Afghanistan

2nd suicide bombing in Afghanistan raises two-day death toll to 55 and mars temporary cease-fire

Inside the provincial governor’s compound, officials hosted dozens of Taliban fighters and hundreds of guests in a celebration Sunday of a temporary cease-fire that many hoped would be a precursor to peace talks in Afghanistan.

But the deadly violence Afghans have known for decades continued when…

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Pakistan’s responsibility as terrorism in Afghanistan intensifies, UN’s fresh resolution on the Rwanda genocide matters, Milos Zeman’s election is an EU alarm bell, Africa has a major inequality problem, Roger Federer’s late career renaissance continues

A roundup of global commentary for the Feb. 12, 2018 weekly magazine.


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A Fresh Wave of Terrorist Attacks Has Rocked Afghanistan. Here’s What to Know

About 90-minutes before dawn broke on Jan. 28, Kabul residents woke to the sound of explosions and gunfire. A group of insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles had stormed an army post near a military academy in Afghanistan’s capital.

Monday’s pre-dawn raid lasted an hour and ended in the death of 11 soldiers, as well as four of the five militants who instigated it. It was the fourth brazen attack in a little over a week that saw more than 140 people killed in around Kabul and exposed gaping holes in Afghanistan’s security structure.

For many, the four atrocities—two claimed by the Taliban and two by a local ISIS affiliate—also underscore the futility of a 16-year United States military campaign (the longest war America has been involved in). Despite a threefold increase in aerial ordinance dropped on the Taliban in 2017, the insurgent group made considerable territorial gains and is now openly active in 70% of Afghanistan, according to a recent BBC study.

For all the talk of the Taliban resurgence in the countryside, the latest spate of attacks shows that urban spaces remain highly vulnerable and lay bare the intelligence gathering frailty of the country’s Western-backed government, says Michael Kugelman, an Afghanistan specialist at the Wilson Center.

“Afghanistan simply is in no position to preempt large-scale attacks, even in supposedly more highly secured areas,” Kugelman tells TIME.

Here’s more.

What did insurgent groups target in the latest wave of violence?

On January 20, Taliban fighters in suicide vests laid siege to Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, killing 25 people over the course of a 13 hour-long gun battle. At least 14 foreigners, including four Americans, were among the dead, according to the U.S. State Department. The Taliban struck again on January 27. This time the death toll breached 100 after attacker blew up an explosives-laden ambulance on a busy Kabul street.

“How are we to live? Where should we go? We have no security. We don’t have a proper government. What should we do?” a local shopkeeper told the Guardian in the aftermath of the ambulance attack.

Five day after the Taliban hit Kabul’s Intercontinental, suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the Jalalabad offices of international NGO Save the Children, about 100 miles east of downtown Kabul. “Incidents like this have a direct impact on the children and communities we work to protect and yesterday programs across the country were brought to a halt,” Save the Children said in a statement confirming a fourth member of its staff had died after the attack.

That attack, as well as the Jan 28 assault on the military outpost, was claimed by local ISIS affiliate Islamic State Khurusan (ISK).

The brazen nature of the assaults—and the way in which they came in such quick succession—has thrust Afghanistan back into the headlines. Sadly, it is never far from them. A little more than a month ago ISK claimed responsibility for killing 41 people at a Shia cultural center; in May last year a truck bomb near Kabul’s presidential palace killed more than 150 people, the majority of them civilians.

Is the insurgency entering a bloodier phase?

It depends on who you ask. Responding to reporters questions about how attackers penetrated ostensibly well-defended urban sites with apparent ease, the head of Afghanistan’s spy agency Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai said that the terrorists were “changing their tactics,” according to Agence France Presse.

The ambulance attack in the city center did “not mean a lapse (in security). We have foiled many attacks but some are difficult to control,” Stanekzai said.

However, Taliban-led campaigns of violence in cities have long accompanied the group’s advances in the countryside.

Read more: Afghanistan’s Front Line

What has changed is the insurgents’ willingness to claim responsibility for attacks targeted at civilians, rather than police and the military. That is likely a product of the insurgents’ desire to heap pressure on the state that it wishes to overthrow.

Says Kugelman: “[The Taliban] wants to make the state look weak, and what better way of doing so than making it clear that the state is unable to protect its own people?”

How have Afghanistan and U.S. leaders responded?

The Taliban has made some diplomatic overtures, including the 2013 establishment of an unofficial embassy in Qatar. But the group has long publicly maintained that the peace talks depend on the withdrawal of foreign forces.

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani has said that with its recent attacks the Taliban had “crossed a red line and lost the opportunity for peace,” but Ghani continues to leave the door ajar for peace talks with the insurgents.

U.S. President Donald Trump noted that a change in circumstances could eventually precipitate talks. “There may be a time, but it’s going to be a long time,” he said.

There seems scant incentive, however, for an ascendant Taliban to talk or change tack. Analysts argue that the U.S. military, which could not secure Afghanistan with 100,000 troops on the ground in 2010, is unlikely to be able to turn the tide now with 15,000.

“These attacks should prompt a sobering reminder that after nearly two decades of war, U.S. policy options are limited in Afghanistan,” Kugelman tells TIME.


