Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
The U.S. State Department said several staff at their Afghan embassy have tested positive for COVID-19, the Washington Post reports.
The State Department did not say how many were affected.
An official at the embassy in Kabul, on condition of anonymity, told the publication that as many as 20 people were infected, the majority of whom were the security staff.
“The embassy is implementing all appropriate measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” the U.S. State department said.
Washington Post reports that the compound is being tested and sanitised with tighter isolation orders expected.
Some NATO troops have also tested positive for the infection.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) reported the addition of 546 new Coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, bringing Afghanistan’s total cases to 28,424.
The ministry also reported 21 fatalities and 330 recoveries during the past day.
Of the latest reports, 173 people in Kabul, 132 in Herat, 68 in Khost, 31 in Paktika, 26 in Takhar, 19 in Daykundi, 18 in Kunar and 16 in Farah, tested positive for the virus.
In addition, nine cases each were reported in Paktia, Nuristan and Kunduz, eight in Logar, six each in Panjshir and Balkh, five in Samangan, four each in Kandahar and Helmand and three in Nangarhar.
Local officials in Daykundi said 57 civilians, including 27 women and children, have been taken hostage by the Taliban as the group attempts to locate a boy and a girl who fled from them in Uruzgan province.
Mohammad Ali Uruzgani, the deputy governor of Daykundi, told Reporterly on Saturday that the captives were residents of Kajran, Pato and Kitti districts.
He said the incident took place after a girl and a boy escaped from Gohar Negin village in Uruzgan’s Charchino district. The Taliban claims that the two escapes then went to Daykundi’s Kajran district and eventually made their way to Gizab district in Uruzgan.
The Taliban want the Daykundi people to return the runaway girl and boy before they release the hostages.
However, the deputy governor said they were unable to locate the girl and the boy.
He added that 18 trucks had also been stopped by the Taliban in Kajran district.
The Acting Minister of Defence Asadullah Khalid visited the province on Friday to hold talks with influential tribal leaders and groups. They are also formulating a joint operational plan which included military operations to free the hostages if the talks did not go well, the provincial official said.
The Ministry of Defense in their official statement said Khalid’s trip was to review the security situation in Daykundi province where he met with Governor Mohammad Zia Hamdard, the commander of the 205th Army Corps, the police chief and the head of national security.
Taliban has yet to comment on the hostage-taking.
The Kajran district of Daykundi is one of the insecure districts where the Taliban is extremely influential and active.
More than $181 million worth of good from Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province entered Afghanistan during the first two months of the current Iranian year (March 20-May 20), marking a 56% increase compared to last year, the Iranian Republic News Agency reports.
The exports mainly included cement, apples, tiles and ceramics, a provincial officer said.
Afghanistan has seen a 30% hike in Iran’s exports this year, valued at $341 million.
According to Iran’s Customs Administration, major commodities exported to Afghanistan included fruit and vegetable, foodstuff, industrial goods and construction materials.
Exports during COVID-19 have grown with Iran because it was one of the few countries to open their international borders early to minimise the economic effects of the pandemic.
After being suspended last week due to a lack of diagnostic kits, Herat’s COVID-19 testing laboratories reported 132 new cases of Coronavirus within the last 24 hours.
Herat Public Health Department’s Mohammad Rafiq Shirzai said that 237 suspected samples had been tested at the province’s laboratory in the past day since it restarted.
Shirzai added that the new cases included 77 men and 55 women who had tested positive, pushing the province’s total number of COVID-19 cases to 4,436.
While no one had died in the last 24 hours, 13 among the 192 active cases were in critical condition.
Equipping the 100-bed Coronavirus hospital in Herat
The COVID-19 100-bed hospital was built by a presidential decree, but three months since its inauguration by Sarwar Danesh, the second vice president, they have been unable to equip it adequately.
Ahmad Javad Osmani, head of the Ministry of Public Health, who travelled to Herat to investigate the condition of hospitals, said work will start on equipping the new COVID-19 hospital within two weeks.
He added that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) will work on providing the hospital’s equipment and its health services department.
