Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Kabul: President Ghani, leading a high-level government delegation, headed to the 201st Selab Army Corps on Thursday morning, to assess the security situation of Nangarhar region. Ghani chaired a senior security meeting with the Nangarhar governor, the Corps Commander, Nangarhar’s National Directorate of Security Chief, the commanders of the 3rd Brigade of the Corps and the Border Force, Nangarhar police chief, the commander of the 999th Special Police Unit, listened to their briefings and plans on the security situation in the region.
The President praised the courage and sacrifice of the ANDSF in defending the homeland and protecting the people and issued the necessary instructions to the relevant officials in order to improve the security situation in eastern provinces and to thwart the enemy’s sinister conspiracies, and assured them of any support, stated the Presidential Palace.
President Ghani met with officers, brigadiers and soldiers of the 201st Selab Army Corps and other ANDSF members and listened to their demands and suggestions. A number of ANDSF members spoke on behalf of others and expressed their demands and suggestions in the areas of supplies, funding and equipping the ANDSF, more support for the Air Force, more attention to the families of the martyrs, utilizing the experience of the retired generals and officers, and a pay rise.
They said that the enemy had no will for peace and that the ANDSF will fight the enemy with high morale and protect the republic and people until the last moment of their lives. The President gave the necessary instructions to the relevant agencies to solve the problems of the officers, brigadiers and soldiers of the Corps and other ANDSF members, and added that measures will be taken to fund and equip the ANDSF. Ghani instructed them to work on strengthening the outposts and maintain close relations with the people, and the problem in payments will be solved. The President also issued the necessary instructions to the relevant officials to review the structure and implement promotions.
Also, Amrullah Saleh, the first vice-president of Afghanistan, spoke to the protesters in Takhar who had been in the capital, Kabul, since the past four days seeking more security in the province.
“Your protest tent [in Kabul] is irrelevant. All security and defense agencies are at your service. You can collectively form a unit and enter your areas with weapons and equipment in different ways and do your responsibility against the Taliban. Nothing is made of noise in Zarnegar and Shahr-e Naw parks. The government is at your service with all its might. You can join a local company – a mobile guerrilla group – a militia within the framework of National Directorate of Security or any formation and structure you wish. Anyone who has advised you to protest in Kabul has given unbiased advice,” said Saleh.
Meanwhile, the Taliban consider last weeks’ negotiations with the Afghan government in Qatar a “positive” development and hope to resolve the disagreements through dialogue, spokesman for the movement’s political office Mohammad Naeem said. “Regarding the two-day meeting that took place in Doha, I can say that it showed progress because this was the first time when the leaders of both sides came together to discuss and solve the country’s problems. This is a positive step. We hope that our country’s problems will be resolved through dialogue,” Naeem told Sputnik.
When asked about potential talks with Turkey, which has expressed interest therein, the spokesman replied that any statements at this point would be premature, but confirmed that the movement was in contact with Ankara. “We are in contact with Turkey and the neighbouring countries. Of course, I cannot comment on this until it is clear what the talks are about and what the [other side’s] demands are. We are yet to understand what the issue is and what they want,” Naeem added. However, on Thursday, a meeting was held between the negotiating teams of both sides. In this meeting, beside of Eid al-Adha greetings, both sides emphasised on the continuation, acceleration and effectiveness of the peace negotiations.
Meanwhile, a temporary camp for refugees from Afghanistan will be set up in Khatlon region in south of Tajikistan, region governor Kurbon Hakimzoda told a press conference in Bohtar. The construction of the refugee camp is handled by the Interior Ministry of Tajikistan in cooperation with international organizations. The camp will be erected in Jaihun district.
Kurbon Hakimzoda said hundreds of nationals of Afghanistan, military personnel among them, crossed the border into Tajikistan for the last several weeks. A tent camp was set up in Mumirak area, at the former training ground of the Russian military base. All refugees, who fled to Tajikistan, were returned back to Afghanistan.
On the other hand, in Badakhshan’s Wakhan District Governor Juma Khan Amu told Salam Watandar that a civil engineer at a health clinic in Pamir, a COVID-19 nurse, and a company guard have died in Pamir area of the district and their bodies have been taken to the district center.
