* Turkey, U.S. in talks on guarding airport post withdrawal * If deal is struck, Taliban say they will 'take a stand' * Turkish source expects agreement before Sept departure The Taliban warned Turkey on Tuesday against plans to keep some troops in Afghanistan to run and guard Kabul's main airport after the withdrawal of foreign soldiers, calling the strategy "reprehensible" and warning of "consequences". Ankara, which has offered to run and guard the airport in the capital after NATO withdraws, has been in talks with the United States on financial, political and logistical support. Turkey has repeated that the airport must stay open to preserve diplomatic missions in Afghanistan, where a blast rocked Kabul on Tuesday and clashes have intensified across the country. "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan condemns this reprehensible decision," the Taliban said in a statement, referring to Turkey's plan. "If Turkish officials fail to reconsider their decision and continue the occupation of our country, the Islamic Emirate... will take a stand against them." In that case, the militant group added, the responsibility for consequences would fall on the shoulders of those who interfere. The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist from 1996 to 2001, have been fighting for 20 years to topple the Western-backed government in Kabul and reimpose Islamic rule. Emboldened by the departure of foreign forces by a September target, they are making a fresh push to surround cities and gain territory. Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Monday evening that Turkey agreed to some points with U.S. counterparts on running the airport and work towards a deal continues. "The airport needs to remain open, be operated. All countries say this. If the airport does not operate, the countries will have to withdraw their diplomatic missions there," he said. Talks now involving ministries should be complete by the time U.S. forces leave, a senior Turkish official told Reuters. "We still think there will be an agreement on the airport. We want to side with the Afghan people," the official said. Police said a blast rocked a busy area of Kabul on Tuesday, killing four people and wounding five. It was not clear who was behind the explosion or the target. Clashes were continuing in the southern province of Kandahar, said Attaullah Atta, a provincial council member, with the Taliban being pushed back after a bid to break into a city prison. Hundreds of families had fled the violence, he added. Mohammad Daoud Farhad, director of Kandahar's provincial hospital, said it had received eight dead and more than 30 people, mostly civilians, wounded in clashes in the past 24 hours. Early on Tuesday, Afghan security forces had retreated from the district of Alingar in the eastern province of Laghman, a local government official said on condition of anonymity. A ceasefire pact with the Taliban in the district fell through in May. On Monday, the Taliban circled the central city of Ghazni and made attacks overnight in their latest offensive on a provincial capital, a local security official said, only to be pushed back by Afghan forces.
Afghan authorities on Tuesday vowed to retake all the districts lost to the Taliban as hundreds of commandos deployed to counter the insurgents' blistering offensive in the north after more than 1,000 government troops fled into neighbouring Tajikistan. Fighting has raged across several provinces, but the insurgents have primarily focused on a devastating campaign across the northern countryside, seizing dozens of districts in the past two months. Last week, all US and NATO forces left Bagram Air Base near Kabul -- the command centre for anti-Taliban operations -- effectively wrapping up their exit after 20 years of military involvement that began in the wake of the September 11 attacks. ‘There is war, there is pressure. Sometimes things are working our way. Sometimes they don't, but we will continue to defend the Afghan people,’ National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib told reporters. ‘We have plans to retake the districts,’ he added. Troops and pro-government militiamen were deployed in the northern provinces of Takhar and Badakshan where the Taliban have captured large swathes of territory at lighting speed, often with little resistance. Afghan defence officials have said they intend to focus on securing major cities, roads and border towns in the face of the Taliban onslaught, launched as US and NATO troops pressed ahead with their final withdrawal in early May. The militants' rapid gains have spurred fears that Afghan forces are facing a spiralling crisis, particularly now vital US air support has been massively curtailed by the handover of Bagram Air Base. - Afghan forces flee - Mohib acknowledged that the Afghan air force was stretched and largely unable to support bases that were in remote districts. But he said the air force was now being reorganised and would offer the needed back-up support to troops on the ground. ‘We had some glitches as a result of the (US) retrograde... (that put) additional pressure on the Afghan air force, he said. On Monday, more than 1,000 Afghan troops fled into Tajikistan, forcing the neighbouring country to bolster the frontier with its own soldiers. Several hundred Afghan troops had already crossed into the country in recent weeks, in the face of an advancing Taliban. Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon has ordered ‘the mobilisation of 20,000 reserve troops to further strengthen the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan’, a statement from the presidency said late on Monday. ‘We had to abandon our base because there was no coordination or interest among our commanders to counter the attack,’ said Mohammad Musa, a soldier who had fled to Tajikistan after his base in Kunduz province fell to the Taliban last week. The fighting in the north has also forced Moscow to close its consulate in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province and one of Afghanistan's largest urban centres near the border with Uzbekistan. ‘The situation is changing rapidly. The Afghan forces, as they say, have abandoned too many districts. This logically creates nervousness,’ Moscow's envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov told the state-run TASS news agency on Monday. Mohib said the soldiers who fled were returning and rejoining the security forces. ‘They may have abandoned their posts because they ran out of ammunition or they ran out of supplies, but by no means has anyone defected to the Taliban,’ he said. - 'Trying our best' - The speed and ease of the Taliban's effective takeover of swathes of areas in Takhar, Badakhshan and Kunduz represent a massive psychological blow to the Afghan government. The area once served as the stronghold for the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance during the gruesome civil war in the 1990s and was never routed by the militants. A psychological war has also been taking shape online. The Taliban has marshalled its forces on social media, with insurgent-affiliated accounts providing live updates of the fall of districts and posting numerous videos of Afghan soldiers surrendering and handing over weapons caches and equipment to the group. The Afghan government in turn has been releasing its own footage on social media -- mostly grainy black and white videos of airstrikes obliterating alleged Taliban positions, while boasting of inflicting heavy casualties on the jihadist group. Back on the ground, Afghan commander General Mirassadullah Kohistani, who is now in charge of Bagram Air Base following the US exit last week, put on a brave face when asked about the insurgents rapid advances. ‘We are trying to do the best and as much as possible secure and serve all the people,’ he said.
More than 1,000 Afghan security personnel fled across the border into Tajikistan on Sunday following Taliban advances in northern Afghanistan, the Tajik border guard service said. The crossings underscore a rapidly deteriorating situation in the country as foreign troops near a complete withdrawal after 20 years of war in Afghanistan. Hundreds of Afghan security force members have fled swift Taliban advances in the north, but Sunday's retreats were the largest confirmed, coming just two days after the United States officially vacated its main base in Afghanistan as part of a plan to withdraw all foreign troops by Sep. 11. The Taliban took over six key districts in the northern province of Badakshan, which borders both Tajikistan and China, following which 1,037 Afghan servicemen fled across the border with Tajikistan's permission, the border guard service said. On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke to his Tajik counterpart, President Emomali Rakhmon, over the phone to discuss the developments. ‘Special attention was paid to the escalation of the situation in Afghanistan's northern areas adjacent to Tajikistan,’ a statement from the Tajik president's office said. It added that Rakhmon expressed concern about the ‘forced crossings’ by the Afghan security force members. A senior Afghan official confirmed there had been hundreds of crossings into Tajikistan but did not know the exact number. ‘The Taliban cut off all the roads and these people had nowhere to go but to cross the border,’ he told Reuters on Monday. Last week, the United States vacated Bagram Airbase - bringing an effective end to the longest war in its history - as part of an understanding with the Taliban, against whom it has fought for two decades. The Taliban has ceased attacks on Western forces, but continues to target Afghan government and security installations as it makes rapid territorial advances across the country. Peace talks between the two sides remain inconclusive.
