Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Five ‘rest in pieces’ as early morning bombs rock Kabul.

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Peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s government that began in September remain deadlocked.

Three explosions rocked Kabul Saturday morning, killing at least five people and injuring two others, authorities said, the latest in a series of similar recent attacks in the Afghan capital.

Police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz said that three “sticky bomb” explosions had taken place in different locations between 08:00 and 10:00 am local time.

Targeted killings with remotely detonated bombs attached to vehicles have long been a favoured tactic of militants in Afghanistan, especially during the morning commute in cities, where civilians pay a disproportionate price for the violence.

No group has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attacks, though Afghan and US officials have blamed the Taliban for previous similar incidents, a charge it rejects.

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Faramarz said the first explosion had injured two civilians, while the second blast had killed two soldiers, as well as a woman.

The third bomb left two police officers dead.

The details were confirmed by the Afghan Ministry of Interior.

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Security sources also said at least two of the victims in the second explosion worked for the defence ministry, though the ministry would not confirm.

Peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s government that began in September remain deadlocked.

The latest rise in violence has led US President Joe Biden’s administration to launch a review of a deal signed between Washington and Taliban last year that paved the way for the withdrawal of all American troops in coming months.

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Biden is reviewing whether to stick to a looming May 1 deadline to withdraw the remaining 2,500 US troops or risk a bloody backlash from the insurgents by staying.

General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Army Central Command, on Thursday indicated that conditions have not been met for a withdrawal.

While the Taliban had pledged to reduce violence under their deal with the US, they have not done so, McKenzie said on a plane to Pakistan.

“Certainly ISIS has launched some attacks. It pales against what the Taliban is doing,” McKenzie said, denouncing violence against Afghan forces, and “targeted assassinations in some of the urban areas.”

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“This is clearly the Taliban,” he said. “There is no way it’s anyone else. That’s very clear.”

The Taliban denies being behind escalated violence, saying those responsible are other jihadist groups.

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#Newsworthy

Dozens of oil tanker blast triggers inferno on Afghanistan-Iran border.

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Afghanistan has received waivers from Washington allowing it to import oil and gas from Iran despite US sanctions.

Dozens of oil and gas tankers carrying millions of dollars’ worth of fuel caught fire on Saturday, creating an inferno at Afghanistan’s biggest trade crossing with Iran, officials said.

The blaze broke out in the early afternoon at Islam Qala port, 120 kilometres (75 miles) from the western city of Herat, engulfing the tankers that were parked nearby after crossing the border.

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“There were between 200 and 300 fuel tankers there and we managed to save some, but most have been engulfed and the fire is so huge that nobody can get to within even a kilometre of it,” said Younus Qazi Zada, head of the Herat Chamber of Commerce.

“The initial estimate is of millions of dollars of losses, but we have to wait until the fire is extinguished for a proper assessment of damage.”

At least 17 people have been taken to hospital, some of them with serious burns, said Ibrahim Mohammadi, head of the Herat ambulance service.

A security forces personnel walks amidst wreckage of gas tankers after a fire accident at Islam Qala on the outskirts of Herat, in the border between Afghanistan and Iran on February 14, 2021. (Photo by HOSHANG HASHIMI / AFP)

Jailani Farhad, the spokesman for the governor of Herat province, said dozens of tankers were ablaze.

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“We don’t have the required facilities to contain it, so through the foreign ministry, we have asked the government of Iran to help us contain the fire,” he said.

The cause of the fire was unknown, he added.
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Videos posted on social media show towering flames and huge clouds of thick black smoke billowing into the sky.

Around 60 percent of Herat province was without power as a result of the fire, Afghan energy company DABS said.

Islam Qala is one of the major ports in Afghanistan, through which most official trade with Iran is conducted.

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Afghanistan has received waivers from Washington allowing it to import oil and gas from Iran despite US sanctions.

Iran foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the border “was held open for trucks, cars and people running from the fire” towards Iran.

He added that authorities from both countries were helping to tackle the blaze.

Taking advantage of the situation, Taliban insurgents attacked a nearby security post after the blaze broke out, Farhad added.

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Afghanistan has been hit by a surge in violence despite peace talks that started in September between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which have so far failed to achieve a breakthrough.

The rise in violence has led US President Joe Biden’s administration to launch a review of a deal signed between Washington and the Taliban last year that paved the way for the withdrawal of all American troops in the coming months.

