Russia's aviation watchdog said on Sunday four people survived the crash of a charter plane bound for Moscow in northern Afghanistan, citing the Russian embassy there, and it said the condition of two other passengers on board was not yet clear.Two Taliban provincial officials said four survivors were now with Taliban administration officials who had reached the remote, mountainous site of the crash. They said that two other passengers had died.The Taliban administration's top spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the pilot of the plane was among four who had survived."The investigative team of the Islamic Emirate continues their efforts to search for and provide assistance to the remaining individuals," he said in a statement.The charter plane with six people on board disappeared from radar screens over Afghanistan a day earlier, Russian aviation authority Rosaviatsia said on Sunday, after Afghan police said they had received reports of a crash.The plane was a charter ambulance flight travelling from Thailand's Utapao Airport in Pattaya to Moscow via India and Uzbekistan on a French-made Dassault Aviation Falcon 10 jet manufactured in 1978, Rosaviatsia said in a statement.About 25 minutes before the plane vanished from radar screens, the pilot warned that fuel was running low and that the plane would try to land at an airport in Tajikistan, Russian news outlet SHOT reported, citing an unnamed source.The pilot then reported that one engine had stopped, and then that the second one had also stopped, SHOT reported.Reuters could not immediately confirm the details shared by SHOT.India's civil aviation authority said the plane was not a scheduled commercial flight or an Indian chartered aircraft.The flight was carrying out a private medical evacuation from Thailand's Pattaya, a popular tourist destination for Russians, to Moscow, Russian state-run TASS news agency reported, citing the Russian embassy in Bangkok."On board was a bedridden patient in serious condition, a Russian citizen, who was transported from one of the hospitals in Pattaya to Russia," the RIA news agency reported, citing a source at Thailand's Utapao International Airport."She was accompanied by her husband, a private entrepreneur, also a Russian citizen, who paid for the flight."Several Russian media outlets said the passengers were a couple from Volgodonsk in southern Russia.A manifest list for the plane, published by the SHOT news outlet, appeared to show the crew were also Russian nationals.Russia's Investigative Committee said it had opened a criminal case to determine if safety rules had been violated.The plane's reported owner, a small Russian firm called Athletic Group LLC, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.The Taliban-run Afghan aviation ministry said in a statement on X that the plane's planned route did not include passing through Afghanistan's air space and that "probably due to technical issues" the plane had diverted from its planned route.The statement said a ministry technical team was investigating the matter.Afghanistan police had received reports of a plane crash in a remote, mountainous region of Badakhshan in Afghanistan's far north, a provincial police spokesperson said on Sunday.Zabihullah Amiri, a spokesperson for Badakhshan's provincial government, told Reuters a team had been sent to the location of the crash, a remote area more than 200 km from the provincial capital Fayzabad.
A passenger plane crashed in Badakhshan province in northern Afghanistan.According to Khaama Press, a passenger jet aircraft has crashed in the mountainous areas of Top Khana, including the districts of Kiran and Minjan, and Zebak district in Badakhshan.A research team has been dispatched to the scene. Investigations into the type of aircraft and the number of passengers on board are ongoing.The crashed passenger plane belongs to an Indian company, Khaama noted.The Russian Civil Aviation Authority said that the private plane that disappeared from radars in Afghanistan belonged to an Indian company and was heading to Moscow, with six people on board. (QNA)
An earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale struck on Monday the Hindu Kush region in Afghanistan.The National Seismological Center of the Pakistan Meteorological Department said in a statement that the epicenter of the earthquake was at a depth of 184 kilometers.There have been no reports of casualties or material losses due to the earthquake so far.In May, a 5.2-magnitude earthquake struck the city of Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan province, in northeastern Afghanistan. (QNA)
Afghanistan's Taliban government marked on Tuesday the second anniversary of their takeover of the country with celebrations and a public holiday, issuing a defiant statement commemorating their surge back to power. Flags of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name given to the country by its new rulers -- fluttered at security checkpoints across the capital, which fell on August 15, 2021, when the US-backed government collapsed and its leaders fled into exile.In the two years since, Taliban authorities have imposed their strict interpretation of Islam, with women bearing the brunt of laws the United Nations has termed "gender apartheid".A statement from the authorities early Tuesday hailed a victory that was able to "pave the way for the establishment of the Islamic system in Afghanistan"."The conquest of Kabul proved once again that no one can control the proud nation of Afghanistan" and that "no invader will be allowed to threaten the independence and freedom" of the country, it said.Quiet Kabul streets early on Tuesday began to give way to convoys of Taliban members and a gathering at Massoud Square near the abandoned US embassy building. Some of the men carried their weapons, while others snapped smiling selfies as anthems blared and young boys sold the movement's white flag inscribed with the Islamic declaration of faith. In Herat in the west, a crowd of Taliban supporters chanted: "Death to the Europeans, death to the Westerners, long live the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, death to the Americans."