The Taliban and Islamic State group jointly massacred dozens of civilians in an Afghan village, officials said Monday, highlighting rare co-operation between the insurgents that could increase the strain on Afghanistan's beleaguered security forces. The fighters killed more than 50 men, women and children in the remote Sayad district of northern Sar-e Pul province on Saturday after overrunning the Afghan Local Police (ALP) -- a government-backed militia -- in a 48-hour battle, according to local officials. "It was a joint operation by Daesh (IS) and Taliban fighters. They had recruited forces from other provinces of the country and attacked Mirzawalang village," Zabihullah Amani, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told AFP. The spokesman alleged that dozens of Taliban and IS group fighters under the command of Sher Mohammad Ghazanfar, a local Taliban commander who Amani claims pledged allegiance to IS, launched a co-ordinated attack on the area on Thursday. "The fighters overran the area and it led to the massacre of innocent and defenceless civilians," he said. Most of those killed were shot but some were beheaded, Amani said. Verifying information from poor, mountainous areas of Afghanistan made inaccessible by fighting and with patchy communications is difficult, and AFP was not able to access the village. Mohammad Noor Rahmani, head of Sar-e-Pul's provincial council, said 44 of the 50 victims were believed to be civilians, with the ALP militia also suffering casualties. "This is not the final toll. It might change because the area is inaccessible and no telephone networks are working to get an update," he told AFP. The Taliban and Islamic State fighters have regularly clashed since the latter gained a foothold in eastern Afghanistan in 2015, as the two vie for supremacy in the war-torn country. An Afghan security source told AFP there had been around three incidents in the past where fighters from both groups had teamed up to deal a blow to Afghan forces in certain areas. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, confirmed to AFP that it had captured Mirzawalang village but said it had done so alone. It also denied allegations it had killed civilians. "It was an independent operation by our mujahideen forces. There is no cooperation with the Islamic State on the operation," said the spokesman.
Insurgents attacked a village in the northern Afghan province of Sar-e Pul, killing as many as 50 people, including women and children, officials said on Sunday. Zabihullah Amani, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the fighters, who included foreign militants, attacked a security outpost in the Mirza Olang area of Sayaad district overnight, torching 30 houses. He said fighting was still going on but as many as 50 people, including children, women and elderly men, most of them members of the largely Hazara community, may have been killed, according to local village elders. "They were killed in a brutal, inhumane way," he said. Seven members of the Afghan security forces were also killed as well as a number of insurgents. Many details of the attack, including the identity of the insurgents, were not immediately clear. Amani said they were a mixed group of Taliban and Islamic State fighters but the Taliban itself denied any involvement, dismissing the claim as propaganda. Although the Taliban and Islamic State are usually enemies, the allegiance of their forces is sometimes fluid, with fighters from both groups sometimes changing sides or cooperating with militants from other groups. A senior government official in Kabul said that security forces, including Afghan Air Force attack aircraft, were being sent to the scene. Fighting has intensified this year across Afghanistan, with dozens of security incidents recorded every day. In the first half of the year 1,662 civilians were killed and 3,581 injured, according to United Nations figures.
Five family members have been killed after a mortar, allegedly fired by Taliban militants, hit a civilian house in central Logar province of Afghanistan, an official said on Saturday. The incident took place in the Alozay area of provincial capital Pul-e-Alam city on Thursday evening, Mir Haidar Selab, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told dpa. "The victims are the father and his four children: two sons and two daughters between the ages of 5 and 13," Selab said. Afghan security forces went to the area to install a security check post and were attacked by Taliban militants, Saleb said, adding that a mortar fired by Taliban targeting the security post hit a civilian house which resulted in the casualties. According to Selab, mortars fired by the Taliban also caused serious damages to a mosque and a number of houses in the area. Civilians increasingly are taking the brunt of the fighting between armed insurgents and Afghan security forces throughout the war-torn country. More than one-third of all civilian casualties in the first half of the year were attributed to ground engagements between militants and Afghan security forces, according to a mid-year report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in July. On May 14, five children were killed and two others were wounded when a mortar shell allegedly fired by the Taliban landed in a playing ground in Afghanistan's eastern Laghman province.