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#Newsworthy

Taliban warns NATO … in Afghanistan.

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Joe Biden’s administration has said it would review the deal, with the Pentagon accusing the Afghan insurgent group of not meeting their commitment to reduce violence.

The Taliban on Saturday warned NATO against seeking a “continuation of war”, as the alliance weighs a planned withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Defence ministers from the Washington-backed allies are to meet next week to discuss whether NATO’s 10,000-strong mission — mostly carrying out support roles — should stay or go, as Taliban violence rages.

“Our message to the upcoming NATO ministerial meeting is that the continuation of occupation and war is neither in your interest nor in the interest of your and our people,” the Taliban said in a statement.

“Anyone seeking extension of wars and occupation will be held liable for it just like the previous two decades.”

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Former US president Donald Trump struck a deal with the Taliban last year under which the United States agreed foreign troops would leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in return for conditions including cutting ties with Al-Qaeda and opening peace talks with the Kabul government.

Joe Biden’s administration has said it would review the deal, with the Pentagon accusing the Afghan insurgent group of not meeting their commitment to reduce violence.

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The Taliban in turn has accused the US of breaching the agreement and insisted it will continue its “fight and jihad” if foreign troops do not leave by May.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 07, 2019 NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference with the German chancellor in Berlin. – US President Donald Trump will host NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Washington at a time of severe strain within the Atlantic alliance, the White House announced Saturday. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

In his final days in office Trump unilaterally reduced US forces in Afghanistan to just 2,500 — the lowest since the start of the war in 2001.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly insisted that NATO members must decide “together” on the future of their mission and he hopes Biden will coordinate more closely with allies.

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“If we decide to leave we risk to jeopardise the peace process, we risk to lose the gains we have made in the fight against international terrorism over the last years,” the NATO chief said earlier this month.

“If we decide to stay we risk to continue to be in a difficult military operation in Afghanistan and we risk increased violence also against NATO troops.”

The Taliban on Saturday said it was “seriously committed” to the US deal, claiming it had “significantly decreased the level of operations”.

Insurgents have launched a string of offensives threatening at least two strategic provincial capitals in southern Afghanistan in recent months.

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They have also been blamed by the US and the Afghan government for a wave of assassinations on journalists, politicians, judges and activists.

The warring sides launched peace talks in September year, but progress has been slow and overshadowed by the violence.

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#Newsworthy

Afghanistan: Tabilan fighters kill 12 pro-gov’t militiamen.

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Herat provincial council member Mohammad Sardar Bahaduri confirmed the attack and said it was carried out by two Taliban fighters who had infiltrated the base.

Two Taliban fighters who had infiltrated a base of pro-government Afghan militiamen killed 12 of them, officials and the insurgent group said Saturday.

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The night-time attack at a post manned by the militiamen occurred in the district of Ghorian in the western Herat province late on Friday, the governor for the district Farhad Khademi told AFP.

“Twelve pro-government militiamen were killed in the Taliban attack in Ghorian district last night,” he said.

“The militiamen were dining when the attack happened,” he said.

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The Taliban also said two of its fighters had carried out the attack and then returned.

In a separate incident, a vehicle carrying policemen was struck by a roadside bomb in the centre of the Afghan capital Kabul, police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz told reporters.

Two policemen were killed and one wounded in the attack, he said.

Violence has surged across Afghanistan in recent months, especially in Kabul, which has been rocked by a new trend of targeted killings.

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The bloodshed comes even as the Taliban and government negotiators engage in peace talks to end the nearly two-decades-long war in the country.

Representatives from two warring sides are currently in the Qatari capital Doha discussing the agenda for the talks.

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#Newsworthy

Afghanistan car bomb attack claim 12 lives.

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More than 100 people wounded in a powerful car bomb in Ghor province, interior ministry said.

At least 12 civilians have been killed and more than 100 people wounded after a car bomb targeting an Afghan police headquarters in the western province of Ghor went off on Sunday.

The attack took place in Feroz Koh, the capital of Ghor, a province that has not seen much violence compared with some other regions of the conflict-wracked country.


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The ministry of interior said the car bomb detonated in front of Ghor police headquarters at about 11am local time (06:30 GMT).

“The terrorists detonated an explosives-filled car… as a result 12 civilians were killed and more than 100 people were wounded,” the interior ministry said.

