Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Local officials in Ghor province said that a pair of siblings, a boy and a girl, killed two Taliban fighters in the Tiwara district to avenge their parents murder. They also seriously wounded Taliban’s deputy intelligence chief Sayyid Masoom.
The Taliban had attacked the village of Koryeh on Thursday night, killing three people, including the children’s parents, district chief Mohammad Rafiq Alam told the media.
The family’s 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son then took revenge by killing a Taliban fighter each and also seriously injuring the intelligence chief.
The district governor said that the siblings were then taken to a safe location by the officials.
The Taliban has not yet commented on the incident.
Ahmad Jawad Osmani, acting head of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said they had brought 500 ventilators from its budget to distribute to hospitals across Afghanistan.
Speaking at the event on Saturday, Osmani said that the reopening of wedding venues, hotels and swimming pools was a matter of concern at a time when the country is still battling Coronavirus, and he was worried.
He said that the MoPH would be distributing 106 ventilators to Kabul, Panjshir, Kapisa, Parwan, Logar, Wardak, Bamyan, Daykundi and Ghazni provinces. They have purchased them from Germany.
“All these ventilators, along with all their accessories, are to be distributed fairly according to the needs of the provinces,” he added.
The health minister noted that trainings have been held for health workers in Kabul to teach them how to use a ventilator properly, and three biomedical engineers, trained in Turkey, have been hired to maintain the devices.
Referring to recent media revelations of corruption in the MoPH, Osmani stressed that several graft cases had been reported to the Attorney General’s office so far, for investigation.
He said that the establishment of COVID-19 wards in hospitals would not only avoid additional costs of setting up a new facility, but also provide the treatment and care for the affected patients.
Two Afghan trucks crossed the India-Pakistan Wagah border on Saturday, six days after Islamabad announced the resumption of Afghan exports to India.
“Two trucks of liquorice [mulethi] entered the Integrated Check Post (ICP), Attari, on Saturday,” a senior Customs official said.
All COVID-19 protocols were followed.
Senior Indian traders said that Pakistan had “deliberately been creating hurdles” in Afghan export to the country, citing the long closure of the border gate.
“Trade is victim of cheap politics of Pakistan,” said Federation of Karyana and Dry Fruit Association president Anil Mehra, explaining that while the Indian authorities had allowed Afghan exports in the last week of May, the Pakistani government had blocked movement of goods from the Chaman and Torkham borders with Afghanistan.
The Wagah crossing sees around a Rs. 7,000 crore ($934 million) trade with Afghanistan annually, and Rs. 1,000 crore ($133.4 million) with Pakistan.
On Thursday, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had accused Pakistan of monopolistic practices.
“This is another example of Pakistan’s creation of mirage of goodwill. Pakistan is seeking monopolistic transport practices. It is not allowing Afghans two-way transit rights,” MEA Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava had said.
India had first closed the border in March as a precautionary measure against the COVID-19 outbreak, after which Pakistan followed suite. But while, India reopened on May 28, Pakistan still kept the crossing closed.
India’s sixth consignment of humanitarian aid for Afghanistan has arrived at Iran’s Shahid Beheshti Port in Chabahar on Friday.
Director-general of Sistan and Baluchestan Ports and Maritime Department Behrouz Aghaei said on Saturday that the Kashan ship “carrying 355 TEUs loaded with 8,875 tons of wheat arrived in strategic Iranian port” and the cargo will soon be delivered to Afghanistan overland.
The consignment is part of 75,000 metric tons of wheat being sent to Afghanistan as a “humanitarian gesture” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aghaei noted that the Iranian port has handled over 38,500 metric tons of India’s shipments for Afghanistan since the beginning of the current fiscal year on March 20.
The Embassy of India in Kabul announced that the country is also gifting 500,000 tablets of Hydroxychloroquine to Afghanistan for health professionals and Coronavirus patients.
In two separate decrees, President Ashraf Ghani announced that his nominees were current acting Minister of Defence Asadullah Khalid and acting Minister of Interior Masoud Andarabi for their respective ministries.