At least five people have been killed after Taliban militants attacked a money exchange market in Afghanistan's embattled southern Helmand province early Friday morning, locals and officials said. The fighting started when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gate of the exchange market in Gereshk district, killing three guards and two others, according to Razia Baluch, a provincial council member from Helmand. Three attackers entered the market, and fighting between the militants and the Afghan security forces is still ongoing, she said. "We are hunkered down inside and can't go outside for fear of getting shot," said Mawlawi Ahmad, an elder from Gereshk. The actual target might have been the district governor's building nearby, but the militants were identified before they reached their target, Baluch said. The attack was on an Afghan security force base and other government institutions, Taliban spokesman Qari Yosuf Ahmadi said via Twitter. Gereshk district has been a centre of fighting between Taliban and Afghan security forces for several weeks. A mistaken US airstrike on July 21 killed 16 people and wounded two Afghan security force members in the district. The Taliban control at least 80 per cent of Helmand province and have intensified attacks in neighbouring Uruzgan and Kandahar provinces.
A Taliban suicide bomber rammed a vehicle filled with explosives into a convoy of foreign forces in Afghanistan's restive southern province of Kandahar causing casualties Wednesday, officials said. ‘At around noon a car bomb targeted a convoy of foreign forces in Daman area of Kandahar,’ provincial police spokesman Zia Durrani told AFP. NATO confirmed in a statement that a convoy was attacked and did ‘cause casualties’ but did not immediately give further details. At least one witness reported seeing three bodies pulled from one of vehicles. Mohammad Azim, a shopkeeper, told AFP: ‘I saw a foreign forces vehicle on fire after the attack. A while later helicopters landed in the area, they took three bodies out of the vehicle and flew away. There were three armoured vehicles in the convoy.’ The Taliban, who have a heavy presence in poppy-growing Kandahar province and have launched repeated attacks there, quickly claimed the attack by text message to AFP. The assault is the latest blow to NATO forces, who ended their more than a decade-long combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Since then Afghan troops and police, beset by soaring casualties, have struggled to beat back the resurgent Taliban, while facing the growing menace of the Islamic State group. The Taliban have been ramping up their campaign against beleaguered government forces, underscoring rising insecurity in the war-torn country during the summer fighting season when the warmer weather tends to spur an increase in militant attacks. A recent UN report described Kandahar, which lies on the border with Pakistan, as one of the most dangerous places in the country for civilians.
A suicide bomber and a gunman killed at least 29 people and wounded 63 at a packed Shia mosque in Afghanistan's main western city of Herat Tuesday, the latest attack to highlight the country's deteriorating security situation. The assault on the Jawadya mosque in Herat, which is close to Afghanistan's border with Iran, came a day after the Islamic State group claimed a deadly attack on the Iraqi embassy in Kabul. The Herat attack was the latest in a series of assaults on Afghanistan's minority Shia population. "The death toll has risen to 29 killed and 63 wounded. Some wounded are in a critical condition so the toll may go up," hospital spokesman Rafeeq Shirzai told AFP. Herat police spokesman Abdul Ahad Walizada said the assault happened around 8:00 pm (1530 GMT) when "a terrorist attack was carried out on a (Shia) mosque in the third security district of Herat city". "Based on our initial information two terrorists were involved, one of them wearing a suicide vest who detonated himself while the second one was armed with a rifle. They are both dead," he added. A reporter for AFP said he had seen a number of bodies brought out of the mosque, leading to fears of a heavy death toll. He reported seeing a body torn to pieces at the entrance, possibly that of the attacker, while others were lying in pools of blood inside, some still crying and moving. Photos posted on social media showed large crowds had gathered at the hospital. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but IS has been targeting Shia minority crowds and mosques in Afghanistan for around a year. The Taliban specifically denied that it was involved. 'Anti-Islam act' The attack comes a day after an assault on the Iraqi embassy in Kabul, which was claimed by the Islamic State group (IS), killed two people. IS has been expanding its footprint in eastern Afghanistan and has recently claimed responsibility for several devastating attacks in the capital. But experts have previously questioned whether there are direct links between the group's local affiliate Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-K) and the central IS command. On Monday a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the embassy, allowing at least three other militants to breach the compound, unleashing an hours-long gun battle that killed two people. A security source, who declined to be named, said IS could prove to be more dangerous than the Taliban in Afghanistan. Unlike the Taliban which has friends and foes among the international community, IS considers everyone their enemy and will keep attacking soft targets, he said. Shias, of which there are around three million in Afghanistan, have regularly been targeted in recent years. In June, IS claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a crowded Shia mosque in Kabul which killed four people. November last year saw a massive suicide blast kill at least 27 people and wound 64 at a Shia mosque, again in the Afghan capital. In July 2016 IS jihadists claimed responsibility for twin explosions that ripped through crowds of Shia Hazaras in Kabul, killing at least 85 people and wounding more than 400. Afghanistan's national unity government said it strongly condemned the Herat attack, describing it in a statement as an "anti-Islam act". It also called "on the Muslim people of Afghanistan, as well as on the religious scholars, to stand united against the barbaric actions of the terrorists". President Ashraf Ghani added that "terrorists cannot create sectarian divisions among our people".