- 'Need to celebrate' -As events kicked off in various cities, a military parade was cancelled in Kandahar, the cradle of the Taliban movement and from where reclusive Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada rules by decree.Expected to include scores of military vehicles and weapons left behind by international forces after a weeks-long chaotic withdrawal, Akhundzada called off the parade himself so as not to disturb the public, provincial officials told journalists. In Kabul, the education ministry hosted a celebration at a school in a part of the city once stacked with diplomats who are now thin on the ground -- the Taliban government is still not formally recognised by any other country.A medical student at an event at Kabul University told AFP it was important to mark the anniversary."We need to celebrate today. Today marks the end of the occupation in our country, and that is a good thing," 21-year-old Mortaza Khairi said.The international community continues to grapple with how, and if, to engage with the Taliban authorities, with restrictions on women's rights -- squeezed from public spaces and avenues to work and education -- a key obstacle in negotiations over aid and recognition.A group of UN experts hit out on Monday at pledges by Taliban authorities of a softer rule than during their first stint in power from 1996 until 2001."Despite reassurances by the Taliban de facto authorities that any restrictions, particularly in terms of access to education would be temporary, the facts on the ground have demonstrated an accelerated, systematic, and all engulfing system of segregation, marginalization and persecution," the experts said in a statement.- 'Want their freedom back' -Afghan women ahead of the anniversary have expressed fear and despair over the loss of rights -- a handful holding small demonstrations, many of their faces covered with masks. But Afghans also pointed to worry over an economic and humanitarian crisis in motion since the Taliban takeover, as aid dried up and sanctions were imposed.Farmer Rahatullah Azizi told AFP he used to earn a living off his crops but now has "just enough to eat". He expressed relief, however, that the security situation was better, noting he could now travel freely at night without fear of being mugged.But while violence has fallen across Afghanistan in the past two years, the Islamic State group remains a threat and tensions have risen with Pakistan over an increase of attacks in the countries' shared border areas. Taliban authorities have pledged that Afghan territory won't be used by foreign militants to stage attacks abroad but it remains a sticking point.While some Afghans celebrate the end of fighting and Taliban rule, others see August 15 as a grim reminder."All the girls and women of Afghanistan want their freedom back," said former student Hamasah Bawar ahead of the anniversary.
At least 12 people were killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by a strong earthquake felt across thousands of kilometres, but the region appeared Wednesday to have dodged the mass casualties usually associated with a tremor of such scale.The United States Geological Survey said the magnitude 6.5 quake was centred near Jurm in northeastern Afghanistan, but the depth of 187 kilometres (116 miles) mitigated extensive damage.The quake, which struck around 09:30 pm (1700 GMT) Kabul time on Tuesday and lasted more than 30 seconds, was felt from central Asia to New Delhi in India -- more than 2,000 km away."It was a powerful earthquake and we feared maximum damage due to the intensity -- that's why we issued an alert," Bilal Faizi, a spokesman for Pakistan's emergency Rescue 1122 service in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told AFP."But fortunately our fears proved wrong. Residents panicked due to the magnitude of the earthquake, but the damage was minimal."The region is frequently hit by quakes -- especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.'Stayed awake' all nightIn Jurm district, near the epicentre, a resident of one village reported no casualties despite the location."We are about 2,000 to 3,000 people in our village and we all spent the night outside under the sky," said Inamullah, reached by phone."We were all scared and stayed awake the entire night."Panicked residents of cities and towns in Afghanistan and Pakistan also fled their homes to seek safety away from buildings -- with many too scared to return."We stayed the night in our courtyard... it was cold outside, but we preferred to stay out rather than go back," 24-year-old student Neda Raihan told AFP in Kabul.Khudadad Heights, a vast multi-storey residential block in the Pakistan capital, was evacuated after huge cracks appeared in the building.Over 55,000 people were killed by an earthquake that struck southeastern Turkey and parts of Syria last month, heightening fears across the region."The children started shouting that there is an earthquake. We all ran out. The horrors of the earthquake in Turkey and neighbouring countries had a strong effect on our nerves," said Ikhlaq Kazmi, a retired professor in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi.Officials in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, north of the Pakistan capital, said nine people had been killed in the quake, including two women and two children.High alertIn Afghanistan, officials reported three dead and 44 injured -- but phone and internet links to remote parts of the country had been severed and communication patchy.Government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said health centres across the country had been put on high alert.In the Afghan capital Kabul, shopkeeper Noor Mohammad Hanifi set up tents in the street for his family to spend the night in."Nobody dares to go inside their homes," Hanifi told AFP as his family, cloaked in blankets, took shelter.In Afghanistan, many families were out of their homes celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, when the quake struck."I heard people screaming and yelling as they came out in the streets," said Masieh, who was outside with his family when the tremor hit."It's possible that there could be another tremor so I'm still waiting outside."Those indoors also quickly left their houses and apartments."They just fled without wearing shoes, just carrying their children in their hands," an AFP correspondent said.Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered the National Disaster Management Authority to be ready to deal with any emergency.Last June more than 1,000 people were killed and tens of thousands made homeless after a 5.9-magnitude quake -- the deadliest in Afghanistan in nearly a quarter of a century -- struck the impoverished province of Paktika.Afghanistan is in the grips of a humanitarian disaster made worse by the Taliban takeover of the country in August 2021.International development funding on which the South Asian country relied dried up after the takeover and assets held abroad were frozen.
