Monday, July 3, 2017

Taliban leader: Afghan war will end only when NATO leaves

June 23, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The leader of the Afghan Taliban said on Friday that a planned U.S. troop surge will not end the protracted war in the country and vowed to fight on until a full withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan.

The remarks by Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzadah came in a message ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan — something the Taliban do every year to rally followers.

It also followed a horrific suicide car bombing claimed by the Taliban in Afghanistan's Helmand province that targeted Afghan troops and government workers waiting to collect their pay ahead of the holiday.

By Friday, the death toll from that attack rose to 34 people, most of them civilians, provincial government spokesman Omar Zwak told The Associated Press. In the Taliban message this year, the militant leader seemed to harden his stance, saying the Afghan government is too corrupt to stay on and warning of another civil war in Kabul — along the lines of the 1992 fighting when mujahedeen groups threw out the Communist government in Afghanistan and turned their guns on each other. That conflict killed more than 50,000 civilians and gave rise to the Taliban.

The Taliban say they are waging war against the Kabul government and not targeting civilians. In their claim of the Helmand attack, they insisted no civilians died. Zwak, however said, most of the dead in the attack in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, were civilians, although there were soldiers inside the bank at the time of the explosion. Witnesses said children were among the dozens wounded.

Earlier, the Defense Ministry had urged soldiers to collect their salaries from banks located inside army bases. If they do go to banks elsewhere, they should refrain from wearing their uniforms, the ministry's deputy spokesman Mohammad Radmanish told the AP.

Outside a hospital in Lashkar Gah, Esmatullah Khan, 34, said Friday he had donated blood to help some of the nearly 70 wounded in the attack. Akhunzadah, the Taliban leader, also boasted of allegedly growing international support, saying "mainstream entities of the world admit (the Taliban) effectiveness, legitimacy and success," an apparent reference to reports of overtures by Russia and China to the Taliban amid concerns of an emerging Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan.

While the IS affiliate's stronghold is in eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, the branch has managed also to stage high-profile attacks in Kabul and other cities. The presence of battle-hardened Uzbek militants in the ranks also further worries Moscow.

After urging Afghans to embrace holy war, or jihad, to oust foreign troops, Akhunzadah's rambling message went on to touch upon the conflict between Gulf Arab states and Qatar, saying he was "saddened" by the feud.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have accused Qatar of supporting extremists, a charge that Doha denies.

Associated Press Writers Kathy Gannon in Islamabad and Abdul Khaliq in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Taliban say they didn't plant bomb wounding UAE diplomats

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.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Taliban appoint new military chief as new leader settles in

August 30, 2016

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Taliban have appointed a new military chief as the insurgents try to gain ground rather than talk peace under a new leadership, Taliban officials said in telephone interviews over the weekend.

They said that the appointment of Mullah Ibrahim Sadar, once a close ally of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar, heralds a commitment to confrontation at a time when multiple governments are trying to coax the Taliban to the negotiating table.

Sadar is a battle-hardened commander, who gained prominence among Taliban foot soldiers following the movement's overthrow in 2001. The two officials both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly for the Taliban.

Sadar's appointment coincides with an uptick in Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces. The United States has sent additional troops to Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, where its capital, Lashkar Gah, is under pressure. The provincial council head Kareem Atal earlier said roughly 80 percent of Helmand is already under Taliban control.

So far this month, Taliban fighters have attacked Afghan security forces in northern Kunduz province, briefly taking control of a district headquarters. The militants also overran a district in northern Baghlan province and in eastern Paktia province. Meanwhile, in eastern Nangarhar province, Taliban militants are fighting pitched battles with security forces. Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense says its security forces are waging operations in 15 provinces.

Mohammad Akbari a member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, which is tasked with talking peace with insurgent groups, said there has been no progress in talks since Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike in May in Pakistan. Mansour was succeeded by Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, and the notorious Haqqani network gained a prominent role in the leadership structure.

"I can't see any green light toward peace by the Taliban for Afghanistan and instead we have seen an increase in their fighting in the provinces," Akbari told The Associated Press. Since Mansour's death, Pakistan's Interior Ministry has launched a stepped-up campaign to verify the identity of roughly 1.5 million Afghans living in Pakistan, many possessing Pakistani identity cards, some legally obtained and others illegally acquired. Mansour was carrying a Pakistani passport and identity card under an alias.

The crackdown has resulted in the withdrawal of thousands of suspicious identity cards. Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that in the last four years, roughly 80,000 suspicious identity cards have been revoked. He didn't have a figure of the number of cards withdrawn in the latest campaign.

Taliban officials say their fighters, whose families are living in Pakistan, are getting caught up in the crackdown — forcing them to find shelter in Afghanistan. The officials said as a result, in order to accommodate their fighters, they need to expand their territory for practical reasons in addition to their standing military goals.

Pakistan has been bitterly criticized by the Afghan government for not doing more to arrest and expel Taliban fighters from its territory — particularly the Haqqani network, which is blamed by Afghanistan for many of the most brutal attacks. Pakistan, meanwhile, has carried out military operations in its tribal regions that border Afghanistan, and accuses Afghanistan of harboring its own Taliban insurgents who have been carrying out attacks in Pakistan.