American troops pulled out of their main military base in Afghanistan on Friday, a US defence official said, under an agreement with the Taliban allowing for the withdrawal of all US forces from the country after a two-decade war. ‘All American soldiers and members of NATO forces have left the Bagram air base,’ said the senior US security official on condition of anonymity. The US military has coordinated its air war and logistical support for its Afghan mission from the Bagram air base, about 60 km (40 miles) north of Kabul, and the withdrawal of the forces symbolises the end of the US military involvement in the country. The base is being handed over to the Afghan government as its armed forces face a surging war with the Taliban and questions swirl about their prospects. An Afghan official said the base would be officially handed over to the government at a ceremony on Saturday. The US defence official said General Austin Miller, the top UScommander in Afghanistan ‘still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the force’ that are stationed in the capital, Kabul. Two other US security officials said this week the majority of US military personnel would most likely be gone by July 4, with a residual force remaining to protect the embassy. Last month, US President Joe Biden told his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, that ‘Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want’. Ghani said his job was now to ‘manage the consequences’ of the US withdrawal. The agreement with the Taliban on the US pull-out was struck under the administration of President Donald Trump. In exchange for the US withdrawal, the Taliban, fighting to expel foreign forces and oust the US-backed government, have vowed to prevent any international terrorism from Afghan soil. They also made a commitment to enter into talks with their Afghan rivals but little progress has been made in negotiations. 'POSITIVE STEP' A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Reuters said he had received reports that the US forces had evacuated the base, which the Taliban welcomed. ‘We consider this withdrawal a positive step. Afghans can get closer to stability and peace with the full withdrawal of foreign forces,’ he said adding that the withdrawal was also beneficial for the US government. The Taliban were ousted weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants after the Taliban refused to hand over al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. Most US and other foreign troops arriving at that time on a mission to bring peace and security to war-torn Afghanistan flew in to Bagram. Over subsequent months and years an expanse of prefab facilities, including a US military prison, grew up besides its huge runway. The base, on a plain to the south of the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains, has seen a string of visits by US presidents, other top officials and celebrities visiting troops over the years. The final withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, officially set for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, has not brought a reduction in fighting between the militants and Afghan government forces. The insurgents have made advances in several places, particularly in the north, where for years after their ouster, they had a minimal presence. Fighting was intensifying between government forces and the Taliban in the northeastern province of Badakshan, officials said on Friday.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has replaced his defence and interior ministers and the army chief of staff amid rising casualties among Afghanistan's security forces in sharply increased fighting with the Taliban. The changes, announced late on Saturday by the presidential palace, come as Afghan security forces battle the Taliban in 28 of 34 provinces in the country, with the group claiming more territory in recent weeks. Bismillah Khan Mohammadi was appointed as caretaker defence minister replacing Asadullah Khalid, who had recently returned to the country after a prolonged illness while Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal was picked as new interior minister replacing Hayatullah Hayat. A senior commander under late anti-Soviet resistance hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, Mohammadi has had a long military career and served as interior minister, defence minister and army chief of staff in the government of former president Hamid Karzai. General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai was appointed as the new chief of army staff, replacing General Yasin Zia, the palace said. On Friday, 24 members Afghan special forces soldiers were killed and dozens more wounded during a fight to retake a district captured by the Taliban in northern Faryab province, security officials said. The Taliban has staged a months-long campaign to expand its influence across the country as the United States has begun withdrawing troops from May 1 and closed some bases and handed them over to the Afghan government. Since the United States announced plans in April to pull out all of its troops by Sept. 11, at least 30 districts have been seized by the Taliban. A security official speaking on condition of anonymity said there have been extremely high casualties among Afghan security forces, civilians as well as the Taliban in recent weeks as intense fighting rages on. No further details were immediately available.