At least 166 people have died in a wave of bitterly cold weather sweeping Afghanistan, an official said Saturday, as extreme conditions heaped misery on the poverty-stricken nation.Afghanistan has been frozen by temperatures as low as -33 degrees Celsius (-27 degrees Fahrenheit) since January 10, combined with widespread snowfall, icy gales and regular electricity outages.Aid agencies had warned before the cold snap that more than half of Afghanistan's 38 million people were facing hunger, while nearly four million children were suffering from malnutrition.The disaster management ministry said on Saturday the death toll had risen by 88 over the past week and now stood at 166, based on data from 24 of the nation's 34 provinces.The deaths were caused by floods, fires and leaks from gas heaters that Afghan families use to heat their homes, ministry official Abdul Rahman Zahid said in a video statement.Some 100 homes were destroyed or damaged and nearly 80,000 livestock, a vital commodity for Afghanistan's poor, also died in the cold.The World Health Organization (WHO) said this week 17 people had died in a single village in northeastern Badakhshan province due to an outbreak of "acute respiratory infection"."Harsh weather prevents help from reaching the area," the WHO said.Afghanistan is enduring its second winter since US-backed forces withdrew and the Islamist Taliban surged back into Kabul to reclaim government.Foreign aid has declined dramatically since then and key central bank assets were seized by the United States, compounding a humanitarian crisis considered one of the world's worst.The Taliban government banned Afghan women from working with humanitarian groups last month, leading many to suspend operations.Women NGO workers in the health sector were then granted an exemption and some organisations restarted their programmes.
A suicide attack at an education institute in the Afghan capital of Kabul killed 19 people and wounded dozens, police said on Friday, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Many of those living in the western area where the blast occurred are Hazara, an ethnic minority targeted in past attacks launched by militant group Islamic State, among others. Kabul police spokesperson Khalid Zadran said that 27 people had also been injured in the attack, revising the number of wounded down slightly from the 29 announced earlier. He said the attack took place at an education institute where an entrance exam was taking place. Schools are normally closed in Afghanistan on Fridays. "Attacking civilian targets proves the enemy's inhuman cruelty and lack of moral standards," he said, without specifying who they believed was behind the attack. Since taking over Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban have emphasised that they are securing the nation following decades of war, but recent months have seen a series of blasts at mosques and civilian areas. Teenage students were among the 24 people killed in a 2020 attack claimed by Islamic State at an education centre in west Kabul.
An American navy veteran detained in Afghanistan since 2020 was released in exchange for a Taliban ally imprisoned in the US for heroin smuggling, US and Afghan officials announced yesterday. The Taliban government freed Mark Frerichs, a navy veteran who was working as a civil engineer on construction projects in Afghanistan when he was detained 31 months ago. The US government meanwhile released Bashar Noorzai, a former regional strongman who was sentenced to life imprisonment in a US court 17 years ago for smuggling large amounts of heroin. “After long negotiations, US citizen Mark Frerichs was handed over to an American delegation and that delegation handed over (Noorzai) to us today at Kabul airport,” Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said at a press conference. “We are happy that at Kabul International Airport, in the capital of Afghanistan, we witnessed the wonderful ceremony of one of our compatriots returning home.” Frerichs meanwhile flew to Doha, a US official said, adding that he was “in stable health.” “Today, we have secured the release of Mark Frerichs, and he will soon be home,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “Bringing the negotiations that led to Mark’s freedom to a successful resolution required difficult decisions, which I did not take lightly,” he said. Noorzai was welcomed with a hero’s fanfare by the government of the newly-styled Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA). Photos show he was greeted by masked Taliban soldiers bearing floral garlands. “If the IEA had not shown its strong determination, I would not have been here today,” Noorzai said. “My release in exchange for an American will be a source of peace between Afghanistan and Americans.” Noorzai is the second Afghan inmate released by the United States in recent months. In June, Assadullah Haroon was released after 15 years of detention in the United States’ notorious Guantanamo Bay prison. Haroon was accused of links to Al Qaeda but languished without charge for years at the US detention centre in Cuba, after his arrest in 2006 while working as a honey trader. Afghan security analyst Hekmatullah Hekmat said Noorzai’s release was a “major achievement” for Kabul’s new rulers. “The Taliban can tell their foot soldiers and Afghans that they are able to bring back their people held by opposition groups,” he told AFP. Muttaqi said the homecoming of Noorzai marks the beginning of a “new chapter” in relations between Afghanistan and the United States. For Washington Frerichs’ release was a priority issue to resolve after US forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021 following the Taliban’s seizure of power. The United States and allies have refused to recognise the new government, with Washington repeatedly telling the Taliban that they will have to “earn” legitimacy. Biden had warned in January that the Taliban must release Frerich “before it can expect any consideration of its aspirations for legitimacy.” Noorzai, a militia commander, once fought with US-backed mujahideen forces against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and was a close associate of the Taliban’s late founder Mullah Omar. While he held no official position, Noorzai had “provided strong support including weapons” for the Taliban in the 1990s, Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP yesterday. After travelling to the United States in 2005 he was arrested, accused of running a “worldwide narcotics network.” When released he had served 17 years of a life sentence in a federal prison. Biden, who spoke to Frerichs’ family ahead of the release, did not mention the deal involved. But a senior Biden administration official said that the president okayed the swap in June after the Taliban made clear they wanted Noorzai in exchange for Frerichs’ freedom. Granting Noorzai clemency and returning him would “not materially change” the situation for Americans or the state of the Afghan drug trade, the US official said. The official said the deal was delayed as Biden ordered the drone strike that killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in his Kabul residence on July 31. Immediately after that, Washington quickly resumed pressure on Kabul for the exchange, warning them not to harm Frerichs and that a release could “begin to rebuild trust,” the official said.