Following last week's militant attack on the American University in Kabul, the Afghan government sent three telephone numbers to Pakistan's military, believed to belong to those involved in planning the attack, seeking Pakistan's assistance in tracking down and arresting the culprits. The assault killed 13 people and wounded dozens more.

Associated Press Writers Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Afghan Taliban elects new leader

25 May 2016 Wednesday

The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday announced influential religious figure Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader after confirming supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansour's death in a U.S. drone strike.

"Haibatullah Akhundzada has been appointed as the new leader of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) after a unanimous agreement in the shura (supreme council), and all the members of shura pledged allegiance to him," the insurgents said in a statement.

It added that Sirajuddin Haqqani, an implacable foe of U.S. forces, and Mullah Yakoub, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, were appointed his deputies.

Haibatullah was one of two deputies under Mansour, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Saturday, the first known American assault on a top Afghan Taliban leader on Pakistani soil.

Mansour's killing is a major blow to the militant movement just nine months after he was formally appointed leader following a bitter power struggle, and sent shockwaves through the leadership.

Haibatullah's appointment comes after the Taliban's supreme council held emergency meetings that began Sunday in southwest Pakistan to find a unifying figure for the leadership post.

Taliban sources said the supreme council members were lying low and constantly changing the venue of their meetings to avoid new potential air strikes.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/173077/afghan-taliban-chooses-new-leader.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Taliban launches attack on Afghan government security agency

April 19, 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Armed militants in Afghanistan staged a coordinated assault on a key government security agency in the capital Tuesday morning, killing at least seven people and wounding more than 320. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.

The attack, including a suicide car bombing, appears to have targeted an agency similar to the U.S. Secret Service, providing personal protection for high-ranking government officials. Ismail Kawasi, spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, said so far seven dead bodies and 327 wounded, including women and children, have been brought to area hospitals. An Interior Ministry statement said that dozens of civilians were killed and wounded in the attack. The casualty figures are expected to rise.

Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said that the suicide bombing was followed by an assault by armed militants. "One armed terrorist was shot and killed by security forces and the gun battle is still underway with an unknown number of other terrorists," said Sediqqi.

Later a spokesman for the Kabul police chief, Basir Mujahid, said that the gun battle in the compound had ended. "This was one of the most powerful explosions I have ever heard in my life," said Obaidullah Tarakhail, a police commander who was present when the attack began. Tarakhail said he couldn't see or hear anything for 20 minutes after the initial explosion. "All around was dark and covered with thick smoke and dust," he said.

Dozens of civilian apartment buildings, houses, shops and several government buildings were damaged by the car bomb blast. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack. Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks recently since announcing the start of their spring offensive last week.

President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the attack and saying it, "clearly shows the enemy's defeat in face-to-face battle with Afghan security forces." The attack in Kabul comes four days of another attack by Taliban insurgents in northern Kunduz province which was repelled by the Afghan security forces.

Officials in Kunduz said that security has improved in the city and that the Taliban were defeated in other parts of the province, but operations were still underway to clear militant fighters from the rest of the province.

The Taliban held Kunduz for three days last year before being driven out by a two-week counteroffensive aided by U.S.-airstrikes. It was their biggest foray into an urban area since 2001.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

US troops killed near Bagram, Taliban insurgency intensifies

December 22, 2015

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol Monday, killing six American troops in the deadliest attack on international forces since August. Two U.S. troops and an Afghan were wounded.

The soldiers were targeted as they moved through a village near Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military facility in Afghanistan, NATO and Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility. A U.S. official confirmed that six American troops were killed and two wounded. An Afghan was also wounded. The official was not authorized to discuss the incident publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of those affected in this tragic incident, especially during this holiday season," U.S. Army Brig. Gen. William Shoffner, head of public affairs at NATO's Resolute Support base in the Afghan capital Kabul, said in a statement.

In New York, Police Commissioner William Bratton said Monday that a New York City police detective, Joseph Lemm, was one of the six American killed in the attack. Lemm was a 15-year-old veteran of the New York Police Department and worked in the Bronx Warrant Squad. Bratton says Lemm served in the U.S. National Guard and, while a member of the police force, he had been deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq. He leaves behind a wife and three children.

In Washington, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the nation's thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and their loved ones, and that the U.S. will continue to work jointly with Afghans to promote peace and stability in their country.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in statement called the attack "a painful reminder of the dangers our troops face every day in Afghanistan." It was the deadliest attack on foreign troops in four months. On Aug. 22, three American contractors with the RS base were killed in a suicide attack in Kabul. On Aug. 7 and 8, Kabul was the scene of three insurgent attacks within 24 hours that left at least 35 people dead. One of the attacks, on a U.S. special operations forces base outside Kabul, killed one U.S soldier and eight Afghan civilian contractors.

In the year since the international drawdown, the Taliban insurgency has intensified. Although the combat mission ended last year, around 9,800 U.S. troops and almost 4,000 NATO forces remain in Afghanistan. They have a mandate to "train, assist and advise" their Afghan counterparts, who are now effectively fighting a battle-hardened Taliban alone.