* Gunmen enter Iraqi embassy building, battle security forces * Attack kicked off with suicide bomb attack at main gate * Islamic State says seven guards killed Militant group Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on the Iraqi embassy in Kabul on Monday that began with a suicide bomber blowing himself up at the main gate, allowing gunmen to enter the building and battle security forces. Although there has been no confirmation of direct planning links with the main Islamic State movement in Iraq and Syria, the attack, just three weeks after the recapture of Mosul, underlines fears of a spillover into Afghanistan from fighting in Syria and Iraq. Afghan security forces confronted three gunmen for hours before the Interior Ministry announced in mid-afternoon that the attack, in a normally busy business district of the capital, had been suppressed. "The attack is finished," said Sayed Basir, a member of the special forces unit that dealt with the incident. He said the four attackers were dead, while two members of his unit were slightly wounded. The embassy building, partly blackened by smoke and flames from the fighting, was damaged but otherwise the impact from the attack was relatively limited, compared with other recent attacks in Kabul. Najib Danish, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said two Afghan embassy workers had been killed but no Iraqi personnel had been hurt. A separate statement from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said an Iraqi diplomat had been rescued, while a nearby hospital operated by Italian aid group Emergency said two injured people had been brought in for treatment. Islamic State's Amaq agency said two attackers carrying machine guns and hand grenades and wearing suicide vests had blown up the gate, and two fighters had broken into the compound. It said more than 27 guards had been killed, well above the figures given by Afghan authorities. The assault came a week after 35 people were killed in a Taliban attack on government workers in Kabul and underlines Afghanistan's precarious security as the United States weighs an overhaul of its policy in the region. Islamic State has carried out a series of high-profile attacks in Kabul, mainly targeting members of the mainly Shia Hazara community. The attacks have fuelled fears that militants in Afghanistan are trying bring in the kind of sectarian brutality seen in the Middle East. The local branch of the movement, often called Daesh, is often known as Islamic State in Khorasan (ISIS-K), after an old name for the region that now includes Afghanistan. The top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, condemned the attack. "ISIS-K seeks only to destroy a peaceful future for the people of Afghanistan. They failed in this attack and they will be defeated," he said in a statement. US commanders say ISIS-K has been severely hit by a campaign of drone strikes and joint Afghan and US Special Forces operations over the past year, with hundreds of fighters and commanders killed. However, Afghan security officials say the movement operates in as many as nine provinces, from Nangarhar and Kunar in the east to Badakhshan, Jawzjan and Faryab in the north and Baghdis and Ghor in the west. The Taliban, fighting to re-establish strict Islamic law 16 years after being expelled by a US-led campaign in 2001, have opposed Islamic State.
A series of explosions and the sound of gunfire shook the Afghan capital on Monday, with a security source telling AFP that a suicide bomber had blown himself up in front of the Iraqi embassy. "Civilians are being evacuated" from the area as the attack is ongoing, said the official, who declined to be named. There was no immediate information about any casualties. At least four explosions, along with the sounds of gunfire and grenades, were heard by AFP reporters and residents near the city's diplomatic quarter shortly after 11:00 am (0630 GMT). Security forces rapidly descended on the area, as the squeal of ambulance sirens rushing to the scene could also be heard. A column of smoke rose into the air from the blast site. Police confirmed at least one blast had taken place, but said they did not immediately have further information. The Iraqi embassy is located in northwestern Kabul, in a neighbourhood that is home to several hotels and banks as well as large supermarkets and several police compounds. The attack is the latest to rock Kabul, and comes as the resurgent Taliban ramp up their offensive across the country during the warmer weather fighting season. A week ago, a car bomb struck the city during morning rush hour, killing at least 26 people. A recent UN report showed that nearly 20 percent of all civilian deaths in Afghanistan in the first half of 2017 took place in Kabul. Many of those deaths happened in a single attack in late May when a truck bomb exploded during the morning rush hour, killing more than 150 people and injuring hundreds.