Amu added that a doctor, in coma, was also transferred from Pamir to Wakhan who regained consciousness. Amu said that the cause of death of the three has not yet been determined, but it is said that these people died due to lack of oxygen. Amu highlighted that there is little oxygen in Pamir and those who travel to the area should carry oxygen with them. According to him, before the fall of Wakhan district to the Taliban, the contractor which is building the health clinic in the Buzai Gonbad area of Pamir had been reminded that they had to carry oxygen to prevent possible incidents. Meanwhile, Provincial Deputy Public Health Director Noushin Gohar Karimi confirmed the deaths of the three men, saying that the motive for their deaths has yet to be clarified and that an investigation has been launched into their bodies to determine the reason.
In other news, the Ministry of Education (MoE) has announced the timeframe for holding annual exams for public and private schools in the warm regions and mid-year exams in the cold and extreme cold regions. In a statement, the MoE stated that the annual exams of the academic year 1399 in the warm regions were not completed and the exams for the remaining subjects should be taken from the 6th of Asad (July 28), taking into account the recommendations of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and observing social distancing.
According to the MoE schedule, the mid-year exam of the 1400 academic year in cold and extremely cold areas should be held in open spaces or in two or three shifts from the 6th to the last day of Asad (July 28-August 22), taking into account health guidelines and social distancing. The MoE added that schools are required to consider health advice, including wearing a mask, refraining from gatherings, observing social distance, and conducting outdoor exams, and that a decision will be made on the start of classes in joint coordination with the MoPH, considering the developments.
Schools and universities were closed for two weeks in 16 provinces on May 29, due to a growing number of patients infected with the COVID-19. Two weeks later, the MoPH closed schools and universities across all provinces. Recently, the MoPH announced that in joint cooperation with the Ministries of Higher Education, Education, and other educational institutions, they have prepared a plan according to which the activities of educational institutions will resume gradually.
Kabul: The Ministry of Defense (MoD) stated that efforts are ongoing to recapture all lost districts within a clear plan.
Deputy MoD Spokesman Fawad Aman said that the people in Taliban-controlled areas are oppressed and that the ANDSF will free the lost territories and save the people from Taliban oppression.
Also, in the presence of Ghor’s civilian and military leadership, and commanders of the people’s uprising forces, Provincial Governor Abdul Zahir Faizzada spoke about preparation for military operations to suppress the Taliban, provide facilities, defend the provincial capital, and retake the lost territories.
It was then decided at the meeting that all ANDSF, including the uprising forces, are jointly ready to defend, and that those who cooperate with the enemy and operate against the regime should be separated.
It was also decided to provide more combat facilities to the joint security forces, transit to offensive mode, retake the lost areas and districts, establish strong urban security belts, and establish security bases along the highways. The elders and commanders of the uprising forces once again pledged to resist against and suppress the Taliban.
In an airstrike conducted by the ANDSF in Bandar-e Imam Sahib of Kunduz city, Kunduz province last night, two Taliban insurgents including a key commander named Suhrab were killed and 2 others were wounded, the MoD reported. A vehicle, weapons and ammunition were also eliminated during the attack, the MoD added.
Also, social media activists launched the Twitter campaign #Stand4ANDSF to support the ANDSF and people’s uprising forces. The campaigners stated that the Taliban have failed to comply with human rights and values, and harmed civilians. They called for an end to political interference in security agencies, and urged the government manage the battlefield and allow the ANDSF to suppress terrorists.
Meanwhile, spokesman of Nangarhar’s Provincial Governor Attaullah Khogyani told Etilaat Roz Daily that an individual killed four members of his maternal uncle’s family and wounded two others in Shakil area of Darai Nur district last night. Khogyani added that family hostilities led to the incident.
Spin Ghar District Governor Mohammad Yasin said that two mortar rounds impacted residential areas in Sur Qamar area of the district early on Thursday morning, which killed five children and wounded two others. The governor blamed the Taliban for the mortar attack. The Taliban have yet to comment on the report.
In other news, Kabul’s provincial police arrested six armed robbers, including a woman, with a vehicle, two number plates, six sets of mobile phones, and a gun during an operation in Bagrami district, the MoI reported. These robbers were active in PDs 8, 9, 12, 16, 19, and Bagrami district and have confessed to have assassinated five government employees and civilians in Kabul and Logar provinces, and stolen two vehicles from Kabul city, the MoI added.
Meanwhile, as part of his visit to the UK, NSA Hamdullah Mohib met Baroness Fiona Hodgson of Abinger CBE, member of the House of Lords. The two sides exchanged views on the situation in Afghanistan and discussed ways to support Afghanistan, including protecting women’s and human rights.