TIME

Kabul blast: Attack kills 80 near diplomatic area in Afghanistan – CNN


CNN

Kabul blast: Attack kills 80 near diplomatic area in Afghanistan
CNN
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) A huge suicide bomb ripped through a secure area of Kabul at the height of the Wednesday morning rush hour, killing at least 80 people and wounding 360, Afghan officials said. The blast, which came a few days into the Muslim …
Kabul Bombing Kills at Least 80, Shaking City CenterNew York Times
Massive blast in the heart of Kabul's diplomatic quarter kills at least 80Washington Post
The Latest: Afghanistan: Kabul Attack Death Toll Reaches 90U.S. News & World Report
Reuters –TwinCities.com-Pioneer Press –NBCNews.com –PRI
all 658 news articles »

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Afghan Officials Say 100 Casualties in Attack on Afghanistan Military Compound

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Authorities on Saturday raised the casualty toll to 100 in an attack on a military compound in northern Afghanistan a day earlier by gunmen and suicide bombers wearing army uniforms.

Gen. Daulat Waziri, spokesman for the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense, said the attack Friday on a compound of the 209th Corps of the Afghan National Army left dozens of soldiers and other personnel dead or wounded.

Reports conflicted on the death toll, but at least two sources within the army corps and a provincial security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the media, confirmed that more than 130 people were killed and at least 80 others were wounded.

The defense ministry had said Friday night that eight soldiers were killed and 11 others were wounded in its initial reports.

Gen. Mohammad Radmanish, deputy spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said the militants entered the base in Balkh province using two military vehicles and attacked army personnel inside the compound’s mosque.

“Two suicide bombers detonated their vests full of explosive inside the mosque of the army corps while everyone was busy with Friday prayers,” he said.

Waziri said there were 10 attackers, including the two who carried out the suicide attacks. Eight others were killed in a gun battle with soldiers.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the assault in an email sent to media.

President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday traveled to the base and strongly condemned the attack, according to a tweet from the official Twitter account of the presidential palace.

“The attackers are infidels,” Ghani was quoted as saying in the tweet.

Ghani announced that Sunday would be a day of national mourning, with memorial services across the country’s mosques and the Afghan flag flying at half-mast, in a statement issued by the Presidential Palace.

Afzel Hadid, head of provincial council in Balkh told The Associated Press that more than 100 people, both army personnel and others present at the time inside the army crops, were killed in the attack.

“The exact number is still not verified, but for sure we know more than 100 were killed in the attack,” said Hadid.

One of the attack survivors, an Afghan army soldier, Mohammad Hussain who was wounded and transported to a hospital in Mazar-e-Sharif said “Three people in an Afghan National Army vehicle started shooting at us when we finished Friday prayers, they are the enemies of the country.”

“I don’t know maybe they had someone inside to help them to bring the vehicle inside. There are seven to eight checkpoints from the main gate and without inside help this vehicle cannot enter the compound and get to the mosque.”

In the Taliban’s detailed statement on the attack posted on its official website, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that four of the 10 attackers were disguised as soldiers at the time of the attack.

The Taliban statement said the attack was retaliation for the killing of the Taliban governor of Kunduz province, Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund, and threatened more violence against the army and police, saying “this year’s operations will be painful.”

Local TV footage showed hundreds of people gathered outside the army crops waiting to find out if their relatives had been killed or wounded.

In March, an attack on a military hospital in the capital Kabul killed 50 people. Responsibility for that attack was claimed by the Islamic State group. According to officials, five attackers were involved, including one suicide bomber who detonated an explosives belt and four gunmen who stormed the building.

The 209th corps is located in the Dihdadi district of Balkh. It is one of seven corps of the country’s Ministry of Defense, which is responsible for providing security for Afghanistan’s northern and northeastern provinces.


TIME

Taliban Push Into Provincial Capital in Southern Afghanistan

(KANDAHAR, Afghanistan) — The Taliban pushed into the capital of Afghanistan’s southern Uruzgan province on Thursday, triggering fierce clashes and sending all government officials fleeing from the city, an Afghan official said.

The insurgents’ surprise attack left authorities in control only of Tirin Kot’s police headquarters, which the Taliban were besieging since the morning hours, according to The provincial spokesman, Doost Mohammad Nayab.

Nayab said that all checkpoints around the city have been overrun or destroyed and appealed to the government in Kabul for quick reinforcements. He did not provide a casualty toll but said he feared that the city will soon completely fall to the insurgents.

However, within hours, the Afghan Ministry of Defense said the Taliban had been repelled from Tirin Kot. Mohammad Radmanish, the ministry’s deputy spokesman, said the army, police and intelligence service headquarters in the city have all been secured.

Radmanish insisted that all strategic locations in Tirin Kot are under government control and that reinforcements are on the way to the Uruzgan provincial capital.

Air support has been called in and Afghan airstrikes have killed several Taliban fighters in Tirin Kot, he added.

The Taliban did not immediately issue any statements to media about the attack.

Tirin Kot is the third Afghan provincial capital that has come under Taliban threat recently, along with the city of Kunduz in the north and Lashkar Gah in southern Helmand province.

The uptick in Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces has prompted the United States to send additional troops to the southern Helmand province, where its capital, Lashkar Gah, is also under heavy pressure from the insurgents. The provincial council head Kareem Atal earlier said that roughly 80 percent of Helmand is already under Taliban control.

Since August, Taliban fighters have attacked Afghan security forces in northern Kunduz province, briefly taking control of a district headquarters. The militants also overran a district in northern Baghlan province and in eastern Paktia province. Meanwhile, in eastern Nangarhar province, Taliban militants are fighting pitched battles with security forces.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense says its security forces are currently waging operations in 15 provinces.

Also on Thursday, a sticky bomb attached to a motorcycle exploded in Kabul, killing one civilian and wounding two others, police officer Gulam Jan said.

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Associated Press Writer Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.

 


TIME