At least 26 Afghan soldiers have been killed and 13 wounded in a Taliban attack on a military base in southern Kandahar province, the defence ministry said on Wednesday, the latest blow to the country's struggling security forces. The militants "attacked an army camp in Karzali area of Khakrez district of Kandahar last night," MoD spokesman General Dawlat Waziri said. Afghan soldiers "bravely resisted", he added, killing more than 80 insurgents. Residents in the area described an hours-long attack launched by a 30-strong convoy carrying "hundreds" of Taliban who assaulted the base from multiple directions. Air support was called in, several residents told AFP, though that was not immediately confirmed by officials. The insurgents claimed the attack via their Twitter account. The resurgent Taliban have been ramping up their campaign against beleaguered government forces, underscoring rising insecurity in the war-torn country during the summer fighting season when the warmer weather tends to spur an increase in militant attacks. Afghan security forces -- beset by a high death toll, desertions and non-existent "ghost soldiers" on the payroll -- have been struggling to beat back insurgents since US-led Nato troops ended their combat mission in December 2014. Casualties among Afghan security forces soared by 35% in 2016, with 6,800 soldiers and police killed, according to US watchdog SIGAR. The insurgents have carried out more complex attacks against security forces in 2017, with SIGAR describing troop casualties in the early part of the year as "shockingly high". In April at least 135 soldiers are believed to have been killed on a base outside the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, one of the deadliest ever Taliban attacks on a military installation. Some sources put the toll as high as 200. While in early March gunmen disguised as doctors stormed the Sardar Daud Khan hospital -- the country's largest military hospital -- in Kabul, killing dozens. The Taliban have a heavy presence in poppy-growing Kandahar province and have launched repeated attacks on security forces there, including multiple assaults on military bases in May which killed dozens of soldiers. A recent UN report showed Kandahar, which lies on the border with Pakistan, was also one of the most dangerous places in the country for civilians. More than 70 villagers were kidnapped by the Taliban over the weekend, officials said. Seven were found dead and some 30 returned, while Afghan police have launched a search and rescue operation for the remainder of the missing. Afghan forces now control 59.7% of the country, up from 57.2% the previous quarter, according to SIGAR. The Taliban and other insurgent groups meanwhile saw their areas of control or influence increase slightly from about 10% to 11.1%.
At least 26 people were killed and 41 wounded yesterday after a Taliban-claimed car bomb struck a bus carrying government employees through a Shia neighbourhood in Kabul, raising fears of sectarian violence in the Afghan capital. The assault came as a presidential spokesman said the Taliban also killed at least 35 civilians in an attack on a hospital in central Ghor province over the weekend. The deadly attacks underscore spiralling insecurity in Afghanistan as the resurgent Taliban ramp up their offensive across the country, while security forces struggle to contain them. In yesterday’s blast the bus was carrying employees of the ministry of mines, passing from western Kabul to the downtown ministry during rush hour, interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told AFP. It was struck by the car bomb as it passed through a busy area of the capital that is home to many Shia Hazaras, a persecuted ethnic minority. An AFP photographer at the scene saw multiple bodies and wounded people in the street, surrounded by shattered glass as security forces cordoned off the area. The bus’s charred remains were left smoking in the middle of the road as the wounded were rushed to hospitals in ambulances as well as private cars and taxis. “It was a huge explosion, my house nearly collapsed,” a neighbourhood resident who gave his name as Mostafa told AFP, adding that the street was “filled with human flesh and blood”. “It was horrible,” said shopkeeper Momin. “It is a crowded area — many of my friends and other shopkeepers are either killed or wounded.” The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast, which came just before 7am. The group rarely claims attacks with high civilian casualties, but does frequently target government employees. Afghan presidential spokesman Shah Hussain Murtazawi put the toll at 26 dead and 41 wounded. At a press conference, Murtazawi also said at least 35 people were killed in the hospital attack over the weekend. All the victims were civilians, Murtazawi said, without specifying if they were patients or staff.”This is a cruel crime against humanity,” he added. He did not elaborate, and officials say phone lines are down in Taywara district, captured by the militants over the weekend. The Taliban have denied the claim and reports they torched the hospital, though a spokesman said parts of the building were damaged in fighting. Ghor is a poor, mountainous province that has been relatively safe in the past but shares a border with the Taliban-infested provinces of Helmand and Farah. — Demonstration cancelled — Afghan forces control 59.7 % of the country, according to a US watchdog’s report issued in May after the winter lull in fighting, up slightly from the previous quarter. But the insurgents have ramped up their offensive across the country since launching their so-called “spring offensive” earlier this year. Monday’s attack in Kabul came as the Hazara community had planned to hold a demonstration in the same neighbourhood to mark the one-year anniversary of twin bombings that killed 84 people in an attack claimed by Islamic State. They had agreed to postpone the demonstration over security fears and after meeting with President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday. The Taliban have carried out sectarian attacks in the past, though they have been rare in Sunni-majority Afghanistan throughout its decades of war. The rise of IS, which has frequently targeted Shias, has fuelled the spectre of more such assaults, with fears yesterday that Hazaras had been the target of the car bomb rather than the government employees. Others suggested the politician Mohamed Mohaqeq, whose home is nearby, could have been the target. Kabul is regularly rocked by suicide bombs and assaults. A recent UN report showed that attacks on the capital accounted for nearly one-fifth of all civilian Afghan casualties in the first half of 2017. Many died in a single devastating attack in late May when a truck bomb exploded, also during the morning Kabul rush hour, killing more than 150 people and injuring hundreds. The bloody toll for the first six months of 2017 has unsettled the government and put increasing pressure on Ghani, who condemned yesterday’s attack. Nato’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended three years ago, handing sole responsibility to the country’s security forces, which have also suffered spiralling casualties as they try to beat back the Taliban.