Also, Mohib, met Stephen Lovegrove, national security adviser of the UK. NSA Mohib and Lovegrove discussed the continuation of cooperation on matters of peace, security and counterterrorism between the two governments. Lovegrove said that the UK is keen to continue supporting Afghanistan and will work with Afghanistan to shape the cooperation. The two NSAs reinforced their desire to work jointly with regional counterparts in support of shared goals in security and preservation of common achievements.
Kabul: The Taliban are forcing the local people who live in areas under the group’s control in Balkh province to pay them part of their income, Afghan local authorities in the northern province said on Wednesday. “The Taliban are also trying to recruit from among the local people,” said the officials.
“There are only about 20 Taliban fighters inside the district building compound and the police headquarters; the rest of them have taken up positions inside the villages to collect Zakat (charity),” said Mohammad Yousuf, the acting district governor of Kaldar district. The officials said that the number of Taliban fighters in the district numbers only about 200 fighters, but they are looking to recruit more fighters from among the people.
Earlier this month, the Taliban managed to take over the center of Kaldar district. Later on, the Afghan security forces were deployed five kilometers away from the district to prevent a possible move by the Taliban into Hairatan border crossing, a key financial dry port in the north. “They have imposed taxes on the shops and bazaars and on the local people–which is beyond their capacity to pay. They also harassed the people who don’t have the capacity to pay a large amount of money,” said Mohammad Hashem Mansoori, a district governor for Shortepa district in Balkh province.
Business activity has also been affected following the increased violence by the Taliban, especially in those regions where there are dry ports, such as at Hairatan. “The people have serious concerns, the business owners are very fearful because of the businesses,” said Sifatullah, a resident in Hairatan.
Security authorities, however, have assured the people that the Afghan security forces are fully prepared to defend the people’s lives and property. “The morale of our forces is very high; they are fully prepared and have the strength to defend the city. Soon we will launch our offensive operations,” said Khanullah Shuja, the commander of 209 Shaheen Army Corps. Balkh has 14 districts, nine of which are under Taliban control as per reports.
Meanwhile, the ANDSF detected and neutralized two magnetic improvised explosive devices, placed behind the Grand Madrassa in Taloqan city, Takhar province, provincial police reported. Also, Kabul’s provincial police arrested four armed robbers with two guns and a vehicle during an operation in Mir Bacha Kot district, the Ministry of Interior reported.
In other news, the Ministry of Foreign affairs, stated, “We are assessing the recent remarks by Zamir Kabulov, the Russian president’s special envoy for Afghanistan, in some media outlets about the Taliban’s readiness for a political solution and the “potential for the Taliban to seize power.” Since the signing of the Doha Agreement, the Taliban have violated their commitments to reduce violence, sever ties with terrorist groups, seriously negotiate a ceasefire, and reach a political agreement. The Taliban’s actions reflect the fact that, contrary to their claims, the Taliban are not, in practice, ready for a political solution to the Afghan crisis.”
The MFA statement also added, “The Afghan government has fulfilled all its obligations, including the release of over 6,000 Taliban prisoners, and has consistently insisted on substantive negotiations on key issues, including an immediate ceasefire. In this regard, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has established a competent negotiating team and has participated with full commitment in the Doha peace talks, including the current third round. In addition, to demonstrate its seriousness and commitment to the peace process, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan recently sent a high-level political delegation to Doha to support the Republic’s negotiating team and advance peace talks with the Taliban; but despite these efforts, there is still no sign of the Taliban’s commitment to ending the violence, avoiding a military solution, and reaching a political agreement.”
The statement said that if Kabulov has access to reliable and clear information and findings that demonstrate the true will of the Taliban to resolve the war peacefully, share with us so that we can make further progress in the peace process. “In our view, the possibility of the Taliban gaining military power is contrary to the Declaration of the Moscow extended “Troika” meeting and UN Security Council Resolution 2513, and the international community’s opposition to the return of the Taliban’s Emirate,” MFA stated.
“We appreciate Russia’s peace efforts in the framework of the Moscow format, the extended troika and the UN Security Council. We expect that our international partners hold the Taliban accountable for their commitments and put the necessary pressure on them to stop the bloodshed, and accept a political solution through real and meaningful negotiations at the behest of the international community, especially the extended Troika member states, and supporters of UN Security Council Resolution 2513,” the statement concluded.
This comes even as Afghanistan’s northern neighbour Tajikistan held its largest ever military exercise on Thursday involving the Central Asian nation’s entire army, and President Emomali Rakhmon urged vigilance amid fighting to the south of the border.
Meanwhile, The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has told the Taliban to immediately end the violence and agree to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Thursday, issued a tweet urging the Taliban and warring parties to stop the war and fully participate in peace talks to end the suffering of the Afghan people. It said the Taliban and the Afghan government should seek a political solution to resolve cases that would benefit all Afghans.