Mohammad Omer Lalzad, head of a hospital in Ghor, said emergency staff were treating dozens of people, adding that the death toll will rise.

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Juma Gul Yakoobi, a Ghor health official, told AFP news agency that the victims also included members of security forces.

Security personnel and residents gather around the site of a car bomb that targeted an Afghan police headquarters in Feroz Koh, capital of Ghor [AFP]

“The explosion was very powerful,” said Aref Abir, spokesman for the Ghor governor. “There are fatalities and casualties, and people are taking them to hospitals.”

He said the blast damaged nearby government offices handling social affairs.

Peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government began in Qatar last month but violence has continued unabated on the ground.

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The talks appear to be stalled as the Taliban and the Kabul administration have struggled to establish a basic framework for negotiations.

On Friday, the Taliban agreed to suspend attacks in southern Afghanistan that had displaced thousands of residents in recent days.

It came after the US said it would halt all attacks and night raids in keeping with the peace agreement it signed with the Taliban in February.

The US had been conducting air attacks in support of Afghan forces trying to repel Taliban assaults in Helmand province, which threatened to derail efforts to end Afghanistan’s war.


#Newsworthy…

Intra-Afghan talks opens in Qatar.

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Saturday marks start of long-delayed Doha talks with opening remarks from both sides; negotiations to begin on Monday.

After nearly two decades of war that has killed tens of thousands, peace talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban have opened in Qatar’s capital.

Key speakers at Saturday’s opening ceremony at a hotel in Doha included Abdullah Abdullah, chairperson of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The negotiations, where the two warring sides will sit face-to-face for the first time, will start on Monday.

For his part, Abdullah spoke about seeking a dignified and lasting peace.

“I believe that if we give hands to each other and honestly work for peace, the current ongoing misery in the country will end,” Abdullah said, calling for a “humanitarian ceasefire”.

The talks were set to take place in March but were delayed over a prisoner exchange agreement [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Baradar, meanwhile, repeated his group’s demand for the country to adopt an “Islamic system”.

“We want Afghanistan to be an independent, developed country, and it should have a form of Islamic system, where all its citizens see themselves reflected.”

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Pompeo, for his part, told the Afghan sides that “the choice of your future political system is, of course, yours to make” as he urged them to “seize the opportunity” to secure peace.

“Each of you, I hope you will look inside your hearts; each of you carry a great responsibility, but know that you’re not alone. The entire world wants you to succeed and is counting on you to succeed,” he said.

Kicking off proceedings earlier on Saturday, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said both parties must “rise above all form of division … by reaching an agreement on the basis of no victor and no vanquished”.

Delayed talks
The intra-Afghan talks were set to take place in March but have repeatedly been delayed over a prisoner exchange agreement made as part of the United States-Taliban deal signed in February.

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In the agreement, the Taliban had agreed to release 1,000 Afghan troops, while the government said it would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

France and Australia objected to freeing six of the Taliban prisoners who were involved in the killing of their nationals.

Taliban and Afghan government sources told Al Jazeera a compromise was reached by sending the six prisoners to Qatar. The prisoners arrived in Doha on Friday and will remain in custody there.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said although the talks raise hopes of the war ending in the country, many challenges remain.

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“This is a new phase in diplomacy for peace in Afghanistan,” Khalilzad told reporters in a telephone briefing on Friday.

“These negotiations are an important achievement, but there are … significant challenges on the way to reaching an agreement.”

It took almost six months to get the Taliban and the government to the negotiating table, and analysts said the challenging part is to get both sides to reach an agreement.

“The various delays since the first designated start of the talks in early March show how much mistrust the two parties need to overcome,” Thomas Ruttig, co-founder of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, told Noble Reporter‘s known Media.

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“It shows how difficult the talks will be in general, given the many issues they would have to solve, with the most difficult one being Afghanistan’s future political system.”

The Afghan negotiating team includes five female representatives who will carry the responsibility of defending and protecting women’s rights during the talks.

Abdullah Abdullah called for a ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

“While there is no other realistic option currently to find a negotiated end to the Afghan war, it is far from clear whether any peace deal will address major concerns of the Afghan population such as a preservation of the rights and freedoms that have been constitutionally guaranteed to them,” Ruttig said.

The Afghan government backs the current democratic political system, while the Taliban wants to reimpose its version of Islamic law as the country’s system of governance.

