Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

India, Pakistan are both important to U.S. policy, says Tillerson

October 21, 2017

By Varghese K. George

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.   | Photo Credit: AP

Tillerson says both are part of U.S. approach on South Asia

India and the U.S. are “two bookends of stability — on either side of the globe” and the “emerging Delhi-Washington strategic partnership” has the potential to anchor the rules-based world order for the next hundred years, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said.

Mr. Tillerson, who will be travelling to India and Pakistan next week, said both countries are “important elements” in the U.S. policy for stabilising South Asia and characterised China a destabilising force. “China’s provocative actions in the South China Sea directly challenge the international law and norms that the United States and India both stand for,” he said, speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on ‘U.S.-India Partnership of the next 100 years.’

Mr. Tillerson said the new “regional approach” on Afghanistan also involved seeking a resolution to tensions between India and Pakistan. “We intent to work closely with India and Pakistan and we hope to ease tensions along their borders as well… Pakistan has two very troubled borders. We would like to help take the tensions down on both of those,” he said.

“We see it as a regional issue. We solve Afghanistan by addressing the regional challenges. Pakistan is important element in that, India is important element in that,” he said.

Mr. Tillerson’s explanation of the new South Asia policy calls into question the interpretation of it as an acceptance of the Indian line, and a rejection of Pakistan’s position. He was also categorical in his support for the Indian position on China and its aid and financing support for other countries in the region, terming it “predatory economics”.

Repeatedly referring to India’s democratic politics, Mr. Tillerson also referred to India’s Muslim minorities. “India’s diverse population includes more than 170 million Muslims — the third-largest Muslim population in the world. Yet we do not encounter significant numbers of Indian Muslims among foreign fighters in the ranks of IS or other terror groups, which speaks to the strengths of Indian society,” he said.


More Afghan Soldiers Are Going Missing in the U.S., Report Says

October 21, 2017

U.S. military has canceled training slots this year in an effort to prevent desertions from increasing further

WASHINGTON—A rising number of Afghan military trainees are going missing in the U.S., a government watchdog report said on Friday, a problem that is harming coalition efforts to stand up a national army capable of securing the country from the Taliban and other insurgents.

Most of the Afghan trainees who disappeared from U.S. military facilities since 2005 were company-grade officers in leadership positions, the report said. Those positions typically include midlevel military officials below the rank of general.

Poor leadership is one of the major problems facing Afghan security forces struggling with high casualty rates, widespread corruption and low morale.

“The prevalence of company-grade officers is particularly alarming given the critical role these officers play in maintaining the overall operational readiness of the force,” the report said.

The desertions weigh on the morale of those left behind, the report said, and the U.S. military has canceled training slots this year in an effort to prevent desertions from increasing further.

In 2016, around 13% of all Afghan military trainees vanished, compared with an average 6% for all other years.

The report linked the rise in desertions to the high number of Afghan security force casualties, which have soared since most U.S. and coalition forces withdrew from Afghanistan nearly three years ago.

It said close to 2,500 Afghan police and soldiers were killed on the battlefield during the first five months of 2017, roughly in line with numbers for the previous year.

In addition to desertions, U.S. training efforts also sometimes are wasted when Afghan trainees are unable to return to their old units and fail to put their new skills in use. According to the report, some even quit the army after returning to Afghanistan, after refusing to pay bribes to get their old jobs back.

A total of 152 Afghan trainees have gone missing in the U.S., nearly half of the total for all other foreign military trainees over the period. Less than 20% of the missing Afghan trainees had been caught, the report said, while more than half the total had either fled the U.S. or were still missing.

An Afghan government spokesman declined to comment on the report, deferring to the Afghan army, which could not immediately be reached on Friday.

The problems facing the Afghan army illustrate the challenges bringing the near 16-year conflict to a close. More than 11,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump, the third U.S. president to grapple with the country’s longest war, in August approved military plans to deploy more than 3,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, the bulk of which would be assigned to training their Afghan counterparts.