The US Embassy has stressed that Afghanistan should not once again become a safe haven for terrorists. The United States has stressed the establishment of an immediate ceasefire and peace talks that the Afghan government and the Taliban recently held at a high level in Doha.
Kabul: General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke during a Pentagon press conference alongside Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, said that the Taliban has seized a substantial swath of territory and “the strategic momentum seems to be with the Taliban, but the Afghan security forces are consolidating their forces to protect population centers.
“The future of Afghanistan is squarely in the hands of the Afghan people,” Milley said. “And there is a range of possible outcomes in Afghanistan. A negative outcome – a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan – is not a foregone conclusion.” The general said the United States will continue to monitor the situation there and make adjustments to the support as necessary, he said.
Milley gave a quick rundown of the situation in Afghanistan. “There is a clear narrative out there that the Taliban are winning – they are propagating an ‘inevitable victory’,” he said. “As of today, 212 or 213 of the district centers are in Taliban control – it’s about half of the 419 that are out there. You’ve got 34 provincial capitals in Afghanistan. None of them have been seized by the Taliban, although they are putting pressure on the outskirts of about half of them.”
The provincial capitals have most of the population and the Taliban is trying to isolate the major population centers including Kabul, the general said. “The Afghan security forces are adjusting forces to consolidate forces into the provincial capitals and Kabul. It remains to be seen what will happen. I don’t think the endgame is yet written.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, on Afghanistan, praised the professionalism U.S. forces have displayed as the retrograde from the country continues. “We are still on track to finish up [the retrograde] by the end of August,” Austin said.
He said the U.S. military has tasks to accomplish which include protecting U.S. diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, providing funding to Afghan forces, advising Afghan ministries and preventing the re-emergence of a transnational terrorist threat from the country. To these four missions, Austin added one more: “Working closely and urgently in support of the State Department to relocate brave Afghans and their families who have provided such exceptional service during our long mission,” he said. “These are friends of the United States who have done exemplary and courageous work, and we take our obligations to them and their families very seriously.”
Meanwhile, on Operation Allies Refuge, which is an effort President Biden announced earlier this month to support relocation flights for interested and eligible Afghan nationals and their families who have supported the United States in Afghanistan, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian McKeon said that the United States will temporarily relocate these individuals and their families who feel threatened in Afghanistan so they can complete their Special Immigrant Visa processing outside of Afghanistan. “We’ve already accelerated the processing of SIVs in part by adding additional staff at U.S. Embassy Kabul to process applications and by using technology to improve efficiency and work flow. Since January, we’ve already approved 2,500 Special Immigrant Visas,” he said.
Also, Secretary Blinken asked three-time Ambassador Tracey Jacobson to lead our newly created Afghanistan coordination task force. The task force will coordinate the U.S. Government’s efforts to bring qualified SIV applicants to the United States once their security vetting is complete. The Department of State, Homeland Security, other U.S. Government departments and agencies involved in the SIV program are committed to helping the men and women who have taken significant risks to support our military and diplomatic personnel.
Jacobson said, “Our first priority is to relocate to the United States some 750 Afghan SIV applicants and their immediate families who have completed the majority of the visa process, including a thorough security background check. We are working to bring them to the United States starting next week. They will be paroled into the United States and have their status adjusted by the Department of Homeland Security. During this processing, they will be located at Fort Lee, Virginia, and when they leave Fort Lee, they will join 70,000 Afghans who have received SIVs and started new lives in the United States since 2008.”
“We are also working to relocate from Afghanistan those applicants who have received chief of mission approval but have not gone so far in their visa processing, including the full security screen. This group includes about 4,000 principal applicants and their families. We will take them to locations outside the United States where they can safely await the completion of their application processing, and we will provide them accommodation and other support during this period, which we are committed to making as short as possible,” he added.
Also, 30 NGOs on Wednesday demanded that EU nations stop deportations of Afghan refugees amid a worsening security situation in that country. The demand comes amid the departure of US-led foreign troops and the Taliban taking control of large parts of the country’s territory. “The security situation in Afghanistan does not allow people to return to the country without putting their life at risk,” according to a joint statement by European NGOs states as it urged the European Commission to recommend to member states to “immediately halt deportations to Afghanistan.”