If their appointment is approved the Lower House of the Parliament in a vote of confidence, then they will officially take their place in the Cabinet.
With this decree, all three chiefs of the nation’s top security agencies have been appointed by Ghani, with General Zia Seraj as head of the National Defence Services. Hamdullah Mohib continues to serve as his National Security Advisor.
The Ministry of Public Health announced that of the less than 200 samples tested during the past 24 hours, 60 new Coronavirus cases were reported in Afghanistan.
There were 55 new cases in Kabul, two each in Kandahar and Nimroz and one in Helmand.
With this, the number of people infected with COVID-19 reached 35,289 cases to date.
The ministry added that 72 people had recovered with 17 had succumbed to the virus in the past day, taking those figures to 23,280 recovered and 1,164 deaths.
First Vice President Amrullah Saleh also announced $244 million food aid distribution programme, called the National Dining Table or Dastarkhan Milli, which will reach out to 90% of the households in Afghanistan.
This program will be replacing the controversial bread distribution efforts of the government which have been mired in corruption and embezzlement charges.
Afghan security forces confirmed that supporting airstrikes killed six Taliban insurgents in the Fayzabad district of Jawzjan province on Friday.
Hanif Rezaei, spokesperson for the 209th Shaheen Corps, said that the airstrikes were carried out to support the forces during at attack on a Taliban gathering in the Chaharsai area of the district.
Rezaei said some military equipment and vehicles belonging to the militants were also destroyed in the incident.
A new migration system put in place through a bilateral agreement will enable more Afghan expatriates to become part of the UAE workforce, a top envoy said.
Ahmad Sayer Daudzai, Charge d’Affaires, Afghanistan Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said that soon, workers from Afghanistan will have a larger share in the UAE job market. As of now, the number ranges between 100,000 and 130,000.
“We have a bilateral labour agreement. It’s a World Bank-sponsored project. It will bring Afghan labourers to the UAE in an organised manner,” he told Khaleej Times.
In the first phase, a total of 1,000 workers will be brought to the UAE.
“Based on this agreement, we will have managed migration of our labourers into various sectors of the UAE. We were set to implement the first stage of the agreement until Covid-19 situation stifled it for almost four months now. We will initially bring 1,000 workers here and slowly expand.”
He said the engagement during the repatriation of stranded Afghans has led to increased coordination and cooperation with the UAE government.
“Now, this agreement will be implemented even more effectively than we had thought,” the envoy added.
President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High council for National Reconciliation, spoke to the U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien on Friday about the Afghan peace process.
The Presidential Palace said that the talks took place on Friday evening and O’Brien agreed with the Afghan concerns about the escalation of Taliban violence.
The two sides also stressed the need for an end to the violence in order to establish lasting peace in Afghanistan.
Abdullah tweeted about the meeting and wrote: Stressing on counter terrorism, we are aiming for a united, democratic and peaceful Afghanistan.”
“The United States supports a united, independent, democratic, and united Afghanistan that does not again become a safe haven for terrorism,” O’Brien told the Afghan leaders.
According to the Presidential Palace, direct telephone talks between the government and the Taliban were also discussed during the telephone call with all three stressing on the importance of starting the talks “as soon as possible.”
The High Council for National Reconciliation said in a press release that the topics discussed, include Reduction in Violence (RiV), the completion of the prisoner exchange and the start of intra-Afghan talks as soon as possible.
Local police confirmed that six security forces were killed and two wounded when Taliban attacked a joint security and defence checkpoint in the Mohammad Agha district of Takhar on early Friday morning.
The attack took place at around 1 am on Friday in the Qala-e-Ahmadzai area, Logar police spokesperson Shahpour Ahmadzai said.
The victims include an Afghan National Police (ANP) soldier, two members of the People’s Uprising Forces and three Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF).
The Taliban attack was repulsed when reinforcements arrived and killed and wounded dozens of the group’s fighters.
The Taliban have not yet commented.