Write to Jessica Donati at

India lay blame with Pakistan for wave of terror attacks in Afghanistan

October 21, 2017

New Delhi has been vocal about Pakistan’s inaction to weed out terrorism from its home turf

 By Zee Media Bureau | Last Updated: Oct 19, 2017, 20:47 PM IST
India lay blame with Pakistan for wave of terror attacks in Afghanistan
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier keeps watch at a checkpoint in Kabul (FILE PHOTO / Reuters)

NEW DELHI: India on Thursday took aim at Pakistan for its support of terrorist groups which carried out the attack in Kandahar in Afghanistan that killed 43 people earlier in the day.

“States hosting the terrorists and their sanctuaries must eliminate them immediately and without distinction,” said the Ministry of External Affairs in a statement.

“The terror attacks demonstrate that safe havens and support systems continue to be available to the terrorists,” it added.

New Delhi has been vocal about Pakistan’s inaction to weed out terrorism from its home turf.

Last month, at the UN Security Council (UNSC) meet, India had urged for the implementation of sanctions crippling the source of funds for Afghanistan-based terrorists, many of whom have safe havens across the border in Pakistan.

The country’s big diplomatic win came when the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) nations unanimously condemned, the violence carried out by terrorist groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad based out of Pakistan.

US President Donald Trump also hit out at Pakistan saying “it has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists,” while unveiling the Afghan strategy on August 22.

Terming the Thursdays attack on Afghan troops barbaric, the MEA said, “India is gravely concerned at the recent escalation of terrorist violence against Afghanistan, despite hopes recently kindled by new strategies as well as efforts for bringing peace in the country.”

“The beginning of Afghan-owned and Afghan-led national reconciliation requires an end to violence.

Coming on the heels of similar tragedies in Paktia and Ghazni, we share the grief of the families of the victims and the suffering of the Afghan people.”

More than 120 people died this week after terrorists launched three separate attacks in Afghanistan. On Thursday, 43 Afghan soldiers died after insurgents attacked a military base in southern Afghanistan. The death toll is expected to go up.

Another Kabul mosque hit by suicide bomber — Two deadly mosque attacks on Friday

October 21, 2017


© AFP / by Wakil KOHSAR | Afghan residents look inside the Imam Zaman Shiite mosque which was a the site of a suicide attack during evening prayers, in Kabul on October 21, 2017

KABUL (AFP) – A strong smell of blood and flesh permeated the Imam Zaman mosque in Kabul on Saturday hours after dozens of Shiite worshippers were slaughtered by a suicide bomber during evening prayers.Broken glass and dust covered the red carpet, soaked in the blood of the men, women and children who had been praying on Friday when the attacker blew himself up, causing carnage in the cavernous prayer hall.

At least 39 people were killed and 45 others wounded in the assault claimed by the Islamic State group — one of two deadly mosque attacks on Friday — capping one of the bloodiest weeks in Afghanistan in recent memory.

“The windows of the mosque were broken, and blood and human flesh were spattered everywhere and you could smell blood and human flesh inside the mosque,” Ibrahim, who rushed to the mosque after the blast, told AFP.

“This is absolutely barbarism. What kind of Islam is this? They are attacking worshippers at the time of prayers, even mosques are not safe for us to pray.”

Hours after the suicide bomb the Taliban fired two rockets at the headquarters of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in the heavily fortified diplomatic quarter of Kabul. There were no reports of casualties but the attack underlined the worsening security in the country.

Early Saturday dozens of anxious relatives, some of them crying, stood outside the mosque’s main gate which had been cordoned off by heavily armed police, as they waited for news of the whereabouts of their loved ones.

– ‘Worshippers covered in blood’ –

An eyewitness told AFP that the attacker detonated his explosive device among the worshippers towards the end of the prayer session.

“It was one suicide bomber packed with explosives and hand grenades wrapped around his body,” the man told AFP.

