school graduates, were studying for university entrance exams.

The spokesman for the public health ministry, Wahid Majroh, said the casualty figures were not final and that the death toll — which steadily rose in the immediate aftermath of the bombing — could rise further.

Majroh did not say if all the victims were students and whether any of their teachers were also among the casualties. The explosion initially set off gunfire from Afghan guards in the area, leading to assumptions that there were more attackers involved. Officials later said all indications were that there was only one bomber.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but Jawad Ghawari, a member of the city’s Shiite clerical council, blamed IS, which has carried similar attacks in the past, hitting mosques, schools and cultural centers.

In the past two years, Ghawari said there were at least 13 attacks on the Shiite community in Kabul alone. Abdul Hossain Hossainzada, a Shiite community leader in the western Kabul neighborhood, said the bomber apparently targeted the course, which had young men and women studying together.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied his group’s involvement in the attack. Meanwhile, a Taliban assault on two adjacent checkpoints in northern Afghanistan late on Tuesday night killed at least 30 soldiers and policemen, officials said.

The attack took place in northern Baghlan province, in the Baghlan-I Markazi district, said Mohammad Safdar Mohseni, the head of the provincial council. Dilawar Aymaq, a parliamentarian from Baghlan, said the attack targeted a military checkpoint and another manned by the so-called local police, militias recruited and paid by the Interior Ministry.

Abdul Hai Nemati, the governor of Baghlan, said at least nine security forces were still missing and four others were wounded in the attack. He said reinforcements have been dispatched to help recapture the checkpoints.

Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the assault. Also Wednesday, life was gradually returning to normal in parts of the eastern city of Ghazni after a massive, days-long Taliban attack, though sporadic gunbattles was still underway in some neighborhoods.

Afghans emerged from their homes and some shops reopened in Ghazni, where the Taliban launched a coordinated offensive last Friday, overwhelming the city’s defenses and capturing several neighborhoods. Afghan forces repelled the initial assault and in recent days have struggled to flush the insurgents out of residential areas where they are holed up.

The United States and NATO have launched airstrikes and sent military advisers to aid Afghan forces as they fight for the city, just 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the Afghan capital with a population of some 270,000 people.

Arif Noori, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said Wednesday that “life is getting back to normal” after at least 35 civilians were killed in recent days. But he said wounded people were still arriving at the city’s only hospital, which has been overwhelmed by the casualties.

Hundreds of people have fled the fighting in Ghazni, which has also killed about 100 members of the Afghan security forces. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the Taliban attacked a police checkpoint in the southern Zabul province early Wednesday, killing four policemen, according to the provincial police chief, Mustafa Mayar, who said another three officers were wounded. He said seven attackers were killed and five were wounded during the battle, in which the Taliban used artillery and heavy weapons.

The Taliban have seized several districts across the country in recent years and carry out near-daily attacks targeting Afghan security forces. The assault on Ghazni was widely seen as a show of force ahead of possible peace talks with the U.S., which has been at war in Afghanistan for nearly 17 years.

Also on Wednesday, six children were killed when they tinkered with an unexploded rocket shell, causing it to blow up, said Sarhadi Zwak, spokesman for the governor of the eastern Laghman province. Zwak said that the victims were girls, aged 10-12, who were gathering firewood on Wednesday.

He blamed the Taliban, saying the rockets they fire at Afghan security forces often harm civilians. Afghanistan is littered with unexploded ordnance left by decades of war. It is also plagued by roadside bombs planted by insurgents, which are usually intended for government officials or security forces, but often kill and maim civilians.

August 13, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Four days of ferocious fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban over a key provincial capital has claimed the lives of about 100 Afghan policemen and soldiers and at least 20 civilians, the defense minister said Monday.

The staggering numbers provided by Gen. Tareq Shah Bahrami were the first official casualty toll since the Taliban launched a massive assault on Ghazni, the capital of Ghazni province, last Friday. The multi-pronged assault overwhelmed the city’s defenses and allowed insurgents to capture several parts of it. It was a major show of force by the Taliban, who infiltrated deep into this strategic city barely 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the capital, Kabul.

The United States has sent military advisers to aid Afghan forces. The fall of Ghazni, a city of 270,000 people, would mark an important victory for the Taliban. It would also cut off a key highway linking Kabul to the southern provinces, the Taliban’s traditional heartland.

Bahrami, the defense minister, spoke to reporters at a press conference in Kabul on Monday. He said the casualty figures are not yet definite and that the numbers might change. He didn’t offer a breakdown of the casualties but Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak said nearly 70 policemen were among those killed.

Bahrami said about 1,000 additional troops have been sent to Ghazni and helped prevent the city from falling into Taliban hands. He also said 194 insurgents, including 12 leaders, were killed — with Pakistani, Chechen and Arabs foreign fighters among the dead.

The attack on Ghazni began on Friday, with insurgents infiltrating people’s homes and slipping out into the night to attack Afghan forces. The Taliban also destroyed a telecommunications tower on the city’s outskirts, cutting off all landline and cell phone links to the city and making it difficult to confirm details of the fighting.

Afghan authorities have insisted that the city would not fall to the Taliban and that Afghan forces remained in control of key government positions and other institutions there. Najib Danish, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman, said earlier on Monday that reinforcements have been sent to Ghazni to clear the remaining Taliban.

Col. Fared Mashal, the province’s police chief, said the majority of the insurgents fighting in Ghazni are foreigners, including Pakistanis and Chechens. “The Taliban have failed in reaching their goal,” Mashal added.