Pakistan’s exports of goods and services to Afghanistan witnessed decrease of 25.03 per cent during the eleven months of fiscal year (2019-20) as compared to the corresponding period of last year, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) reported.
As per the Nation report, the overall exports to Afghanistan were recorded at $825.663 million during July-May (2019-20) against exports of $1101.459 million during July-May (2018-19), showing negative growth of 25.03 per cent, SBP data revealed.
Overall Pakistan’s exports to other countries witnessed decline of 6.77 per cent in eleven months, from $22.457 billion to $20.936 billion, the SBP data revealed. On the other hand, the imports from Afghanistan into the country during the period under review were recorded at $119.321 million against $163.133 million last year, showing decreased of 26.85 per cent in eleven months of this year.
The overall imports into the country decreased by 18.72 per cent, from $47.831 billion to $38.877 billion, according to the data.
Based on the trade figures, the trade of goods and services with Afghanistan witnessed decrease of 24.72 per cent in surplus during eleven months of fiscal year as compared to the corresponding period of last year.
The surplus during the period under review was recorded at $706.342 million against $938.326 million during same period of last year, showing negative growth of 24.72 per cent, the data revealed.
The Georgian Defense Ministry reported that 10 more Georgian servicemen on rotation in the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The servicemen were repatriated to Georgia by the German Air Force early on July 17, the Ministry noted.
They have tested positive for the disease together with the 28 servicemen that were repatriated to Georgia on July 10, said the Ministry. 38 Georgian servicemen belong to the same cluster of patients, with local Afghan personnel as the source of their infection, according to the Defense Ministry.
The servicemen are undergoing COVID-19 treatment in Gori Military Hospital.
The Ministry also noted that 8 patients from the 28 servicemen repatriated a week ago have already recovered. The health condition of other servicemen are satisfactory, according to the Defense Ministry.
China has applauded resumption of trade relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan after both the countries overcame impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
At regular media briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson Hua Chunying said China wants to see better relations between the two sides and economic growth of Islamabad and Kabul. She said we will like to play a constructive role in this regard.
The spokesperson said we are pleased to see Gwadar port and other CPEC projects playing a positive role and we will like to work with both Pakistan and Afghanistan to this end.
Pakistan has opened five key routes with Afghanistan for bilateral and transit trade over the past weeks to help war-ravaged Afghanistan boost trade.
Overhead surveillance is critical to fighting the Taliban, but the American military’s effort to equip Afghan forces has fallen short, according to an independent watchdog.
The New York Times reported that a Pentagon report on Thursday harshly criticized a $174 million American drone program that was meant to give Afghan forces an advantage over the Taliban but has instead shown few gains.
The report from the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction cited delays and a lack of oversight or clear metrics for success for the program, known as ScanEagle. The report found several issues plaguing the program, including inadequate training for Afghan forces, who displayed an “inability to account for ScanEagle equipment” and failed to exploit the intelligence gathered by the drones for military missions.
“As a result of these delays and challenges,” the Defense Department “lacks information necessary to track, understand and improve the return on its $174 million investment in the program, and is poorly positioned to transfer responsibilities” to the Afghan National Army, the report said.
In written responses to the report, the American-led mission in Afghanistan defended the program, noting that the Afghan army now requires minimal assistance from military advisers, that it rigorously vets troops working on the drones and that the equipment is used daily for operations even though “it may not be to Western standards.”
As American forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2014, the drone program was a Pentagon attempt to mitigate a shortcoming of Afghan troops: an inability to surveil the battlefield from the sky. Airstrikes and overhead reconnaissance are crucial to fighting Taliban militants, who have used guerrilla-style tactics to move and hide in Afghanistan’s untamed geography since the beginning of the 18-year war there.
As American forces plan to complete their withdrawal in the coming months under a peace agreement with the Taliban, and attacks on Afghan forces steadily increase, programs like ScanEagle are meant to be essential at keeping the Afghan military afloat as U.S. and international support dwindles. The fledgling Afghan air force is years, if not decades, from conducting surveillance and airstrikes on its own.