The dead and wounded were taken to hospitals around the Afghan capital but eyewitnesses complained to local media that it had taken emergency services more than an hour to arrive at the scene.

Hundreds of sandals littered the entrance to the mosque, left behind by the worshippers killed and wounded in the latest deadly attack on a Shiite mosque.

A woman wearing a hijab sobbed as she crouched on the ground searching for the shoes of her brother and young nephews who died in the attack.

“I was in the mosque bathroom when I heard a blast. I rushed inside the mosque and saw all the worshippers covered in blood,” Hussain Ali told AFP shortly after the explosion.

“Some of the wounded were fleeing. I tried to stop someone to help me help the wounded but everyone was in a panic. It took ambulances and the police about an hour to reach the area.”

The force of the blast shattered all the windows of the mosque. Its walls and ceiling were covered with dark blood spatters and peppered with shrapnel.

Several men moved around the room picking up dozens of coloured prayer beads and Koran holy books left on the floor.

“What kind of Muslim they are? What is our government doing?” Rasoul, a shopkeeper in the area, told AFP through sobs.

“We are tired of living here, we are not even safe inside the holy sites.”

by Wakil KOHSAR

Dozens dead in attack on Shiite mosque in Kabul — “A suicide bomber entered the mosque in Police District 13 of Kabul city. The attacker opened fire on worshippers.”

October 20, 2017



© Noorullah Shirzada, AFP | Afghan policemen stand guard on September 29 at the site of a suicide bomb attack near a Shiite mosque in Kabul.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-10-20

A suicide bomber killed at least 30 people inside a Shiite mosque in the Afghan capital Kabul late on Friday, an interior ministry official said, the latest in a string of attacks targeting the country’s Shiite minority.

“Investigative teams have been deployed. The cause and nature of the explosion have not been determined yet,” a spokesperson for the interior ministry told AFP.

The attack occurred at Imam Zaman mosque in the western Dasht-e-Barchi part of Kabul as Shiite worshippers gathered for Friday prayers.

A senior security official said the exact number of casualties was unknown but that security forces at the scene had removed at least 30 bodies.

Officials later said that the bomber had first opened fire at the mosque.

“A suicide bomber entered the mosque in Police District 13 of Kabul city. The attacker opened fire on worshippers,” Kabul crime branch chief General Mohammad Salim Almas told AFP.

Afghanistan‘s Shiite population has been heavily hit this year, with at least 84 people killed and 194 wounded in attacks on mosques and religious ceremonies, according to a United Nations report released last week.

Earlier attacks targeted mosques in Kabul in August and September.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

Gold Star Widow Releases Trump’s Call After Husband Was Killed In Afghanistan

October 20, 2017



ARLINGTON, VA – JUNE 19: Allie Marie Hasenwinkel (L), widow of Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean E. Brazas, becomes emotional after she received a U.S. flag from Navy Captain Mark Olson as her sister-in-law Kelly Nance (2nd L), and parents-in-law Patricia (3rd L) and Ed Brazas Jr. (R) look on during the burial of Petty Officer Brazas June 19, 2012 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Petty Officer Brazas, a K-9 handler, was killed while being ambushed as he was helping a fellow officer into a helicopter in Afghanistan on May 30, 2012. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)


By Henry Rodgers

Political Reporter
Gold star widow Natasha De Alencar released the audio of a phone conversation she had with President Donald Trump in April about the death of her husband who was killed in Afghanistan.

“I am so sorry to hear about the whole situation. What a horrible thing, except that he’s an unbelievable hero,” Trump told her in the call about her husband Army Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, which The Washington Post released.

No automatic alt text available.

“Thank you. I really, really appreciated it,” she said. “I really do, sir.”


Trump also told the widow if she is ever in Washington D.C. that she is welcome in the Oval Office.

“If you’re around Washington, you come over and see me in the Oval Office,” he said. “You just come over and see me because you are just the kind of family … this is what we want.”

“Say hello to your children, and tell them your father he was a great hero that I respected,” Trump said. “Just tell them I said your father was a great hero.”