A Black Hawk helicopter commandeered by the Taliban after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan crashed during a training session at the weekend, killing two pilots and a crew member, the defence ministry said. The incident occurred Saturday on the campus of the country's defence university in the capital Kabul. The Black Hawk crashed due to "a technical problem during a training exercise", the ministry said, adding five crew members were also injured. When exiting the country last year, the US military left behind billions of dollars worth of aircraft, vehicles, weapons and other hardware -- much of which it said had been rendered inoperable. Some helicopters were also flown by former Afghan government forces to central Asian countries before the Taliban took full control of the country. The Taliban have managed to repair some aircraft, including helicopters, which are believed to be now flown by pilots from the former government forces. The regime showcased an array of equipment during a military parade on August 31 when they celebrated the first anniversary of their return to power.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned on Monday the explosion that took place near the Russian embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and resulted in casualties. The Secretary-General strongly condemns Monday's attack in Kabul in the immediate vicinity of the Embassy of the Russian Federation, Spokesman for the Secretary-General Stephane Dujarric said in a statement. "The Secretary-General reiterates that attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including diplomatic missions, are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law," Dujarric said in the statement. Moscow announced earlier that two employees of the diplomatic mission at the Russian Embassy in Afghanistan were killed in an explosion in Kabul.
The United Nations is set to end travel ban exemptions for 13 Taliban officials Friday, pending any deal by Security Council members on a possible extension, diplomats told AFP. Under a 2011 UN Security Council resolution, 135 Taliban officials are subject to sanctions that include asset freezes and travel bans. But 13 of them were granted exemptions from the travel ban to allow them to meet officials from other countries abroad. In June, the 15-member UN Security Council's Afghanistan Sanctions Committee removed two Taliban education ministers from the exemption list over the regime's curtailment of women's rights. At the same time, they renewed the exemption for the others until August 19, plus a further month if no member objected. Ireland objected this week, according to diplomatic sources. China and Russia have called for an extension, while the United States has sought a reduced list of the officials allowed to travel and the destinations they can travel to. The latest proposal on the table would allow just six officials to travel for diplomatic reasons, diplomatic sources told AFP. If no member of the Council objects by Monday afternoon, it will come into force for three months. In the meantime, the exemptions for the 13 officials end at midnight on Friday. Among the 13 are Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai. They were instrumental in negotiations with the US government of then-president Donald Trump which led to a deal in 2020 paving the way for America's withdrawal from Afghanistan. A spokesperson for the Chinese mission at the UN, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, this week called the Western position linking the travel ban to human rights "counterproductive." The exemptions are "needed as much as ever," the spokesperson said, adding that if reimposing a travel ban is all other members of the Council want to do, "clearly they have learned no lessons at all." Despite their promises to be more flexible after they seized power in August last year, the Taliban have largely reverted to the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001. In particular, they have severely restricted the rights and freedoms of girls and women, calling for them to don burkas, effectively halting girls' education and systematically removing women from Afghan workplaces. No country has so far recognised the government.
A ruined village in eastern Afghanistan, just 10 kilometres (six miles) from the epicentre of this week's deadly earthquake, is struggling back to life as aid trickles into the isolated region. Wuchkai, three hours away from the nearest town of any substance, can only be reached by a narrow, rutted dirt road -- with space for just one vehicle in places. Isolated, without electricity and water, the village sprawls over a large basin surrounded by imposing hills and bisected by an almost-dry river. Many of the village dwellings, workshops and stores were destroyed by Wednesday's 5.9-magnitude earthquake, whose epicentre was recorded on the other side of the hills that flank it. More than 1,000 people were killed in the quake -- the country's deadliest in over two decades -- with Wuchkai alone accounting for at least three dozen. Now the survivors are trying to find shelter in the ruins of their homes, desperately dependent on the aid convoys that have started to arrive. "I ask and expect the world and the government to provide us with the basic things we need to live," says Raqim Jan, 23. - Almost every family lost someone - Jan lost 11 members of his extended family when their single-storey dwelling caved in on them as they slept early Wednesday. Almost every family lost at least one member -- and most lost many more -- so they are coming together to share resources. Jan now lives with four other families -- including 15 women and about 20 children -- in three large tents set up near their ruined homes. Help has arrived, but he worries for how long it will last. "The tents, food and flour that we have received for a few days are not enough," Jan says, as a communal fire for cooking sends smoke spiralling above the makeshift campsite. Nearby, children are playing -- seemingly oblivious to their plight -- while babies wail for attention. A cow tied to a pole ruminates as chickens strut around the dusty compound, pecking at nothing in the dust. The village men make occasional forays into the ruins of their houses, looking to salvage whatever valuables can be found in the debris. But they tread gingerly, as any walls still standing are cracked -- threatening to collapse at any moment -- and aftershocks are still being felt. A violent tremor killed five people in the same district early Thursday. - Aid vehicles arriving - In the centre of Wuchkai, a steady stream of aid vehicles arrive, kicking up clouds of dust from roads that are finally drying after days of torrential rain. While the big operators appear organised -- such as the World Food Program and Doctors Without Borders -- smaller Afghan-led distribution is more chaotic. Tempers flared as dozens of villagers scrambled over the back of a truck Thursday, trying to grab bags of beans that had been donated by a businessman from Kabul. A platoon of armed Taliban grabbed one particularly exuberant young man and roughed him away in their vehicle. Not far away, bent double under the weight of the bundle, Kawsar Uddin, 20, and his uncle carry a tent that will become the family's temporary home. Faced with the influx of aid that is now arriving, Uddin is sceptical of the motivation and accuses aid organisations of staging "photo ops". "They have distributed food and tents... but some are doing business on the blood of Afghans," he says.