People who are vaccinated against COVID-19 with BioNTech's vaccine were found to have "substantially higher" levels of antibodies than those who received Sinovac's jab, the South China Morning Post reported on Saturday, citing a Hong Kong study. Some who received the Sinovac vaccine might need a third booster shot as well, the newspaper said, citing lead researcher Professor Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist with the University of Hong Kong (HKU). The government-commissioned study was conducted by HKU's school of public health and involved tracking the antibody responses of 1,000 people who received either vaccine, the report added. Earlier this week, officials in Indonesia warned that more than 350 medical workers have caught COVID-19 despite being vaccinated with Sinovac and dozens have been hospitalised, raising concerns about its efficacy against more infectious variants of the virus. Earlier in June, Uruguay released real-world data on the impact of Sinovac Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine among its population that showed it was over 90% effective in preventing intensive care admissions and deaths. The Uruguay government also studied the effectiveness of the Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine among 162,047 health workers and people over 80 years old, and said the shot was 94% effective at preventing intensive care unit admissions and deaths, and reduced infections by 78%.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani replaced two top ministers charged with managing the country's faltering security Saturday, as the Taliban pressed on with their campaign to capture new territory in fierce battles with government forces. The shake-up of the defence and interior ministry portfolios comes as violence surges and peace talks remain deadlocked, with the Taliban claiming to have seized more than 40 districts in recent weeks across the rugged countryside. The presidency announced in a statement that General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, who fought under the late anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud during a 1990s civil war, has been appointed the new defence minister. Mohammadi has previously held the defence and interior ministry portfolios and also served as the chief of army staff after the fall of the Taliban regime following a US-led invasion in 2001. Ghani also appointed General Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal as interior minister, the presidency said. Mirzakwal has previously held several regional posts. Mohammadi replaces Asadullah Khalid who has repeatedly flown out of the country for treatment to wounds suffered after a suicide bomber attacked him in 2012. The latest cabinet changes, which have to be approved by parliament, come with violence increasing since early May after the US military began the formal withdrawal of its last remaining troops. US President Joe Biden has set September 11 -- the 20th anniversary of the attacks in the United States that led to the invasion of Afghanistan -- as the deadline to withdraw American soldiers. Since the Pentagon commenced the final withdrawal on May 1, the Taliban have unleashed a wave of attacks targeting government forces. The insurgents claim to have seized more than 40 districts since early May, forcing military leaders to strategically retreat from a number of rural districts. In one attack at least 20 members of an elite commando unit were shot dead by the Taliban in an ambush in the northern province of Faryab on Wednesday, several officials told AFP. The Taliban are now present in almost every province and are encircling several major cities - a strategy the militants employed in the mid-1990s when they overran most of Afghanistan until they were ousted by invading US-led forces. On Saturday, the defence ministry confirmed that government troops had retreated from several districts but said they aimed to take them back. "There is a new, robust and effective plan to retake areas from which we have pulled back our forces," ministry spokesman Rohullah Ahmadzai said, dismissing claims that hundreds of soldiers had surrendered to the Taliban.
At least five polio workers were shot dead in eastern Afghanistan Tuesday, officials said, in the latest attack on vaccinators in one of the last places on earth where the disease still exists. The workers were gunned down in three separate locations within hours in a "coordinated attack", Nangarhar provincial police spokesman Farid Khan said. Health ministry spokesman Osman Taheri confirmed the attacks. The Taliban denied responsibility. Polio has been eradicated across the world apart from Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan, where distrust of vaccines and eradication campaigns is rife. Tuesday saw five vaccine workers killed and one wounded in a spate of attacks across Nangarhar, the local government said. Three were also wounded in the provincial capital, Jalalabad. The inoculation drive in the province had now been halted, a health official told AFP. "These were all targeted attacks against polio vaccinators, and for now we have stopped all polio vaccination drives in Nangarhar province," the official said, asking not to be named. A top United Nations official, Ramiz Alakbarov, condemned Tuesday's attacks. "Depriving children from an assurance of a healthy life is inhumane," Alakbarov, the UN Secretary General's Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, said on Twitter. "Senseless violence must stop now, those responsible must be investigated and brought to justice." US Charge d'Affaires Ross Wilson demanded an investigation into the latest violence. "We condemn such targeted attacks & those responsible for them," he said on Twitter, vowing to continue supporting Afghanistan's anti-polio drive. The country has faced a devastating wave of targeted attacks on politicians, activists and journalists which the Afghan government and United States have blamed on the Taliban, who routinely deny responsibility. "We have reached a situation where systematically employees of demining, doctor, nurse, vaccinator, human rights defenders and anyone seeking to save our lives and our children are killed," said Shaharzad Akbar, the head of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission. "There is neither an effective prevention mechanism nor a punishment for the perpetrators." Last week 10 people working for the HALO Trust mine-clearing organisation were shot dead in northern Afghanistan.