The phone call was released after White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly pushed back against Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson’s criticism that Trump told a Gold Star widow “he knew what he signed up for.”



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Tillerson Balances Trump’s Goals With His Own

October 20, 2017

In interview, secretary of state reflects on his role in administration, warns China on trade and territory

WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described how he seeks to manage an often-fraught relationship with President Donald Trump, saying he tries to deliver short-term victories to an impatient commander-in-chief while focusing on a longer horizon himself.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Thursday, Mr. Tillerson acknowledged the contrasting styles of the two men and described his effort to bridge the gaps, while rejecting swirling rumors of his impending departure. “I see those differences in how we think,” Mr. Tillerson said in his State Department office. “Most of the things he would do would be done on very short time frames. Everything I spent my life doing was done on 10- to 20-year time frames, so I am quite comfortable thinking in those terms.”

His solution: “Delivering the incremental wins,” he said. “Incremental progress is taking you toward the ultimate objective, which is, as I say is eight, 10 years down the road.”

Mr. Tillerson said one of his top long-term priorities is shifting the balance of the trade and national-security relationship with China, even as he adopted Mr. Trump’s stern tone on Asia’s economic power.

On Thursday, Mr. Tillerson warned China that the U.S. has an arsenal of economic weapons to force Beijing to address trade imbalances and a continuing territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

“We can do this one of two ways,” Mr. Tillerson said during the interview, seeming at times to speak directly to his Chinese counterparts. “We can do it cooperatively and collaboratively, or we can do it by taking actions and letting you react to that.”

Tools he might apply include tariffs, World Trade Organization actions, quotas and other mechanisms, he said.

The president and Mr. Tillerson are scheduled in November to visit Asia for a 10-day trip through five countries, including China, where the two former businessmen—both first-time public office holders—will push these issues.

Mr. Tillerson said the race to stem North Korea’s nuclear program, as well as trade issues with Japan and South Korea, will also dominate the trip. His tough talk on China came as the country’s leaders are meeting at the Communist Party Congress, a summit that takes place every five years.


  • Tillerson to Travel to Mideast, South Asia Next Week

In a response to Mr. Tillerson’s recent tough talk, the Chinese Embassy in Washington on Wednesday released a statement. “Through dialogue and cooperation with the countries in the region, the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable. Countries outside the region should fully respect these efforts to safeguard regional peace and stability,” it said.

“The track record demonstrates that China and the U.S. are better together. We hope the U.S. side can work in the same direction with China to ensure the healthy and sound development of the China-U.S. relationship,” the statement continued.

Mr. Tillerson’s comments follow a rocky summer in his relationship with Mr. Trump. Signs of tension between them have continued to overshadow the insistence from both men that all is well.

“If I were a world leader—doesn’t matter who—I wouldn’t talk to Tillerson,” said Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, citing the public divide between the two men. “The president must feel that this person can do the work for him…this is not the case here. It’s becoming antagonistic.”

During a meeting at the Pentagon one weekend in July, Mr. Tillerson rolled his eyes as he reluctantly acquiesced to the president’s criticism of the Iran nuclear pact. “It’s your deal,” Mr. Tillerson said in his Texas drawl as he peered in the direction of other cabinet officials, instead of Mr. Trump.

After that meeting, Mr. Tillerson referred to the president as a “moron,” according to people familiar with the conversations. Mr. Tillerson’s spokeswoman has denied he made the remark.

Mr. Trump has also disparaged his top diplomat, complaining that Mr. Tillerson doesn’t understand his “Make America Great” philosophy and has few original thoughts. “Totally establishment in his thinking,” he has told aides.

Asked Thursday if he believed Mr. Trump should be re-elected, Mr. Tillerson paused for a beat, then said, “Well, of course.”

“I mean, I don’t think about it, quite frankly, right now,” he said. “We’ve got these things we’re dealing with, but yeah.”