Many survivors of Afghanistan's deadliest earthquake in more than two decades were on Friday without food, shelter and water as they waited in devastated villages for relief workers to reach them, with rain compounding their misery. Wednesday's 5.9-magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged east along the border with Pakistan, killing more than 1,000 and leaving thousands homeless. Entire villages have been levelled in some of the worst affected districts, where survivors said they were even struggling to find equipment to bury their dead. "There are no blankets, tents, there's no shelter. Our entire water distribution system is destroyed. There is literally nothing to eat," 21-year-old Zaitullah Ghurziwal told an AFP team that reached his village in hard-hit Paktika province. Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of information for the province, said heavy rain and floods were hampering efforts to reach those affected. Communications have also been hit as the quake toppled mobile phone towers and power lines. The earthquake struck areas already suffering the effects of heavy rain, causing rockfalls and mudslides that wiped out hamlets perched precariously on mountain slopes. Officials say nearly 10,000 houses were destroyed, an alarming number in an area where the average household size is more than 20 people. "Seven in one room, five in the other room, four in another, and three in another have been killed in my family," Bibi Hawa told AFP from a hospital bed in the Paktika capital Sharan. Save the Children said more than 118,000 children were impacted by the disaster. "Many children are now most likely without clean drinking water, food and a safe place to sleep," the international charity said. - UN mobilises - The disaster poses a huge logistical challenge for the Taliban government, which has isolated itself from much of the world by introducing hardline Islamic rule. The aid-dependent country saw the bulk of its foreign assistance cut off following the Taliban takeover last August, and even before Wednesday's disaster the United Nations warned of a humanitarian crisis that threatened the entire population. But the quake has prompted an outpouring of sympathy from abroad -- although many are wary how any aid will be used. "The aid distribution will be transparent," government spokesman Bilal Karimi told AFP, adding "many countries have supported us and stood with us". UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the global agency has "fully mobilised" to help. According to his office, refugee agency UNHCR has dispatched tents, blankets and plastic sheeting; the World Food Programme has delivered food stocks for about 14,000; and the World Health Organization has provided 10 tonnes of medical supplies sufficient for 5,400 surgeries. Afghan government officials said Thursday that aid flights had landed from Qatar and Iran, while Pakistan had sent trucks carrying tents, medical supplies and food across the border. Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan's emergency response teams were stretched to deal with the natural disasters that frequently strike the country. But with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters left since they returned to power, any immediate response to the latest catastrophe is further limited. "We hope that the International Community & aid agencies will also help our people in this dire situation," tweeted Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official. Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. Afghanistan's deadliest recent earthquake killed 5,000 in 1998 in the northeastern provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan.