* Suicide car bomber kills up to 35 people in Kabul * Blast near Kabul's mainly Hazara community * Civilians bear brunt of unrelenting violence in Afghanistan * Fighting flares in at least 7 provinces around Afghanistan A Taliban suicide attacker detonated a car bomb in the western part of Kabul on Monday, killing up to 35 people and wounding more than 40, government officials said, in one of the worst attacks in the Afghan capital in recent weeks. Police cordoned off the area, located near the house of the deputy government Chief Executive Mohammad Mohaqiq in a part of the city where many of the mainly Shia Hazara community live. Monday's suicide bombing, which targeted government personnel, continued the unrelenting violence that has killed more than 1,700 civilians in Afghanistan so far this year. The Taliban, which is battling the Western-backed government and a Nato-led coalition for control of Afghanistan, has launched a wave of attacks around the country in recent days, sparking fighting in more than half a dozen provinces. "I was in my shop when suddenly I heard a terrible sound and as a result all of my shop windows shattered," said Ali Ahmed, a resident in the area of Monday's blast. Acting Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said at least 24 people had been killed and 40 wounded but the casualty toll could rise further. Another senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk about the incident with the media, said the toll stood at 35 killed. That was in line with a claim on Twitter by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who said 37 "intelligence workers" had been killed. Mujahid said in a tweet claiming responsibility for the attack the target had been two buses that had been under surveillance for two months. Government security forces said a small bus owned by the Ministry of Mines had been destroyed in the blast but the National Directorate for Security, the main intelligence agency, said none of its personnel had been hit. Three civilian vehicles and 15 shops were destroyed or damaged in the blast, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. "The car bomb hit a bus carrying employees of the ministry of mines during rush hour," interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told AFP. The blast hit a busy neighbourhood of the Afghan capital just before 7am. An AFP photographer at the scene saw multiple bodies and wounded people in the street, surrounded by shattered glass as security forces cordoned off the area. The charred remains of the bus stood in the middle of the road and a black column of smoke from the explosion hung in the air. An army truck and forklifts were attempting to remove the carcass of the bus as ambulances as well as taxis and private cars ferried the injured to nearby hospitals, an AFP photographer said. One-year anniversary Kabul's Hazara community were due on Monday to mark the one-year anniversary of an attack in the heart of the capital that killed 84 and wounded more than 300 people, mostly members of the ethnic minority. That attack was the first in Afghanistan claimed by the Islamic State group, which has since carried out multiple attacks targeting the country's Shia minority. The Hazara community were due to hold a demonstration to mark the July 23, 2016 tragedy, but had agreed to postpone the march after meeting with President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday. Kabul is regularly rocked by suicide bombs and attacks. A recent UN report showed that attacks on the capital accounted for nearly one-fifth of all civilian Afghan casualties in the first half of 2017. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which has been documenting civilian casualties since 2009, said in its recent report that 1,662 civilians were killed and more than 3,500 injured in the first six months of the year. Many died in a single devastating attack in Kabul in late May when a truck bomb exploded, also during the morning rush hour, killing more than 150 people and injuring hundreds. UNAMA put the civilian death toll at 92, saying it was the deadliest incident to hit the country since 2001. The bloody toll for the first six months of 2017 has unsettled the government and put increasing pressure on President Ghani. Protests and deadly street clashes hit the Afghan capital in the wake of the May attack as people incensed by security failures called for his government's resignation. The UNAMA report also said that nearly half of Afghanistan's 34 provinces have seen an increase in civilian deaths in the first six months of the year, mainly due to the rise in attacks by anti-government forces across the country. Nato's combat mission in Afghanistan ended three years ago, handing sole responsibility to the country's security forces, which have also suffered spiralling casualties as they try to beat back the resurgent Taliban and contain the growing threat from the Islamic State group.