Osmani expressed his gratitude for MSF’s cooperation in starting the hospital and called the facility an important step towards the care and isolation of Coronavirus patients in the province.
President Ashraf Ghani chaired a meeting on the digitalization of the government administration systems with the aim of strengthening the implementation of national programmes, a statement from the presidential palace said.
They discussed the digitization of the system of government departments, infrastructure, securing data and information, public awareness, capacity building of the non-governmental administration and the private sector.
Participants also discussed the establishment of an -government through electronic and digital systems, and the effectivity of the internet for public offices.
Also in attendance were First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, General Director of the Administrative Office of the president Fazel Mahmood Fazly, Acting Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Fahim Hashemi, Head of the National Statistics and Information Department Ahmad Javid Rasouli, and Omar Mansour Ansari, head of ATRA, among other dignitaries.
Pakistan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan visited Qatar to hold talks with Taliban leaders and discuss the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
Muhammad Sadiq Khan paid a two-day visit to Doha, Qatar, on June 16-17 and met their chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said.
According to the statement, Khan “underlined that Pakistan will continue to play its role as facilitator for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan” and also referred to the highly productive visit of Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa to Kabul.
Khan “appreciated” the Taliban’s commitment to implement the Doha peace agreement and also noted that the prisoner exchange between the two sides was a “stepping stone” to the jump-start the intra-Afghan negotiations.
Pakistan had named Khan, who had also served as their ambassador to Kabul, as its envoy to Afghanistan amid efforts to start the intra-Afghan negotiations.
“Pakistan hopes that all concerned parties will make sincere efforts for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Pakistan, for its part, remains fully committed to support the Afghan peace process,” said the statement.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) donated hygiene supplies to the Pul-e-Charkhi Central Prison which houses over 9,000 inmates, to check the spread of Coronavirus within the facility.
For those detained in prisons, sanitation and health care remain important as over 100 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in prisons around Afghanistan. Due to the close proximity of the prisoners, there is a significant risk if preventive measures are not in place in Pul-e-Charkhi, which is the country’s largest prison.
The ICRC donated large quantities of hygiene items such as soap, bleach, sprayers and chlorine, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) for cleaners, such as rubber boots and gloves. Hand washing stations with soap were installed for detainees and prison staff. Kits were also provided to ensure the safe management of the dead bodies.
The ICRC also provided full PPE kits and infrared thermometers to the prison staff, along with improving health-care facilities, upgrading COVID-19 detection procedures and contributing to the set-up of isolation areas for those who had tested positive.
Besides this, financial incentives were given to health staff who were recruited for the COVID-19 response. The ICRC also provided technical advice on how to implement the COVID-19 Emergency Response Plan adopted by the Ministry of Public Health and the General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centres.
Similar work is being done at the Bagram prison in Parwan, Sarpoza prison in Kandahar, and Herat prison.
The Taliban reassured the U.S. that Afghanistan will not harbour any groups which will launch future attacks on the West as the U.S. troops withdrew from the country.
On Friday, U.S. announced it had reduced its troops to around 8,600 in line with the Doha deal signed with the Taliban in February. However, General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command warned “conditions would have to be met that satisfy us — that attacks against our homeland are not going to be generated from Afghanistan” for a full withdrawal by 2021.
McKenzie said the Taliban had to demonstrate by “deeds and not words” that they would break off ties from Al Qaeda.
“And so we’re very focused on what the Taliban is doing, how they’re participating in these negotiations as we go forward,” he said at an event on Thursday. “The jury is still very much out.”
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP they were committed to the Doha agreement, “especially the U.S. and the West’s concern about a threat to them from Afghanistan.”
“Our country will not be used against anyone. They should not be concerned.”
Two Croatian police officers were arrested for beating an Afghan asylum seeker who had crossed over from Bosnia, reports The Guardian.
The Afghan victims had been taken to the Slunj police station on June 11, on suspicion of entering illegally from Bosnia.
The officers were removed from service and are pending disciplinary actions, as the UN urged the Croatian government to investigate reports of excessive use of force against migrants.
One of the officer faces charges of bodily harm and the other for failing to report the crime.