Masked gunmen killed 10 people working for the HALO Trust mine-clearing organisation in northern Afghanistan, the interior ministry said Wednesday. "The Taliban entered a compound of a mine-clearing agency... and started shooting everyone," interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian told reporters. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the insurgents were involved in the attack. "We condemn attacks on the defenseless & view it as brutality," he said on Twitter. "We have normal relations with NGOs, our Mujahidin will never carry out such brutal acts." The UK-based HALO Trust told AFP "an unknown armed group" killed 10 staff and wounded 16 others. The raid happened around 10 pm (1730 GMT) Tuesday when dozens of deminers were relaxing in the HALO compound after a day spent removing ordnance from nearby minefields, around 260 kilometres north of the capital, Kabul. "Around 110 men, from local communities in northern Afghanistan, were in the camp," HALO said. Baghlan province governor's spokesman Jawed Basharat told AFP the attackers wore masks. Baghlan province has seen fierce fighting in recent months, with near-daily battles between the Taliban and government forces in several districts. Violence has surged across the country since May 1 when the US military began its final troop withdrawal amid a deadlock in peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. In several districts where fighting has been intense in recent months, the insurgents have planted roadside bombs and mines to target government forces, but the explosives often kill and wound civilians. The HALO Trust was founded in 1988 specifically to tackle ordnance left following the near ten-year Soviet occupation, and became a favourite cause of Britain's Princess Diana. The organisation's website says it has an Aghan workforce of more than 2,600 and has removed landmines from nearly 80 percent of the country's recorded minefields and battlefields. On Wednesday, the Taliban claimed it had shot down an Afghan military helicopter in the province of Wardak near Kabul, but the defence ministry said the aircraft had crashed due to "technical reasons". Three crew members were killed in the incident, the ministry said.
At least 11 civilians including four women and three children were killed when a roadside bomb struck a bus in Afghanistan, officials said Sunday, in the latest attack targeting passenger vehicles in the violence-wracked country. The attack occurred on Saturday evening in the western province of Badghis, raising fears of fresh violence in the months ahead as the US military continues to pull out its last remaining troops from the country. No group has claimed responsibility for the blast. An official from the province, Khodadad Tayeb, confirmed the toll and said that the bus fell into a valley after it was hit by the bomb. Saturday's attack came after a series of blasts targeted passenger buses in Kabul this week. Islamic State claimed two back-to-back attacks on buses in Kabul. Violence has soared in recent weeks as government forces and the Taliban clash in near-daily battles across the rugged countryside. The Taliban said on Saturday that they have "captured the district of Deh Yak" in the province of Ghazni, about 150 kilometres south of Kabul. The authorities said they had only "relocated" their forces from the area. Ghazni is strategically located on the main road from Kabul to Kandahar, the former bastion of the Taliban in the south. The province sees regular fighting between the two warring sides. In 2018, the Taliban briefly seized the provincial capital Ghazni, which has the same name as the province, in an all-out attack that left several government buildings torched and destroyed. The surge in violence across Afghanistan comes as the US military continues to withdraw its remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan. President Joe Biden has ordered the military to complete the pullout by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
The United States announced Friday more than $266 million in additional humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, intended mainly for its Covid-19 response, as foreign troops continue their withdrawal from the country. ‘As the United States withdraws military forces from Afghanistan, our enduring commitment is clear,’ top US diplomat Antony Blinken said. ‘We remain engaged through our full diplomatic, economic and assistance toolkit to support the peaceful, stable future the Afghan people want and deserve.’ The aid is intended for areas such as protective equipment, shelter, food and health and hygiene services related to the Covid pandemic. It also provides for ‘protection needs for the most vulnerable Afghans,’ including at-risk women and girls. The $266.5 million, made up of $157.5 million from American aid agency USAID and $109 million from the State Department, brings total US humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to $543 million. Washington has still not made a decision on whether to evacuate Afghan interpreters who worked with the US military, now fearing for their lives as foreign troops pull out. Twenty members of Congress on Friday appealed to President Joe Biden in an open letter on Friday to ‘immediately’ evacuate the more than 18,000 interpreters and their families, who have filed for visas to come to the United States. Each application ‘takes an average of 800+ days, and we plan to withdraw in less than 100 days,’ the bipartisan elected officials say in the letter. No American entity ‘has the ability or authority to protect them in Afghanistan after our withdrawal. It would be a moral failure to transfer the responsibility to protect our Afghan partners onto the shoulders of the Afghan Government.’ Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday the White House had not ordered the military to evacuate the interpreters. ‘We're aware of some congressional interest in this,’ he said, ‘but nothing has changed since last time we talked about this.’