The NGOs, refugee-led organizations, and members of the Afghan diaspora have also demanded that EU countries re-examine all final negative decisions for Afghan asylum seekers still present in European countries, refrain from applying the concept of Internal Protection Alternative (IPA) in Afghanistan as there is no safe area or city in the country, provide immediate asylum to local staff, including their families to Europe and increase resettlement places for Afghans refugees in Iran and Pakistan. The Afghan government asked host countries, including Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Denmark, UK, Switzerland, and the Netherlands to stop the deportation from July 8 onwards for three months at least until October.
A statement from the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations said because of the escalating violence by the Taliban, a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and economic, social unrest, the situation was not conducive for the forced return of the Afghan migrants. The statement said the given situation further heightens their “concerns about the fate of people who are returned.”
Meanwhile, Yue Xiaoyong has been appointed as the new special envoy for Afghan affairs of the Chinese foreign ministry, replacing Liu Jian, the ministry’s spokesperson Zhao Lijian said. Zhao told a news briefing that Yue is a veteran diplomat who had served as the Chinese ambassador to Qatar, Jordan, and Ireland. Zhao said the Afghan issue is now the focus of attention for the international community, and China has always actively participated in and promoted the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
Also, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif discussed issues related to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as well as situation in Afghanistan with the European Union Foreign Policy Chief Joseph Borrell. In a telephone conversation on Wednesday, Zarif exchanged views with Borrell on both the Iranian nuclear deal and the latest developments in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Uzbekistan said on Thursday there was no legal basis for accepting a U.S. request to temporarily house thousands of Afghans while they await U.S. immigrant visas after having worked for American forces now pulling out of the country. Washington has asked Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan to house some 9,000 Afghans who now risk being targeted by Islamist Taliban militants for cooperating with Western forces, according to a Bloomberg report this month. Insecurity has been growing in Afghanistan in recent weeks, largely spurred by fighting in its provinces as U.S.-led foreign troops complete their withdrawal and the Taliban launch major offensives, seizing districts and border crossings. read more
Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have so far declined to comment on the U.S. request, and Ismatilla Ergashev, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s special envoy on Afghanistan, became the first Central Asian official to openly discuss it. “This is a very serious and sensitive issue for Uzbekistan that cannot be decided immediately,” Ergashev told local news website Kun.uz in an interview.
Ergashev said Uzbekistan had not signed a 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees while its own laws had no provisions for granting anyone refugee status. “Therefore, taking into account external and domestic factors, there are no legal or practical grounds to provide asylum on our territory for Afghan citizens who cooperated with the United States,” he said.
He further said Taliban leaders had promised clemency to such Afghans and added that Tashkent was open to the idea of allowing the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to set up a representative office close to the Uzbek-Afghan border.
This comes even as the European Union is weighing a new package of financial aid to Afghanistan and its neighbours to help limit the flow of refugees from the country, ravaged by intense fighting between government forces and the Taliban, two officials told Reuters. The ongoing withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan after almost two decades has galvanized the Taliban, who could retake control of large parts of the country, spurring a new flow of refugees.
The EU plan, which is at a preparatory phase, would involve more financial help to Afghanistan, Pakistan and countries in the region, two EU officials and one diplomat familiar with the talks told Reuters, with money also being given to Iran. The objective would be to help refugees closer to home and avoid a new flow of asylum seekers to the EU, the official said.
The European Commission declined to comment. In 2021, the EU is set to spend some 57 million euros ($67 million) in humanitarian support for Afghanistan. The financial support for the coming years will not be ready before the autumn and needs approval from EU governments and lawmakers. “Money could go to Afghanistan but also to Pakistan and possibly even Iran,” the diplomat said, saying that the funding to Kabul would depend on the Taliban’s advance. It would be more difficult to disburse them if the Taliban were in power.
The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan last week in Tashkent. In a blog post on Wednesday, Borrell offered Afghanistan and the region support but said: “Future support to Afghanistan … will remain conditional on the preservation of the democratic progress.”
Turkey, which is set to receive new EU funds to house refugees and migrants, could play a role in housing more Afghans, but any new funding for Afghanistan would be separate from the planned 3.5 billion euros for Turkey until 2024.
After a peak in 2015 when more than one million migrants came to the EU, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, the EU has cut the number of arrivals thanks to a deal with Turkey which receives EU funds to host asylum seekers in its territory.
More than 6.5 million Afghans already live in Iran and Pakistan. Money to Iran would underscore how important the EU sees stemming migration flows. After former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal with world powers in 2018, EU plans for economic assistance have been hindered by renewed U.S. sanctions on Tehran. Fresh EU funds would not be exclusively for migration but would constitute a major portion of the aid, the official said.