Over the past months, the insurgents have seized several districts across Afghanistan, staging near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces, but have been unable to capture and hold urban areas. The United States and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, but have since then repeatedly come to the aid of Afghan forces as they struggle to combat the resurgent Taliban.

The United Nations has expressed its concerns for the civilians caught up in the fighting in Ghazni. Ghazni’s residents “have seen their city turn into a battlefield since Friday morning, with fighting and clashes reportedly still ongoing. We have received initial reports of a number of civilian casualties and of people trying to reach safe areas outside of the city,” said Rik Peeperkorn, acting U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan.

Ghazni’s hospitals are running out of medicines and people are unable to safely bring casualties, Peeperkorn’s statement added. Electricity, water supply and food are also running low, the statement said.

“Parties to the conflict need to ensure that access to medical services is not denied and respect for medical facilities and staff is upheld,” Peeperkom said. Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists and the Afghan Independent Journalists Association jointly put out a statement condemning the violence in Ghazni and attacks on journalists there.

Media technician Mohammad Dawood was among those killed in Ghazni, the statement said, and also condemned the torching of Ghazni’s radio and television station.

Associated Press reporter Mohammad Anwar Danishyar in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

July 23, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber carried out an attack near the Kabul airport Sunday, killing 14 people and narrowly missing Afghanistan’s vice president, who was returning home after living in Turkey for over a year, security officials said.

The blast occurred near Kabul International Airport shortly after the convoy of the controversial vice president had just left the airport, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said. Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former Uzbek warlord, and his entourage were unharmed, said Danish.

Danish said that 14 people, including both civilians and military forces, were killed in the attack and 50 others wounded. The Islamic States group’s local affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack on its Amaaq News Agency website, claiming it had killed and wounded over 115 people.

In a statement from the presidential palace, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani strongly condemned the attack. Dostum had been undergoing medical treatment in Turkey, and is now well and ready to resume work, said presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri.

Dostum left Afghanistan in 2017 after the attorney-general’s office launched an investigation into allegations that his followers had tortured and sexually abused a former ally turned political rival. He has since reportedly been barred by the government from returning to Afghanistan.

It was not immediately clear whether Dostum will now face any charges. “The judiciary in Afghanistan is an independent body and will carry out its duties and responsibilities as it deems appropriate,” said an official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the issue.

Dostum, accused of war crimes committed after the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, has also been criticized by the United States for human rights abuses.

August 12, 2018

ISLAMABAD (AP) — In a rare diplomatic foray and the strongest sign yet of increasing Taliban political clout in the region, the head of the insurgents’ political office led a delegation to Uzbekistan to meet senior Foreign Ministry officials there, Uzbek and Taliban officials said.

Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended on Friday and included meetings with Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov as well as the country’s special representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev.

The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in March to broker peace in Afghanistan. Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said in a statement to The Associated Press on Saturday that discussions covered everything from withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan to peace prospects and possible Uzbek-funded development projects that could include railway lines and electricity.

Shaheen said Uzbek officials discussed their security concerns surrounding the development projects. “The Taliban also exchanged views with the Uzbek officials about the withdrawal of the foreign troops and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” he said in the statement.

Uzbek’s Foreign Affairs Ministry website offered a terse announcement on the visit, saying “the sides exchanged views on prospects of the peace process in Afghanistan. ” Still, the meetings are significant, coming as the Taliban are ramping up pressure on Afghan security forces with relentless and deadly attacks. Washington has held preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war.

The Taliban have gained increasing attention from Russia as well as Uzbekistan, which view the insurgency as a bulwark against the spread of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan. The United States has accused Moscow of giving weapons to the Taliban.

Still, Andrew Wilder, vice president of Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace said Washington would welcome a “constructive” Russian role in finding a way toward a peace pact in Afghanistan. “What wouldn’t be helpful would be if the Uzbek efforts to facilitate lines of communication with the Taliban are not closely coordinated with the Afghan government,” he said.

“High profile talks by foreign governments with the Taliban that exclude the Afghan government risk providing too much legitimacy to the Taliban without getting much in return,” Wilder said. On Sunday, Ehsanullah Taheri, the spokesman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a wide-encompassing body tasked with finding a path to peace with the government’s armed opponents, said Uzbek officials had the Afghan government’s approval for the meeting.

“Afghan government welcomes any effort regarding the Afghan peace process, especially those attempts which can lead us to an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process,” said Taheri. Still, there was no indication from either side that progress toward substantive talks between the Taliban and the government was made.

For Uzbekistan, the IS presence is particularly worrisome as hundreds of its fighters are former members of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a declared terrorist group considered the architect of some of the more horrific attacks carried out by IS in Afghanistan.

Last year, there were reports that the son of Tahir Yuldashev, the powerful Uzbek leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who was killed in a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan in 2009, was leading efforts to help expand IS influence in Afghanistan.

Last week, Afghan security forces reportedly rescued scores of Afghan Uzbeks who had declared their allegiance to IS when they came under attack by Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan, not far from the border with Uzbekistan. The rescued Uzbek warriors subsequently declared they would join the peace process.

Most of those rescued were Afghan Uzbeks loyal to Afghanistan’s Vice President Rashid Dostum who wet over and joined IS after Dostum fell out with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and fled to Turkey in May last year to live in self-imposed exile there.

Coincidentally, the rescue of Afghan Uzbeks from the battle with the Taliban came just days after Dostum returned to Afghanistan and reconciled with Ghani’s government.

Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.