Two separate bomb blasts on two public transport buses killed at least 12 civilians in the Afghan capital Kabul, security officials said on Wednesday, the latest in a series of such attacks in recent weeks as foreign forces withdraw. Both attacks took place on Tuesday evening in western parts of the capital that are home to many from the country's Shia community, a religious minority in Afghanistan targeted in the past by groups such as Islamic State, the officials said. Ferdaws Faramarz, Kabul police spokesman, said both buses were carrying passengers when the explosion occurred that killed at least 12 and wounded 10 more. The police launched an investigation, he said. Roadside bombs, small magnetic bombs attached under vehicles, and other attacks have targeted members of security forces, judges, government officials, civil society activists and journalists in recent months in Afghanistan. No group claimed responsibility for the twin bombings. The government usually blames the Taliban for such attacks but the insurgent group denies involvement. Violence has sharply increased since Washington announced plans to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11. The bombings on Tuesday took place three weeks after a bomb attack outside a school in the same part of Kabul. Following the school attack, an official toll put the number of dead, most of them students, at 68, but a senior government official later said 80 had died. Nearly 1,800 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first three months of 2021 during fighting between government forces and Taliban insurgents despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations said last month.
The US military will hand over its main Bagram Air Base to Afghan forces in about 20 days, an official said yesterday, as Washington presses on with withdrawing the last of its troops from the country. The vast base, built by the Soviets in the 1980s, is the biggest military facility used by US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, with tens of thousands of troops stationed there during the peak of America’s military involvement in the violence-wracked country. “I can confirm we will hand over Bagram Air Base,” a US defence official told AFP without specifying when the transfer would take place. An Afghan security official said the handover was expected in about 20 days and the defence ministry had set up special committees to manage it. In Washington, the Pentagon indicated that the pace of the withdrawal was picking up. As of Monday, US Central Command estimated it had completed 30-44 percent of the so-called “retrograde” process. It has shipped the equivalent of 300 loaded C-17 transport planes out of the country. In April, President Joe Biden set a target of September to remove all the 2,500 US troops and some 16,000 civilian contractors out of the country, aiming to end the US military’s two-decade-old presence. Bagram base was the centre for nationwide command and air operations for the past two decades. It also houses a prison that held thousands of Taliban and jihadist inmates over the years. Washington had already handed over six military bases to Afghan forces before May 1, when it began accelerating the final withdrawal of troops. Last month it completed the withdrawal from Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan, once the second-largest foreign military base in the country. The US withdrawal comes despite bloody clashes across the country between the Taliban and Afghan forces. Peace talks were launched in September in Qatar, but a deal to end a war that has killed tens of thousands of people over nearly two decades is still elusive. Yesterday, a group of Afghan government negotiators was headed to Doha in the hope of resuming stalled talks. “Our team is ready for serious negotiations. There is no military solution to this conflict,” Najia Anwari, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Peace, told AFP, adding that no date had been fixed for resuming the talks. Fawzia Koofi, one of four women negotiators from the government team, said on Twitter that she hoped for a “meaningful and result based negotiation this time to end the bloodshed and suffering of my people”. “We need to see more willingness and sincerity in the talks as the few months ahead of us are crucial for Afghanistan and the region.” Last month the two sides had agreed to speed up the talks, with the Taliban saying the dialogue would begin after the festival of Eid al-Fitr that ended on May 16.