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The armed group has, however, given vague comments on adopting a less strict stance towards women and social equality than during their 1996-2001 rule, during which women were banned from attending school, working, taking part in politics or even leaving their homes without a male family member.

The Afghan government’s agenda for the talks is to secure a permanent ceasefire, but analysts said that will be difficult to achieve as the Taliban’s only bargaining chip has been their military strength on the ground.

“The Taliban should see these talks as a good political opportunity. If they continue to fight on the ground to exert pressure, there are less chances of the talks being successful,” Abdul Satar Saadat, a former adviser to President Ashraf Ghani, told Media known to Noble Reporters Media.

“Peace demands compromises from all sides and that means sacrifices should be made to acquire a political solution to end this war,” added Saadat.

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In the first six months of 2020, almost 1,300 civilians, including hundreds of children, have been killed in Afghanistan, according to the United Nations.

In July, President Ghani said about 3,560 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) were killed and 6,780 more wounded in Taliban attacks between February 29 and July 21 this year.

“The suffering of the Afghan people has gone on for far too long,” UN envoy Deborah Lyons said on Friday.

“An inclusive peace process, involving the meaningful participation of women, youth and victims, upholding the human rights of every Afghan is the only path to peace.”


#Newsworthy…

Intra-Afghan talks set to hold in Qatar.

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The development comes as a final hurdle to the start of the talks – fate of six Taliban prisoners – have been resolved.

The long-awaited talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban will take place in Qatar’s capital Doha from Saturday.

Qatar’s foreign ministry made the announcement on Thursday as a final hurdle over the release of six Taliban prisoners appears to have been resolved.

“The State of Qatar is pleased to announce that the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations will commence in Doha on Saturday the 12th of September 2020,” the ministry said in the statement.

“These vitally important direct negotiations between the different Afghan parties represent a step forward in bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan.”

The Taliban, while confirming the talks, said the dialogue “intends to advance the negotiation process in an appropriate manner and bring about comprehensive peace and a pure Islamic system in the framework of our Islamic values and higher national interests”.

A permanent ceasefire is expected to be at the top of the agenda as well as a political settlement to end the years-long conflict in the country.

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The intra-Afghan talks were set to take place in March but have repeatedly been delayed over a prisoner exchange agreement made as part of the United States-Taliban deal signed in February.

Under the February deal, the US will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

In the agreement, the Taliban had agreed to release 1,000 Afghan troops, while the government said it would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

France and Australia objected to freeing six of the Taliban prisoners who were involved in the killing of their nationals.

Taliban and Afghan government sources told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media a compromise was reached by sending the six prisoners to Qatar where they will remain in custody.

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“Our six brothers [Taliban prisoners] arrived in Qatar a little while ago in good health,” Taliban spokesman Naeem Wardak said in a statement on Thursday.

As part of the February agreement, the US will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban.

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Doha to take part in the peace talks.

Pompeo welcomed the start of negotiations, saying they will mark “a historic opportunity for Afghanistan to bring an end to four decades of war and bloodshed”.

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The Afghan government backs the current political system, while the Taliban wants to reimpose its version of Islamic law as the country’s system of governance.

The armed group has, however, given vague comments on adopting a less strict stance towards women and social equality than during their 1996-2001 rule during which women were banned from attending school, working, taking part in politics or even leaving their homes without a male family member.

The Taliban will be led by Mawlavi Abdul Hakim, the armed group’s chief justice and a close aide of the group’s chief Haibatullah Akhunzada.

The Afghan government negotiating team, including Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the National Reconciliation Council which has been tasked to hold talks with the armed group, is planning to fly to Doha on Friday.

The team also includes women’s rights activists.


#Newsworthy…

Intra-Afghan Peace Talks to Begin as Taliban team returns to Doha.

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Negotiations are part of US-Taliban peace deal signed in February in the Qatari capital to end the 19-year conflict.

A Taliban delegation has returned to Qatar, paving the way for the start of peace talks with the Afghan government that are expected to take place in the Gulf state.

The delegation’s arrival early on Saturday was announced by Taliban officials, who were speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

The negotiations are part of a peace deal the United States signed with the Taliban in February in Doha.

Washington has ramped up pressure on Afghans on both sides of the conflict to get started with their negotiations to decide what a post-war Afghanistan might look like.