Monday's attack came as Taliban fighters and government forces battled for control of a strategic district in the southern province of Helmand after it was overrun by insurgents, delivering a serious blow to the government's thinly spread and exhausted forces.

Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, Helmand's deputy governor, said insurgents took control of Sangin district late Sunday. Rasulyar had taken the unusual step of alerting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to the dire security situation and requesting urgent reinforcements through an open letter posted on Facebook on Sunday, saying that he had not been able to make contact through other means.

"We had to take to social media to reach you as Helmand is falling into the hands of the enemy and it requires your immediate attention," Rasulyar wrote in his Facebook post to Ghani. On Monday, Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said Afghan Army commandoes and special forces had arrived in Sangin to push a counter-offensive. He told reporters the Afghan air force had conducted 160 combat and transport flights over Sangin in the past 48 hours.

Helmand is an important Taliban base as it produces most of the world's opium, a crop that helps fund the insurgency. Sangin district has bounced in and out of Taliban control for some years, and fighting there has produced some of the highest casualty counts among Afghan and international forces in 14 years of war.

British forces saw intensive fighting there at the height of the war in 2006 and 2007. Among the 450 British troops killed during the country's combat mission in Afghanistan, more than 100 died in Sangin. In 2008, a battalion of U.S. Marines arrived in Helmand, followed a year later by the first wave of President Barack Obama's "surge" effort against the Taliban, comprising 11,000 Marines who conducted operations across the province.

The head of Helmand's provincial council, Muhammad Kareem Atal, said about 65 percent of Helmand is now under Taliban control. "In every district either we are stepping back or we are handing territory over to Taliban, but still, until now, no serious action has been taken," he said, referring to a perceived lack of support from the capital.

Districts across Helmand, including Nad Ali, Kajaki, Musa Qala, Naw Zad, Gereshk and Garmser, have all been threatened by Taliban takeover in recent months. Insurgents are also believed to be dug in on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

Taliban fighters, sometimes working with other insurgent groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, have managed to overrun many districts across the country this year, and also staged a three-day takeover of the major northern city of Kunduz. They rarely hold territory for more than a few hours or days, but the impact on the morale of Afghan forces, and people, is substantial.

Atal said more than 2,000 security forces personnel had been killed fighting in Helmand in 2015. He said a major reason Afghan forces were "losing" was the large number of soldiers and police deserting their posts in the face of the Taliban onslaught.

Fighting in Afghanistan has intensified since the announcement in late July that the founder and leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had been dead for more than two years. His deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, succeeded him, causing internal ructions and delaying the likelihood that a peace dialogue with the Afghan government, halted after the announcement of Mullah Omar's death, will restart in the foreseeable future.

The expected winter lull in fighting has not yet taken place in the warmer southern provinces. U.S. and Afghan military leaders say they are expecting a hot winter, followed by a tough fight throughout 2016.

The Pentagon released a report last week warning that the security situation in Afghanistan would deteriorate as a "resilient Taliban-led insurgency remains an enduring threat to U.S., coalition, and Afghan forces, as well as to the Afghan people."

Associated Press writers Mirwais Khan in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Humayoon Babur and Amir Shah in Kabul and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this story.

Taliban leader denies being wounded in internal dispute

December 06, 2015

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor has released a rare audio recording in which he denies claims by an Afghan official that he was wounded in a shootout during a meeting with other commanders in Pakistan last week.

In a 17-minute audio recording sent to media by the Taliban late Saturday, Mansoor dismissed what he called "baseless claims" that were "part of the agenda of the enemy." The Taliban had earlier sent The Associated Press a two-minute version of the recording.

The voice resembled that in previous recordings issued by Mansoor, who succeeded longtime Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar after his death was announced last summer. Mansoor has since faced internal challenges to his leadership, including by a breakaway faction that has battled fighters loyal to him.

"I haven't seen Kuchlak in years," he said, referring to an area near the Pakistani city of Quetta where the dispute was said to have taken place. He ordered his fighters to pay no heed to "baseless rumors" and to continue waging jihad, or holy war, against the Afghan government.

The audio message was released two days after Sultan Faizy, the spokesman for Afghanistan's First Vice President Abdul Rasheed Dostum, claimed that Mansoor was wounded in a firefight that broke out at a gathering of Taliban figures in Pakistan. He said the incident took place in the home of Mullah Abdullah Sarhadi, a former Taliban official, and that six Taliban figures, including Sarhadi, were killed.

"I am safe and my colleagues are safe. I am among my colleagues," Mansoor said, adding that he had not wanted to release the audio recording but was convinced to do so by his aides. The Afghan government's announcement last summer that Mullah Omar had died nearly two years earlier in Pakistan derailed nascent peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban that had been brokered by Islamabad.

In the recording, Mansoor insisted the Taliban would continue fighting until they established "Islamic government" in Afghanistan and would resist outside pressure to reach a political settlement. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan according to a harsh interpretation of Islamic law until the group was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mansoor established the timing of the recording by referring to a battle between Afghan forces and the Taliban in Wardak province on Friday which killed a number of civilians. He expressed condolences to those killed and wished a swift recovery for civilians who were wounded.