At least six Afghan civilians were killed and several more were wounded when a mortar shell hit a house during a wedding ceremony in northern Kapisa province, security officials said on Sunday. The explosion on Saturday evening was in the Tagab district, which has seen fighting between the Afghan government forces and the Taliban. Shayeq Shoresh, a spokesman for the provincial police, blamed the Taliban for firing the mortar and added that at least six civilians, including women and children, were killed and four more wounded. But a senior security official in Kabul put the death toll at at least 10 and the number of wounded at 18. A Taliban spokesman dismissed the allegation and said the mortar was fired by Afghan security forces. Afghan civilians often bear the brunt of the attacks as they are caught in the crossfire. Violence has sharply increased across the country since Washington announced plans last month to pull out all US troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11. Nearly 1,800 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first three months of 2021 during fighting between government forces and Taliban insurgents despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations said last month.
Afghan forces clashed with Taliban fighters in a provincial capital about 120 kilometres (75 miles) from Kabul, officials and witnesses said, prompting the defence minister to take charge of a counteroffensive. Violence has soared in Afghanistan since US forces began their final pull-out on May 1, as the insurgents press on with a campaign to seize new territory. Fierce fighting erupted late Sunday on the edge of Mihtarlam, a city of around 140,000 people and the capital of Laghman province. At one point Defence Minister Yasin Zia took personal charge in the field, officials said. ‘With the arrival of reinforcements, the enemy has sustained heavy blows,’ Zia, a former army chief of staff, said in a video message. The ministry said at least 50 Taliban fighters were killed in overnight fighting. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP the insurgents captured 37 security checkpoints on the outskirts of the city. Casualty figures and battlefield gains can rarely be independently verified in Afghanistan and both sides frequently exaggerate their successes and minimise losses. An AFP correspondent reported fighting continuing in some parts of Mihtarlam on Monday, adding that hundreds of people had been displaced. A student from Mihtarlam, who gave just his first name Zabihullah, said he went to school after government forces assured him they had control, but had to flee when fighting resumed. ‘I'm not sure which part of the city is safe now,’ he told AFP. The attack on Mihtarlam comes as the Taliban push on in efforts to capture new territory. In recent days the insurgents have seized the districts of Nerkh and Jalraiz in the province of Wardak, just 40 km from Kabul. Wardak has long been used by militants as a gateway to reach the capital and launch deadly attacks. The Taliban also captured Burka in northern Baghlan province earlier this month after government troops withdrew from the area. The Taliban campaign has spurred speculation the militants are waiting for the Americans to complete their withdrawal before launching all-out assaults on Afghan cities.
A bomb has blown up a bus in Afghanistan killing at least 11 people and wounding dozens, officials said on Monday, the latest in a series of deadly blasts that has come as foreign forces withdraw. The roadside bomb exploded late on Sunday in the southern province of Zabul, the provincial governor's spokesman, Gul Islam Sial, said. Woman and children were among the wounded, he said. An interior ministry spokesman said 28 people were wounded. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Early on Monday, a blast hit a minibus in Parwan province, just north of the capital, Kabul, killing two people and wounding nine, the Interior Ministry said. Violence has been rising sharply in recent weeks after the United States announced it would withdraw all of its troops by Sept. 11, 20 years after al Qaeda attacks on the United States triggered US-led intervention in Afghanistan. The Taliban announced late on Sunday they would declare a three-day ceasefire for the religious holiday of Eid al-Fitr later this week. The ceasefire declaration came two days after bombings outside a school in Kabul killed 68 people, most of them girl students, and injured more than 165 people.