The US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien held a telephone call with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last week. The US officials have also pressed neighbouring Pakistan to get the Taliban to the table.

The delegation’s arrival early on Saturday was announced by the Taliban officials [File: Sorin Forcui/Al Jazeera]

Intra-Afghan talks
Relentless delays over the exchange of prisoners – 5,000 held by the Afghan government and 1,000 by the Taliban – have hindered efforts to get intra-Afghan talks started.

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In late August, a delegation led by the Taliban’s political office head and the chief negotiator of the February deal with the US, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, visited Pakistan.

While little was revealed about the details of his meetings with Pakistani officials, it is believed he was pressed to get started with intra-Afghan talks.

With many of the Taliban leadership council living in Pakistan, Islamabad has been pressed by Washington to use its influence to push negotiations forward.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly said he wants peace talks started and a military solution for Afghanistan is an impossibility.

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Pakistani officials reportedly met a second time with Baradar on Friday before his return to Doha, again pressing for a swift start to Afghan peace talks.

US and Afghan officials have said they want to see a reduction in violence in the conflict going into talks with the Taliban, but the group maintains that a ceasefire would only be on the agenda once talks begin.

Washington’s February agreement with the Taliban was reached to allow the exit of US troops after nearly 20 years at war in keeping with a promise President Donald Trump made during the 2016 US election campaign.

The withdrawal, which has already begun, is not dependent on the success of the Afghan negotiations but rather on commitments made by the Taliban to fight armed groups and ensure Afghanistan cannot be used to attack the US or its allies.


#Newsworthy…

ICC frowns at United States sanctions on officials.

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US sanctions target International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and a top aide over Afghanistan probe.


The International Criminal Court (ICC) has condemned “unprecedented” sanctions imposed by the United States on prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and one of her top aides in retaliation for a probe into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

The Hague-based tribunal said the sanctions announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo against Bensouda and another senior official, Phakiso Mochochoko, were “serious attacks” against the rule of law.

Pompeo announced the moves on Wednesday, saying that “the ICC continues to target Americans”.

The ICC said in a statement the new measures “are another attempt to interfere with the Court’s judicial and prosecutorial independence and crucial work to address grave crimes of concern to the international community”.

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The sanctions include a freeze on assets held in the US or subject to US law and target Bensouda and the court’s head of jurisdiction, Mochochoko.

Pompeo also said individuals and entities that continue to materially support Bensouda and Mochochoko would risk exposure to sanctions as well.

Public Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is investigating whether war crimes were committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan military and US forces [File: Eva Plevier/Pool via Reuters]

“We will not tolerate its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction,” Pompeo said.

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The war crimes court said it “continues to stand firmly by its personnel and its mission of fighting impunity for the world’s most serious crimes”.

The ICC will continue its investigation into possible war crimes by the United States and its allies in Afghanistan.

The State Department also restricted the issuance of visas for individuals Pompeo said were involved in the court’s efforts to investigate US personnel, though he did not name those affected.

Member countries of the International Criminal Court hit out against the “unacceptable” sanctions.

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“I strongly reject such unprecedented and unacceptable measures against a treaty-based international organisation,” said O-Gon Kwon, president of the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was concerned by Pompeo’s announcement, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

Dujarric said that “we trust that any restriction taken against individuals will be implemented consistently” with a decades-old US deal with the United Nations to host the world body’s headquarters in New York.

Pompeo says the move is part of the administration’s pushback against the world court for investigations into the US and its allies [Nicholas Kamm/Pool via Reuters]

‘Stunning perversion’
Bensouda was given the go-ahead by the court in March to investigate whether war crimes were committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan military and US forces.

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The US revoked Bensouda’s entry visa last year in response to the possible Afghanistan inquiry. But under an agreement between the UN and Washington, she was still able to regularly travel to New York to brief the UN Security Council on cases it had referred to the court in The Hague.

Rights groups immediately condemned the US designations.

Richard Dicker, Human Rights Watch international justice director, said it was a “stunning perversion of US sanctions.”

“The Trump administration has twisted these sanctions to obstruct justice, not only for certain war crimes victims, but for atrocity victims anywhere looking to the International Criminal Court for justice,” he said.


#Newsworthy…

Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani yes release of Taliban prisoners

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President Ghani’s statement comes after Afghan grand assembly passed a resolution on Sunday morning.


Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has agreed to release 400 Taliban prisoners after an Afghan grand assembly, known as the Loya Jirga, passed a resolution to approve the move.

The resolution recommending the release of the prisoners was passed on Sunday at the end of a three-day Loya Jirga, a traditional Afghan meeting of tribal elders and other stakeholders held to decide on momentous issues.

“In order to remove the hurdles for the start of peace talks, stopping bloodshed, and for the good of the public, the jirga approves the release of 400 prisoners as demanded by the Taliban,” Jirga member Atefa Tayeb announced.

Following the announcement, President Ghani said: “Today, I will sign the release order of these 400 prisoners.”

The prisoners’ fate was a crucial hurdle in launching peace talks between the two sides. The Afghan government has released almost all the Taliban prisoners on the list, but authorities have baulked at freeing the final 400.

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According to an official list seen by AFP news agency, many of the inmates are accused of serious offences, with more than 150 of them on death row.

The list also includes a group of 44 fighters of particular concern to the United States and other countries for their role in “high-profile” attacks.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday pushed for the release of the detainees while recognising the decision would be “unpopular”.

On Sunday, delegates at the Loya Jirga said they wanted international guarantees that the Taliban would not return to the battlefield.

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“The prisoners release was the only hurdle that has now been removed by the Jirga decision. The agreement was that once the 5000 Taliban members are released, the ceasefire will be discussed in the intra-Afghan talks,” Mushtaq Rahim, a founding member of Afghanistan Affairs Unit, an Afghan think tank, told Al Jazeera.

“So for the time being, we are all set for the intra-Afghan talks to discuss future outlook of Afghan political setup, agree on giving up the armed violence and engage in the political progress,” Rahmi further said.

The resolution recommending the release of the prisoners was passed at the end of a three-day Loya Jirga [Andalou]

Intra-Afghan peace talks
No date has been set, but negotiations between Kabul’s political leadership and the Taliban are expected to begin next week and will most likely be held in Qatar, where the Taliban maintains a political office.

The Afghan negotiations were laid out in a deal signed by the US and the Taliban in February. At the time of its signing, it was touted as Afghanistan’s best chance at ending decades of war.

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The deal called for the government to free 5,000 prisoners and for the Taliban to free 1,000 government and military personnel in its custody as a goodwill gesture ahead of the start of negotiations.

Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad spent more than a year and a half negotiating the deal with the Taliban to provide for the withdrawal of American soldiers after nearly 19 years in Afghanistan.

Some 3,200 Afghan community leaders and politicians gathered amid tight security in Kabul to advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed [Andalou]

The withdrawal began earlier this year, but roughly 8,600 US soldiers remain in Afghanistan, and their return will depend on the Taliban honouring its commitment to fight against other armed groups and ensure Afghanistan is not again used to attack the US or its allies.

In an interview broadcast on Saturday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US plans to cut its troop levels in Afghanistan to “a number less than 5,000” by the end of November.


#Newsworthy…

Afghan car explosion: 17 lose to death

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At least 17 people were killed in a car bomb explosion in an Afghan city south of Kabul on Thursday, officials and a medic said, just hours before the scheduled start of a ceasefire.

“Seventeen bodies and 21 wounded people were brought to our hospital,” Sediqullah, a senior doctor at a hospital in the city of Puli Alam in Logar province, told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media).

The interior ministry confirmed the blast, which occurred ahead of a three-day ceasefire starting Friday between the Taliban and Kabul.


#Newsworthy…

Afghan girl kills 2 Taliban warriors | Details

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An Afghan girl shot dead two Taliban fighters and wounded several more after they dragged her parents from their home and killed them for supporting the government, officials said.

The incident happened last week when insurgents stormed the home of Qamar Gul, a teenager from a village in the central province of Ghor.

The fighters were looking for her father, the village chief, local police head Habiburahman Malekzada told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media)

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Her father was a government supporter, which is why the Taliban fighters went to his house and dragged him out, Malekzada said.

When his wife resisted, the Taliban fighters killed the couple outside their home, Malekzada said.

“Qamar Gul, who was inside the house, took an AK-47 gun the family had and first shot dead the two Taliban fighters who killed her parents, and then injured a few others,” he said.

Gul is aged between 14 and 16, according to different officials. It is common for many Afghans to not know their precise age.

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Several other Taliban fighters later came to attack her house, but some villagers and pro-government militiamen expelled them after a gunfight.