During a battle with Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province a number of civilians were killed, a statement by governor's office of the province of Nangarhar said on Sunday. The statement, which was shared on messaging app Viber, does not clarify how many civilians were killed, but says that five women and three children were injured in the incident that took place in the district of Haska Mina on Sunday morning. Pajhwok news agency on the other hand said eight civilians were killed. In its report it says a drone strike hit a funeral that was also attended by Islamic State fighters. The governor's office, however, said that Afghan security forces were conducting an operation in the area when they were attacked by Islamic State militants who had taken positions inside civilians' houses. Ground troops and the air force responded killing 25 Islamic State militants as well as the civilians. The statement does not clarify if the air strikes were conducted by the Afghan or US air force, which has been very active in Nangarhar in recent months targeting Islamic State. US forces spokesman Bill Salvin confirmed that the US had made a strike in Nangarhar on Sunday, but denied harming civilians saying that "we have no indications that civilians were in the area before the strike or after the strike." A total of 16 Afghan troops were killed in an accidental US airstrike in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province on Friday. Both Afghan and US forces have ramped up airstrikes against Taliban and Islamic State militants throughout the war-torn country.
Afghan police on Sunday launched a search and rescue operation two days after at least 70 villagers were kidnapped by suspected Taliban militants in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. At least 7 of the kidnapped villagers were found dead on Saturday, along the highway that runs from Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, to Tarinkot, capital of Uruzgan province, a poppy-growing area where the Taliban has a heavy presence. The police blamed the Taliban for the deaths. Around 30 people were released, while 30 others were still missing, Kandahar police spokesman Zia Durrani told AFP. No groups has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, and it was also not clear why the villagers were seized, though some government officials have suggested the villagers might have been kidnapped on suspicion of cooperation with the Afghan government. Civilians are increasingly caught in the crosshairs of Afghanistan's worsening conflict as the Taliban step up their annual spring offensive, launched in April against the Western-backed Kabul government. Highways around Afghanistan passing through insurgency-prone areas have become exceedingly dangerous, with the Taliban and other armed groups frequently kidnapping or killing travellers. In July, Taliban fighters closed a highway connecting Farah to Herat city, stopping a bus and forcing 16 passengers to leave it. They shot at least seven of them, while the remaining nine were taken hostage.
A US airstrike has killed 16 policemen in Afghanistan, officials said yesterday, the latest setback to Washington’s efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country. The incident took place in Helmand province on Friday as Afghan security forces attempted to clear a village of Taliban militants, Salam Afghan, a police spokesman, said. “In the strike, 16 Afghan policemen were killed including two commanders. Two other policemen were wounded,” he said. The strike hit a compound in Gereshk district in Helmand, large parts of which are under Taliban control. “A US-supported (Afghan security) operation...resulted in the deaths of...friendly Afghan forces who were gathered in a compound,” Nato’s mission in Afghanistan said in a statement. “We would like to express our deepest condolences to the families affected by this unfortunate incident,” the statement said, adding there would be a probe into what happened. An interior ministry spokesman, Najeeb Danish, said a ministry delegation had been sent to the area to investigate and help families of the victims. Helmand for years was the centrepiece of the US and British military intervention in Afghanistan. But the Taliban now effectively controls or contests 10 of Helmand’s 14 districts, blighted by a huge opium harvest that helps fund the insurgency. In April, some 300 US Marines returned to the province as embattled Afghan security forces struggle to beat back the resurgent Taliban. The surge helped Afghan security forces, backed by US air strikes, recapture Nawa district in Helmand six months ago. The operation came as Pentagon chief Jim Mattis finalised plans to present a new Afghanistan strategy to President Donald Trump in a bid to reverse what US generals call a “stalemate” at best. In February, a US airstrike in Sangin killed at least 18 civilians, mostly women and children. Last November 32 Afghan civilians were killed in a US airstrike in the northeastern province of Kunduz. In October 2015, a US air strike hit a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres, killing 42 people and sparking international outrage.