The death toll from bombs planted outside a girls' school in an area of the Afghan capital populated largely by Hazaras rose to 50 Sunday as the Taliban denied government accusations that they were behind the bloody attack. The Saturday's blasts -- the deadliest in more than a year -- rocked the west Kabul district of Dasht-e-Barchi, a regular target of militants. It comes as the United States military continues to pull out its last 2,500 troops from the violence-wracked country despite faltering peace efforts between the Taliban and Afghan government to end a decades-long war. Describing Saturday's carnage, Interior Ministry spokesman Tareq Arian told reporters that a car bomb first detonated in front of the Sayed Al-Shuhada School, and when the students rushed out in panic two more devices exploded. He said more than 100 people were wounded, adding that most of the victims were female students. Residents were out shopping ahead of this week's Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. On Sunday relatives began burying the dead at a hilltop site known as "Martyrs Cemetery". No group has so far claimed the attack. The United States was supposed to have pulled all forces out by May 1 under a deal struck with the Taliban last year, but Washington pushed back the date to September 11 -- a move that angered the insurgents. The top US diplomat in Kabul, Ross Wilson, called Saturday's blasts "abhorrent". "This unforgivable attack on children is an assault on Afghanistan's future, which cannot stand," Wilson said on Twitter.
A blast outside a girls' school in an area of the Afghan capital populated largely by the Hazara community killed at least 30 people and wounded scores including students Saturday, officials said. The explosion rocked the west Kabul district of Dasht-e-Barchi -- a regular target of militants -- as residents were out shopping ahead of Eid-al-Fitr next week that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. It comes as the United States military continues to pull out its last remaining 2,500 troops from violence-wracked Afghanistan, despite faltering peace efforts between the Taliban and Afghan government to end a decades-long war. Interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian told reporters that at least "30 people were killed and 52 wounded" in the blast. Arian's deputy Hamid Roshan told AFP that an investigation had begun into the explosion, adding that casualties included students. "I saw many bloodied bodies in dust and smoke, while some of the wounded were screaming in pain," Reza, who escaped the blast, told AFP, adding that most of the victims were teenaged female students who had just left the school. "I saw a woman checking the bodies and calling for her daughter. She then found her daughter's blood stained purse after which she fainted and fell to the ground." Health ministry spokesman Dastagir Nazari said several ambulances had been rushed to the site and were evacuating the wounded. He said an angry crowd had beaten the ambulance workers at the site. No organization took responsibility for the attack and the Taliban denied involvement.
Gasoline tanker trucks burst into flames in Kabul overnight, killing at least seven people and starting large fires that caused power cuts to some parts of the Afghan capital, officials said on Sunday. The tankers were parked in northern Kabul and burst into flames late on Saturday, according to the Ministry of Interior. Fourteen people were injured. The cause of ignition was not immediately known but the fires come as the city remains on "high alert" with officials bracing for attacks from the insurgent Taliban over the foreign troops' continued presence in the country. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has said they were not involved. Tariq Arian, the ministry of interior spokesman, said they were still investigating the cause of the fire. The Taliban have said US President Joe Biden's announcement last month that American troops would leave by Sept. 11 violates a 2020 agreement under the Trump administration that offered a May 1 withdrawal deadline. Separately on Saturday, shooting near a major airfield in Kandahar prompted the commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan to warn that attacks on foreign troops would be a mistake and that they were prepared to defend themselves and Afghan forces if needed.
A rocket hit the provincial governor's compound in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province on Monday during a religious ceremony, wounding at least 16 children, local officials said, blaming Taliban insurgents. Fighting between the Afghan government and the Taliban has increased across the country recently as peace talks failed to make progress despite international calls to reduce violence. At least 16 children, three Afghan security force members and religious affairs officials were wounded, Iqbal Sayeed, the governor of Kunar said, and some children are in critical condition. The Taliban said they were aware of the incident and investigating. The Afghan government says since the announcement by US President Joe Biden this month of plans to withdraw American combat troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the Taliban have stepped up attacks on Afghan security forces. More than a hundred Afghan civilians and security forces have been killed in fighting in the last 10 days and many more wounded, according to government officials. A roadside bomb hit an army vehicle in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Monday, wounding six people. Taliban insurgents killed eight members of a police public protection unit in southeastern Logar province on Sunday, police spokesman Gul Haidar Ahmadi said.