The Taliban regularly kill villagers who support the government and President Ashraf Ghani (pictured) and those they suspect of being informers for the government or security forces. HANDOUT / Office of Chief Executive of Afghanistan / AFP

Afghan security forces have now taken Gul and her younger brother to a safer place, said Mohamed Aref Aber, spokesman to the provincial governor.

Since the incident, social media networks have been flooded with praise for Gul’s “heroic” act.

A photograph of Gul, wearing a headscarf and holding a machinegun across her lap has gone viral in the past few days.

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“Hats off to her courage! Well done,” wrote Najiba Rahmi on Facebook. “Power of an Afghan girl,” wrote another Facebook user Fazila Alizada.

“We know parents are irreplaceable, but your revenge will give you relative peace,” said Mohamed Saleh in his post on Facebook.

The Taliban regularly kill villagers who they suspect of being informers for the government or security forces.

In recent months, the militants have also stepped up their attacks against security forces despite agreeing to peace talks with Kabul.


#Newsworthy…

2 Human Rights killed in Kabul Bomb blast

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Two employees of Afghanistan’s human rights body were killed in a bomb attack in Kabul on Saturday, the agency said.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said the pair died when a homemade “sticky bomb” attached to their vehicle exploded in the morning.

Kabul police spokesman Ferdaws Faramurz confirmed the attack, which has not been claimed by any group.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan condemned the killings.

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“There can be no justification for attacks against human rights defenders,” it said on Twitter, calling for an immediate probe.

It comes less than a week after two prosecutors and three other employees from the attorney general’s office were shot dead by gunmen on the outskirts of Kabul.

On May 30, a television journalist was killed when a minibus carrying employees of private television channel Khurshid TV was hit by a roadside bomb in the city. That attack was claimed by the extremist Islamic State group.

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Violence had dropped across much of the country after the Taliban offered a brief ceasefire to mark the Eid al-Fitr festival last month, but officials say the insurgents have stepped up attacks in recent weeks.

Most attacks by the Taliban have targeted Afghan security forces, although there are regular police reports that civilians have been killed in roadside bomb blasts.

On Saturday, the National Security Council said 21 civilians were killed and 30 wounded in attacks over the past week across 14 provinces.

The Taliban and Afghan government are preparing to enter into much delayed peace talks aimed at ending the war in the country.


US finalizing plan to pull 4,000 troops – Fresh Report


On Saturday, NobleReporters gathered that the Trump administration is close to finalizing a decision to withdraw more than 4,000 troops from Afghanistan by the fall, citing two Trump administration officials.

Almost a week ago, Gen Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, said the United States has reduced its troop level to 8,600 in Afghanistan, fulfilling the first phase of the planned withdrawal specified in the US-Taliban deal signed in Doha in February.

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The new move would reduce the number of troops from 8,600 to 4,500 and would be the lowest number since the very earliest days of the war in Afghanistan, which began in 2001.

This comes a day after a meeting between US Defence Secretary Mark Esper and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels. “We will also follow up on our discussion on Afghanistan. NATO will continue to adjust our presence in support of the peace process,” Stoltenberg said on Friday. “This will be done in close coordination with Allies and partners.”

The US has committed to withdrawing all of its forces from Afghanistan by next April under the agreement it signed with the Taliban.

It is unclear when the withdrawal of the 4,000 additional US troops would take place, NRM learnt


#Newsworthy…

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Storyline: 291 Afghan security killed in recent week.

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The Taliban killed at least 291 Afghan security personnel over the past week, a top government official said Monday, accusing the insurgents of unleashing a wave of violence ahead of potential talks.

The previous week was the “deadliest” in the country’s 19 years of conflict, said Javid Faisal, spokesman for the National Security Council, even as the insurgents dismissed the latest figures.

The Taliban carried out 422 attacks in 32 provinces during that time, killing 291 security force personnel and wounding 550 others, Faisal said on Twitter.

“Taliban’s commitment to reduce violence is meaningless, and their actions inconsistent with their rhetoric on peace,” he said.

The Taliban rejected the latest government figures.

“The enemy aims to hurt the peace process and intra-Afghan talks by releasing such false reports,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesman in Afghanistan, told AFP.

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“We did have some attacks last week, but they were mostly in defence.”

In a cabinet meeting Monday, President Ashraf Ghani condemned the violence, which he blamed on the Taliban.