A misdirected US airstrike on Friday resulted in the deaths of at least 16 members of the afghan security forces, the spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan confirmed. The incident took place Friday around 5 pm as Afghan security forces were clearing a village of Taliban elements, Salam Afghan, Helmand police spokesman, said. "In the strike, 16 Afghan policemen were killed including two commanders. Two other policemen were wounded," he said. Omar Zwak, Helmand provincial governor spokesman confirmed the strike and gave the same account. According to a press release by the US forces in Afghanistan, the US Air Force was supporting an operation by afghan security forces in the Gereshk District in Helmand Province, scene of some of the heavest fighting in Afghanistan in recent months. "We struck a compound that we believed had hostile forces in it," Salvin said, "but it turned out they were local security forces aligned with afghan government forces." An investigation will be carried out into the operation. The number of American airstrikes in Afghanistan has increased greatly in 2017 compared to previous years. Half-yearly figures released on Tuesday showed that pilots have dropped more ammunition during aerial operations until end of June than in the whole of 2016. Territorial gains by the Taliban and exhaustion among afghan ground troops has meant that military leaders have turned to airstrikes as a last resort to push back the Taliban. The strikes have caused also civilian casualties to mount. This week, the UN posted half-yearly figures that showed the number of civilians killed or injured by airstrikes in 2017 to have risen by 43 per cent from the previous year. American airstrikes were responsible for 37 per cent of victims, the afghan air force for 48 per cent.
At least seven Afghan troops have been killed and 20 wounded in three days of intense fighting with Taliban militants in a district in Afghanistan's northern Baghlan province, officials said on Wednesday. The district of Baghlan-e Jadid, which borders the embattled province of Kunduz, has been under a Taliban siege since Monday when it was attacked from several directions. Some 200 to 300 Taliban militants took part in the offensive, provincial council members from Baghlan and the district governor told DPA. While confirming the casualties amongst Afghan security forces, Gawhar Khan Baburi, the district governor of Baghlan-e Jadid, said about 16 Taliban fighters were dead and 25 injured. On Wednesday, reinforcements arrived in the form of special forces and more air support, said Baburi. A key highway that connects the capital, Kabul, to northern Afghanistan was blocked because of the fighting. Baburi said it had reopened to traffic, but two provincial council members from Baghlan, Firozuddin Aymaq and Siamuddin Nazar, said it was still inaccessible. Aymaq said that Taliban militants were using civilian houses in densely populated areas to attack Afghan security forces, which could lead to more civilian casualties and displacement in the province. "Civilian life in Baghlan-e Jadid city is totally disrupted, there is no movement of the public and all shops are closed," Aymaq said. Baghlan is one of the most embattled provinces in northernAfghanistan where troops are fighting a resilient Taliban insurgency since the end of Nato's combat mission in 2014.
Afghan security forces backed by US air strikes have retaken a southern district from the Taliban as part of a drive to weaken the insurgents' hold on Helmand province and push them back from around its capital, Lashkar Gah, officials said on Monday. A two-day offensive, supported by numerous air strikes from US F-16 fighters and Apache helicopters, launched on Saturday saw security forces take the district centre of Nawa, to the south of Lashkar Gah, officials said. More than 50 fighters were killed and vehicles and equipment were destroyed, said defence ministry spokesman General Dawlat Waziri. Over 100 improvised explosive devices were also disabled, Task Force Southwest, the US Marine Corps-led training and assistance mission in Helmand said in a statement. The operation, which comes as the United States weighs sending more troops to Afghanistan, will continue with security forces moving further south along the main road to the town of Garmsir, officials said. The recapture of Nawa district, which lifted a serious threat to transport links into Lashkar Gah, reflects renewed focus by Afghan forces and their US advisers on Helmand, an insurgent heartland that is source of much of the world's illegal opium. "Nawa is a major north-south route for transportation, so as people travel north, they would typically travel through Nawa. From that perspective it's a very significant geographic location," said Col. David Gibbs, the Task Force Southwest officer in charge of police training and assistance. The operation also removed a threat to civilian aircraft landing in Bost Airfield, just outside Lashkar Gah. The Taliban, fighting to re-establish strict Islamic rule in Afghanistan and drive out international forces backing the government in Kabul, control large stretches of the province and have targeted Lashkar Gah. It was not possible to independently verify the defence ministry's casualty figure and no comment on insurgent losses was immediately available from the Taliban.