Aid began arriving yesterday in a remote part of Afghanistan where an earthquake killed at least 1,000 people, with Taliban officials saying that the rescue operation was almost complete. The magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck early on Wednesday about 160km (100 miles) southeast of Kabul, in arid mountains dotted with small settlements near the border with Pakistan. The earthquake downed mobile phone towers and power lines while triggering rock and mudslides which blocked mountain roads. Entire villages have been levelled in some of the worst affected districts, where survivors said they were struggling to find equipment to bury their dead. Poor communications and a lack of proper roads are hampering relief efforts in a country already grappling with a humanitarian crisis which has deteriorated since the Taliban took over last August. “The rescue operation has finished, no one is trapped under (the) rubble,” Mohamed Ismail Muawiyah, a spokesman for the top Taliban military commander in the hardest-hit Paktika province, told Reuters. Mohamed Nassim Haqqani, a spokesperson for the disaster ministry, told Reuters that rescue operations had finished in major districts but are continuing in some isolated areas. The United Nations said yesterday the Taliban ministry of defence had indicated as early as Wednesday that 90% of search and rescue operations had been completed. Two retired officers in Nepal involved in the aftermath of the 2015 quake that killed 9,000 people expressed surprise that the rescue operation could be close to completion so soon, but one noted that if most damaged homes were small, it was possible. The earthquake killed about 1,000 people and injured 1,500, Muawiyah said. More than 3,000 houses were destroyed. The death toll makes it Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake in two decades, according to US government data. About 1,000 people had been rescued by morning yesterday, Sharafat Zaman, a spokesperson for the health ministry, told Reuters. “Aid has arrived to the area and it is continuing but more is needed,” he said. The town of Gayan, close to the epicentre, sustained significant damage with most of its mud-walled buildings damaged or completely collapsed, a Reuters team said. The town, with only the most basic roads, was bustling with Taliban soldiers and ambulances as a helicopter bringing in relief supplies landed nearby, whipping up huge swirls of dust. About 300 people sat on the ground waiting for supplies. The rescue operation will be a major test for the Taliban, who took over as US-led international forces withdrew after two decades of war. The humanitarian situation has deteriorated alarmingly since the Taliban takeover, aid officials say, with the country cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions. Abdul Qahar Balkhi, spokesperson for the Afghan foreign ministry, repeated calls yesterday for international aid. “We call on natural disaster management agencies and the international community to provide immediate and comprehensive aid to the Afghan people,” he said in a tweet. Afghanistan’s economy has all but collapsed, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an appeal to aid donors in late March. Drought has undermined food production and 9mn Afghans face famine. Some families have been forced to selling children and organs to survive, he said. The United Nations said that its World Food Programme (WFP) is sending food and logistics equipment to affected areas, with the aim of initially supporting 3,000 households. “The Afghan people are already facing an unprecedented crisis following decades of conflict, severe drought and an economic downturn,” said Gordon Craig, WFP deputy country director in Afghanistan. “The earthquake will only add to the already massive humanitarian needs they endure daily.” Survivors in Bermal district, a collection of remote mountain villages, said they were struggling to find equipment to dig graves. “We did not have even a shovel to dig ... so we used a tractor. We buried 60 people yesterday and 30 more are still remaining to be buried. People are working continuously,” said Ghurziwal. “There are no blankets, tents, there’s no shelter. Our entire water distribution system is destroyed. Everything is devastated, houses are destroyed. There is literally nothing to eat.” An AFP correspondent reported a military helicopter flying over villages devastated by the earthquake in Bermal. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates all said yesterday that they plan to send aid. Supplies from neighbour Pakistan have already crossed the border. Large parts of South Asia are seismically active because a tectonic plate known as the Indian plate is pushing north into the Eurasian plate. In 2015, an earthquake struck the remote Afghan northeast, killing several hundred people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan.
• Over 1,500 injured as 5.9-magnitude tremor tests mettle of Taliban rescue operation The death toll from an earthquake in Afghanistan yesterday hit 1,000, disaster management officials said, with more than 1,500 injured and the toll expected to grow as information trickles in from remote mountain villages. Houses were reduced to rubble and bodies swathed in blankets lay on the ground after the magnitude 5.9 earthquake, photographs on Afghan media showed. An unknown number of people remained stuck under rubble and in outlying areas, health and aid workers said, and rescue operations were complicated by difficult conditions including heavy rains, landslides and many villages being nestled in inaccessible hillside areas. “Many people are still buried under the soil. The rescue teams of the Islamic Emirate have arrived and with the help of local people are trying to take out the dead and injured,” a health worker at a hospital in the hard-hit Paktika province said, asking for anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media. Mounting a rescue operation will prove a major test for the Taliban authorities, who took over the country last August after two decades of war and have been cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions. The Taliban-led ministry of defence is leading rescue efforts. Loretta Hieber Girardet from the United Nations’ disaster risk reduction office said efforts to provide relief and save people trapped under rubble would face huge challenges due to the terrain and weather. “The roads are poor even at the best of times so having a humanitarian operation put in place is going to be immediately challenged by the lack of easy access to the area,” she said, adding that rain combined with the tremor created a further risk of landslides for humanitarian workers. The UN humanitarian office said it was deploying medical health teams and providing medical supplies. Interior ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi said the death toll was likely to rise “as some of the villages are in remote areas in the mountains and it will take some time to collect details.” Yesterday’s quake was the deadliest in Afghanistan since 2002. It struck about 44km from the southeastern city of Khost, near the border with Pakistan, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said. Shaking was felt by about 119mn people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) said on Twitter, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in Pakistan. The USGC said it was 5.9. Disaster experts and humanitarian workers said the impoverished hilly areas struck by the quake were especially vulnerable, with landslides and poorly built houses adding to widespread destruction. “We were all sleeping at home... and the room fell over us,” said Gul Faraz as he received treatment for injuries with his wife and children at a hospital in Paktika. Some family members had been killed, he said. “All the houses in our area were destroyed, not one, but the entire region has been destroyed.” Most of the confirmed deaths were in the eastern province of Paktika, where 255 people were killed and more than 200 injured, Ayubi said. In the province of Khost, 25 were dead and 90 had been taken to hospital. A view of the damaged houses following the tremor in the same area. (AFP)