But the nearly 50-page report, awash in acronyms and tables, paints a familiar picture of the American war effort. The ScanEagle program is one of hundreds of Pentagon-funded misadventures aimed at molding Afghan security forces into a Western fighting force. Since 2005, the Pentagon has spent nearly $47.5 billion on equipment and other military programs for Afghan forces.
At the report’s core is mismanaged expectations set forth by the program’s overseers at its inception in 2015. “We’re training the Afghans to take over this mission on their own,” Ben Meyle, a former Army sergeant turned ScanEagle instructor, told Stars and Stripes in 2016.
But according to Thursday’s report, the Afghan National Army “will require continued U.S. government financial and technical support to sustain the ScanEagle program.” The contracts are overseen by the Naval Air Systems Command and Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary that fields the aircraft.
The ScanEagle is a small drone with a 10-foot wingspan, less capable than the larger, higher-flying armed drones such as the Reaper. Used by the American military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the ScanEagle is launched by a catapult, lands by flying into a net and sounds like a lawn mower. The drone’s camera beams video to an operator on a nearby base.
Original training requirements for the ScanEagles aimed to teach 12 to 20 Afghan students in 11 weeks on how to operate the small drone, but that was later changed to about 28 students in roughly a year, according to the report. This change centered on the addition of a six-month English-language course and an education in basic computer skills to the curriculum. In 2018, the attrition rate for the program was 31 percent, the report said.
The Afghan military was unable to account for 27 of the 87 soldiers certified to operate the ScanEagle drones, according to the report. And of the 60 soldiers assigned to operate the ScanEagles at sites around the country, an average of 17 were absent “because of sickness, annual leave or unknown reasons,” the report said.
ScanEagle equipment has become an issue, too. American officials in Afghanistan told the inspector general’s office that they were concerned that the Afghan National Army “does not know where the equipment it owns is or whether it is being used appropriately.” Afghan law enforcement agencies also “seized a stolen ScanEagle vehicle that a criminal intended to sell to a suspected terrorist organization for $400,000,” the report said.
American officials expressed concerns that the ScanEagle could be weaponized, a common tactic for insurgent groups that outfit small, unarmed drones with homemade devices to drop grenades or other munitions.
The report comes shortly after the Pentagon announced that it had reduced its forces in Afghanistan to roughly 8,600 troops and that the U.S. military had left five bases, transferring them to Afghan forces, all as part of the peace agreement with the Taliban.
“The United States honors its obligations,” the top Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said in a statement on Tuesday. “All sides should reduce violence and embark on intra-Afghan negotiations capable of achieving a negotiated and lasting peace for Afghanistan.”
The announcement came after Taliban forces claimed responsibility for a major attack on Afghan forces in a provincial capital in the north, killing at least 11 people and wounding more than 60.
Direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban remain stalled amid a dispute over a prisoner exchange.
The Taliban group has claimed that the U.S. forces based in Afghanistan carried out multiple drone strikes in three provinces of Afghanistan.
“The American forces, today, committed a violation of the Agreement by launching several drone strikes in non-combat zones in Helmand, Ghazni and Zabul provinces. It is unacceptable to the Islamic Emirate and condemns it,” Suhail Shaheen, a spokesperson for the political office of Taliban said late on Thursday.
The drone strikes, if confirmed, follow an unprecedented violence led by the Taliban group during the recent months.
The United States and Taliban signed a peace deal late in the month of February of this year in a bid to pave the way for intra-Afghan talks aimed at ending the ongoing violence.
Afghan security forces on Friday said at least 72 Taliban militants, including four top commanders, have been killed in operations in three provinces.
In a statement, the Afghan National Army said 32 more insurgents were also injured in ground and air offensives in northern Balkh, Faryab, and Sar-i-Pul provinces over the past 24 hours.
Earlier this week, at least 36 security personnel were killed and over 60 others wounded in northern parts of the country amid a rise in Taliban-claimed attacks.
According to latest figures by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, 1,213 civilians have been killed and 1,744 injured in 880 security incidents in the first six months of 2020.