A team of Afghan girls who were earlier denied visas to attend a Washington robotics competition landed in the United States early Saturday following an intervention by US President Donald Trump. The six-member team were greeted at Dulles International Airport by a throng of supporters, including Afghan ambassador Hamdullah Mohib and acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Alice G Wells, and were presented with bouquets. They are due to take part FIRST Global Challenge -- a three-day international robotics competition that aims to promote science and technology among youths worldwide that begins Monday. "Our acting special rep to #Afghanistan/#Pakistan welcomes #AfghanRoboticsTeam to USA! Go girls!," tweeted State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. US authorities had originally refused access to schoolchildren from a number of Muslim-majority nations to participate in the science contest, decisions that followed implementation of stricter visa policies under Trump. But the US president urged a reversal following public outcry over the Afghan girls' inability to attend the event. The reversal was announced on Wednesday. The competition's organizers noted that 163 teams from around the world had gained visa approval, including other Muslim-majority nations like Yemen, Libya, Morocco, as well as Gambia, which was also previously barred. The six girls from Herat, Afghanistan, were reportedly blocked from attending the robotics competition even after two rounds of interviews for a one-week visa. The rejections appeared to contradict the administration's claim it wants to empower women globally. "We were not a terrorist group to go to America and scare people," 14-year-old competitor Fatema Qaderyan told AFP before the reversal. "We just wanted to show the power and skills of Afghan girls to Americans."
Three highway policemen were killed and eight army soldiers were kidnapped by Taliban militants in two separate incidents during the last 24 hours, according to Afghan officials on Saturday. Along with the three dead policeman, one was wounded and another missing after an attack early Saturday on the Kandahar highway on the outskirts of Qalat, the capital of southern Zabul province, Attaullah Haqbayan, head of Zabul's provincial council, told DPA. Provincial government officials were not immediately available to comment on the incident. Meanwhile, the soldiers were kidnapped in the Abkamari district of Badghis province on Friday night, Badghis provincial council members confirmed on Saturday. The army checkpost was attacked and overrun by Taliban forces just after midnight. The men were taken away with all their equipment, Mohammad Nasir Nazari and Monisa Qaderi, both provincial council members from Badghis, said. Qari Yosuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, confirmed the incident on Twitter, saying Taliban forces had taken the soldiers alive, with their weapons. However, Khaid Safi, a spokesman for the governor of Badghis, said only four soldiers were taken and that the checkpost was only overrun for an hour. According to the government's information, "two army soldiers who assisted the Taliban in taking over the checkpost went with them and two others were taken as well." Located in north-western Afghanistan, Badghis is one of most isolated provinces, with Taliban militants present in several districts.
A team of Afghan girls who had been denied visas to attend a Washington robotics competition are now allowed to come, organisers said on Wednesday. US authorities had originally refused access to schoolchildren from a number of Muslim-majority nations to participate in the science contest, decisions that followed implementation of stricter visa policies under President Donald Trump. But Trump urged a reversal of course following public outcry over the Afghan girls' inability to attend the event, according to US media. "I am most grateful to the US Government and its State Department for ensuring Afghanistan, as well as Gambia, would be able to join us for this international competition this year," said the president of the First Global organisation, Joe Sestak, who noted that teams from Yemen, Libya and Morocco would also attend. "All 163 teams from 157 countries have gained approval to the United States, including Iran, Sudan, and a team of Syrian refugees," said Sestak, a former US Navy admiral and congressman. "I could not be more proud." The six girls from Herat, Afghanistan, were reportedly blocked from attending the robotics competition even after two rounds of interviews for a one-week visa. The rejections appeared to contradict the administration's claim that it wants to empower women globally. "We were not a terrorist group to go to America and scare people," 14-year-old competitor Fatema Ghaderyan told AFP in Herat. "We just wanted to show the power and skills of Afghan girls to Americans." "We cried a lot after we heard our visa was rejected," added 15-year-old Kowser Roshan. "We thought we had good relations with America and expected to be accepted." They told AFP they had worked for six months on their robot, which they built out of low-tech, recyclable material such as bottles and boxes. Organiser Ali Reza Mehraban of the Digital Citizen Foundation said it had been especially difficult to find girls in deeply conservative, war-torn Afghanistan whose families would allow them to take part. When the reversal was announced, Trump adviser and daughter Ivanka Trump tweeted: "I look forward to welcoming this brilliant team of Afghan girls, and their competitors, to Washington DC next week!" A limited version of Trump's travel ban -- temporarily barring refugees and visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen -- recently took effect, after the US Supreme Court allowed it to be enforced pending a full hearing in October. Travellers from Afghanistan and Gambia are unaffected by that measure.