A powerful earthquake struck a remote border region of Afghanistan overnight killing at least 1,000 people and injuring hundreds more, officials said Wednesday, with the toll expected to rise as desperate rescuers dig through collapsed dwellings. The 5.9 magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged east, where people already lead hardscrabble lives in a country in the grip of a humanitarian disaster made worse by the Taliban takeover in August. "People are digging grave after grave," said Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in hard-hit Paktika, adding that at least 1,000 people had died in that province alone. "It is raining also, and all houses are destroyed. People are still trapped under the rubble," he told journalists. The death toll climbed steadily all day as news of casualties filtered in from hard-to-reach areas in the mountains, and the country's supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, warned it would likely rise further. Earlier, a tribal leader from Paktika said survivors and rescuers were scrambling to help those affected. "The local markets are closed and all the people have rushed to the affected areas," Yaqub Manzor told AFP by telephone. Photographs and video clips posted on social media showed scores of badly damaged mud houses in remote rural areas. Some footage showed local residents loading victims into a military helicopter. - Offers of help - Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan's emergency response teams were stretched to deal with the natural disasters that frequently struck the country. But with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters left since the hardline Islamists returned to power, any immediate response to the latest catastrophe is further limited. "The government is working within its capabilities," tweeted Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official. "We hope that the International Community & aid agencies will also help our people in this dire situation." The United Nations and European Union were quick to offer assistance. "Inter-agency assessment teams have already been deployed to a number of affected areas," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Afghanistan tweeted. Tomas Niklasson, EU special envoy for Afghanistan, tweeted: "The EU is monitoring the situation and stands ready to coordinate and provide EU emergency assistance to people and communities affected." Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes -- especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. Scores of people were killed and injured in January when two quakes struck rural areas in the western province of Badghis, damaging hundreds of buildings. In 2015, more than 380 people were killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake ripped across the two countries, with the bulk of the deaths in Pakistan. From the Vatican City, Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims of the latest quake. "I express my closeness with the injured and those who were affected," the 85-year-old pontiff said at the end of his weekly audience. Aid agencies and the United Nations say Afghanistan needs billions of dollars this year to tackle its ongoing humanitarian crisis. Aid agencies have particularly stressed the need for greater disaster preparedness in Afghanistan, which remains extremely susceptible to recurring earthquakes, floods and landslides. The quake was felt as far away as Lahore in Pakistan, 480 kilometres (300 miles) from the epicentre, according to responses posted on the USGS and European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) websites.
An earthquake of magnitude 6.1 killed 920 people in Afghanistan early on Wednesday, disaster management officials said, with more than 600 injured and the toll expected to grow as information trickles in from remote mountain villages. Photographs on Afghan media showed houses reduced to rubble, with bodies swathed in blankets lying on the ground. Helicopters were deployed in the rescue effort to reach the injured and fly in medical supplies and food, said an interior ministry official, Salahuddin Ayubi. "The death toll is likely to rise as some of the villages are in remote areas in the mountains and it will take some time to collect details." Collapsed mud houses following an earthquake in Gayan district, Paktika province. Wednesday's quake was the deadliest since 2002. It struck about 44 km from the southeastern city of Khost, near the border with Pakistan, the US Geological Survey (USGC) said. Most of the confirmed deaths were in the eastern province of Paktika, where 255 people were killed and more than 200 injured, Ayubi added. In the province of Khost, 25 were dead and 90 had been taken to hospital. Haibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader of the ruling Taliban, offered his condolences in a statement. A member of the Afghan Red Crescent Society giving medical treatment to a victim. Mounting a rescue operation could prove a major test for the Taliban, who took over the country in August and have been cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions. Shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the EMSC said on Twitter, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in Pakistan. The EMSC put the earthquake's magnitude at 6.1, though the USGC said it was 5.9. Adding to the challenge for Afghan authorities is recent flooding in many regions, which the disaster agency said had killed 11, injured 50 and blocked stretches of highway. The disaster comes as Afghanistan grapples with a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over, as US-led international forces withdrew following two decades of war. In response to the Taliban takeover, many nations imposed sanctions on Afghanistan's banking sector and cut billions of dollars worth of development aid. Humanitarian aid has continued, however, with international agencies, such as the United Nations, operating. A man standing beside a collapsed mud house following an earthquake in Gayan district, Paktika province The UN's office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said Afghanistan had asked humanitarian agencies to help with rescue efforts, and teams were being despatched to the quake-hit area. A spokesman of Afghanistan's foreign ministry said it would welcome international help. Neighbouring Pakistan said it was working to extend assistance. Large parts of South Asia are seismically active because a tectonic plate known as the Indian plate is pushing north into the Eurasian plate. In 2015, an earthquake struck the remote Afghan northeast, killing several hundred people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan. In January, an earthquake struck western Afghanistan, killing more than 20 people.