The government sees the violence “as running against the spirit of commitment for peace”, Ghani said.

In an attack on Monday, gunmen shot dead two prosecutors and three other employees of the attorney general’s office.

The attack happened on the outskirts of Kabul, when gunmen opened fire on the car in which they were travelling, the attorney general’s office and the interior ministry said.

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It was unclear who the attackers were, and the Taliban denied involvement.

The incident drew condemnation from US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who led negotiations with the Taliban ahead of a deal signed in February.

He said the legal team had been working on a prisoner exchange that is considered vital before the Kabul government and the Taliban can start peace talks.

“This attack underscores what we all know: Spoilers (both domestic and foreign) are trying to disrupt and delay” the peace process, Khalilzad said on Twitter.

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“Both sides should not be deterred, and push forward to take the steps necessary to reach intra-Afghan negotiation”.

Violence had dropped across much of Afghanistan since the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire on May 24 to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday, but officials have accused the insurgents of stepping up attacks in recent weeks.

Ghani has vowed to complete the Taliban prisoner release. Afghan authorities have already freed about 3,000 Taliban prisoners, and plan to further release 2,000 as stipulated in the insurgents’ deal with Washington.

The Taliban have said they are ready for peace talks but only after the release of the remaining 2,000 insurgents.


#Newsworthy…

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Afghanistan War Probe: ICC blast United States

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The International Criminal Court (ICC) has condemned the United States’ imposition of financial and travel sanctions on court officials.

President Donald Trump imposed sanctions against persons investigating American troops for potential war crimes in Afghanistan.

ICC, in a statement, expressed “profound regret at the announcement of further threats and coercive actions, including financial measures, against the court and its officials.”

The UN-backed institution said the “attacks constitute an escalation and an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the court’s judicial proceedings.”

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ICC had announced that it would probe possible crimes against humanity in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2014, including those allegedly committed by U.S. forces and the CIA.

… includes visa restrictions against those affected and their families.

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“We will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court,” Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said.

America warned that it would take tougher measures if the enquiry was carried out.


#Newsworthy…

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Islamic prayer leader killed with 4 in deadly Kabul mosque blast.

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At least four people, including prayer leader, killed and many others wounded, says Afghanistan’s interior ministry.


A blast in a mosque during Friday prayers in the western part of capital Kabul has killed at least four people and wounded many more, Afghanistan’s interior ministry said.

“Explosives placed inside the Sher Shah Suri Mosque exploded during Friday prayers,” said a statement issued by the ministry, which added that the mosque’s prayer leader Azizullah Mofleh was among those killed.

Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said police have cordoned off the area and helped move the wounded to ambulances and nearby hospitals.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but a mosque attack earlier this month was claimed by an ISIL (or ISIS) group affiliate, headquartered in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.

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“Interestingly, every time you have the peace process gaining some momentum and pace, you have these kinds of attacks in the country,” Habib Wardak, a national security analyst based in Kabul, told NRM

“The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack that happened last week on a mosque in Kabul, so despite the fact that you have these news and press conference from the government that they have eliminated ISIL, how can they conduct such sophisticated operations?”

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Friday’s blast had parallels to one earlier this month, when an explosion tore apart a famous Kabul mosque and led to the death of renowned Afghan cleric Maulvi Ayaz Niazi.

“In this attack, the imam seems to be the target, not the rest of the crowd. These are the imams who have supported the peace process with the Taliban movement,” Wardak said.

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“The other political aspect for these kinds of attacks is that there are peace spoilers trying to convey a message that peace with the Taliban will not eradicate violence in the country because you have ISIL.”

Violence has spiked in recent weeks in Afghanistan with most of the attacks claimed by the ISIL affiliate.

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The United States blamed the armed group for a horrific attack last month on a maternity hospital in the capital that killed 24 people, including two infants and several new mothers.

The ISIL affiliate also took responsibility for an attack on a bus carrying journalists in Kabul on May 30, killing two.

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It also claimed credit for an attack on the funeral of a strongman loyal to the government last month that killed 35 people.

Meanwhile, the US is attempting to broker peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to end 18 years of war.

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Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in the region earlier this week trying to resuscitate a US peace deal with the Taliban.

The peace deal signed in February calls for the withdrawal of the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan in return for a commitment by the Taliban to not launch attacks on the US or its allies.


#Newsworthy…

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