At least six people were killed and 11 wounded Tuesday by two bomb blasts at a boys' school in the Afghan capital, with social media showing grisly images from the Hazara Shiite neighbourhood. The number of bomb blasts in the country has significantly declined since the Taliban ousted the US-backed Afghan government in August, but the jihadist Islamic State group has claimed several attacks since then. Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran told AFP that Tuesday's blasts at the Abdul Rahim Shahid school were caused by improvised explosive devices and left at least six people killed and 11 wounded. "These are preliminary figures. We are at the site and waiting for more details," he said. Zadran said a third blast had occurred at an English language centre in the same area, but did not specify whether it was caused by an explosive. Zadran earlier tweeted that three blasts had rocked the school, which is in an area mainly inhabited by the Hazara community and has been previously targeted by the jihadist Islamic State group. Tuesday's blasts occurred as students were coming out of their morning classes at the school, a witness told AFP. Grisly images posted on social media networks showed several bodies lying at the gate and compound of the school. Images showed patches of blood, burnt books and school bags scattered at the premises. Taliban fighters were seen cordoning off the area. Victims were taken to hospital, but Taliban fighters kept journalists from the premises. Attacks on public targets have largely diminished since the Taliban seized power in August last year, but IS continues to operate across the country. The Taliban have also been blamed previously for attacks targeting the Hazara community, who make up between 10 to 20 percent of the country's 38 million population. Taliban officials insist their forces have defeated IS, but analysts say the jihadist group is a key security challenge to the hardline Islamists who now rule Afghanistan. Since seizing power the Taliban have regularly carried out raids on suspected IS hideouts, mainly in the eastern Nangarhar province. IS has claimed some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan in recent years. In May last year at least 85 people -- mainly girl students -- were killed and about 300 were wounded when three bombs exploded near their school in Dasht-e-Barchi. No group claimed responsibility, but in October 2020 IS claimed a suicide attack on an educational centre in the same area that killed 24, including students. In May 2020, the group was blamed for a bloody attack on a maternity ward of a hospital in the neighbourhood that killed 25 people, as well as new mothers.
One of Afghanistan's top news presenters is being detained by the Taliban for reporting that foreign dramas had been banned from local TV screens, his network confirmed Friday. Rights groups have condemned a decline in media freedoms and increasing attacks on journalists since the Taliban swept back to power last year with the United Nations calling for an end to "intimidation and threats against journalists" after the latest arrest. TOLOnews, the country's leading independent television network, said presenter Bahram Aman was detained at the channel's office on Thursday evening along with news director Khpolwak Sapai and legal adviser Nafi Khaleeq. "The three were arrested for broadcasting news that the authorities had banned television channels from airing foreign drama serials," TOLOnews said in a statement. Sapai and Khaleeq were released later Thursday. "Our whole family is concerned," a relative of Aman told AFP, asking not to be named. "Previously... they had threatened him." After seizing power the Taliban banned TV stations from broadcasting dramas or soaps unless they had an Islamic theme, although it was loosely observed. They appear now to be more strictly enforcing that directive, which TOLOnews reported on. Reports of the trio's arrest prompted a strong reaction from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. "The UN urges the release of all those taken away by gunmen and an end to the intimidation and threats against journalists and independent media," it said on Twitter. During the Taliban's first stint in power from 1996-2001, there was little Afghan media to speak of and the militants banned television, movies and most other forms of entertainment as immoral. Despite promising a softer version of their rule since taking power last year, they have cracked down on journalists, critics of the regime, and women activists demanding rights to work and education.
One of the Taliban’s most secretive leaders, whose only picture on US “most wanted” lists is a grainy semi-covered profile, was photographed openly for the first time yesterday at a passing-out parade for new Afghan police recruits. Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also heads the feared Haqqani Network, has previously only been photographed clearly from behind — even since the hardliners seized power last August. “For your satisfaction and for building your trust... I am appearing in the media in a public meeting with you,” he said in a speech at the parade. Before the Taliban’s return, Haqqani was the most senior of three deputies to leader Hibatullah Akhundzada. Akhundzada himself hasn’t been seen in public for years, and many Afghan analysts believe he may not even be alive. Haqqani heads a powerful subset of the Taliban blamed for some of the worst violence of the past 20 years. The United States has offered a reward of up to $10mn for information leading to his arrest, saying he was responsible for a string of terror attacks. Pictures of Haqqani were being widely shared on social media yesterday by Taliban officials who had previously only posted photographs that didn’t show his face, or if it had been digitally blurred. At the police parade yesterday, Haqqani was dressed like many of the senior Taliban officials — very heavily bearded and wearing a black turban and white shawl. He said he was showing his face so “you could know how much value we have with our leadership”. Haqqani’s appearance also suggests the Taliban have grown even more confident of their hold on the country since seizing power on August 15, two weeks before the last US-led foreign forces left. Several diplomats were in the crowd — including Pakistan’s ambassador — even though no country has officially recognised the new Taliban regime. The Haqqani Network, founded in the 1970s by Jalaluddin Haqqani, was heavily supported by the CIA during the Mujahideen war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is believed to be in his 40s, is his son, and succeeded him following his death in 2018. The latter was blamed for the deadly 2008 attack on Kabul’s Serena Hotel that killed six people, as well as at least one assassination attempt against former Afghan president Hamid Karzai.