Early on in the administration, Messrs. Trump and Tillerson seemed to have an easy rapport. They are both successful businessmen, and Mr. Tillerson’s global experience as the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. was a major appeal for the new president as he put his cabinet together.

When they first arrived in their new jobs and their wives had yet to join them in Washington, they often ate dinner together, joined by a combination of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ; John Kelly, now the White House chief of staff; and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

While those dinners have largely stopped, Mr. Tillerson and the president continue to meet, as they did in the Oval Office on Thursday, in what was at least their second meeting this week. In what a State Department spokeswoman described as a “positive,” they had lunch together earlier this month after initial reports of name-calling between them.

Mr. Tillerson’s openness to speaking to reporters comes after he was prompted to hold a news conference to address rumors that he was on the verge of quitting and had made derogatory remarks about the president. On Thursday, Mr. Tillerson expressed confusion about rumors of his departure. “Who in the world is telling you that stuff?,” he said.

He said he would remain in the job “as long as the president thinks I’m useful.”

The secretary pointed to successes on strengthening capabilities of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, particularly on counterterrorism, a peaceful pressure campaign on North Korea, the campaign to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the administration’s approach to South Asia.

“Look, I’m my own person, I’m a serious person,” Mr. Tillerson said. “And I’m not of any use to the president if I’m not that. If I try to be anything other than that, I’m no use to him.”

Mr. Tillerson said Thursday he likes to view foreign-policy problems according to region.

“I believe you solve a problem in Afghanistan not by just dealing with Afghanistan,” he said. “You solve it by solving a regional problem, and that’s the way we’re looking at the Middle East.”

He has honed that approach in brainstorming sessions that have evolved over his time at Foggy Bottom. In his first months in office, Mr. Tillerson and a small circle of aides convened weekend sessions during which they kicked around policy approaches by sketching ideas on a white board. Those sessions are now twice a week, sometimes on Saturdays when convenient, and include career state department officials, an official said.

The Texas oilman turned chief diplomat said he spends the bulk of his time concentrating on North Korea, Iran, counterterrorism, China and Russia.

Noting that U.S. and China officials have long been able to negotiate their differences peacefully, he repeatedly said China “went too far” in its push to claim resources in the South China Sea, one of the most ​important trade arteries for the world’s largest economies.

“Our view is you’re going to have to walk some of that back,” he said.

Mr. Tillerson said the Trump administration is seeking agreement on a code of conduct in the region, noting that other countries “are guilty of having done the same thing to a lesser extent” as China. He said the Philippines is looking for “mutually agreeable ways” to share disputed areas without conflict.

“Look, some things have gotten out of whack,” Mr. Tillerson said about U.S.-China relations. “We’ve got to address them.”

Write to Michael C. Bender at and Felicia Schwartz at

Tillerson heads back to deal with Gulf crisis — Meetings in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan

October 20, 2017


© AFP / by Francesco FONTEMAGGI | Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not expecting a breakthrough in the stand-off between Qatar and Saudi Arabia as he travels to the region
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States will again try to resolve a Gulf crisis that Washington has alternatively fueled or tried to soothe, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heads back to the region.The top US diplomat did not himself hold out much hope of an immediate breakthrough in the stand-off between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but the trip may clarify the issues at stake.

“I do not have a lot of expectations for it being resolved anytime soon,” Tillerson admitted on Thursday, in an interview with the Bloomberg news agency.

“There seems to be a real unwillingness on the part of some of the parties to want to engage.”

Nevertheless, President Donald Trump’s chief envoy is to leave Washington this weekend for Saudi Arabia and from there head on to Qatar, to talk through a breakdown in ties.

Trump, having initially exacerbated the split by siding with Riyadh and denouncing Qatar for supporting terrorism at a “high level,” has predicted the conflict will be resolved.

Tillerson, a former chief executive of energy giant ExxonMobil, knows the region well, having dealt with its royal rulers while negotiating oil and gas deals.

But the latest diplomatic spat is a tricky one, pitching US allies against one another even as Washington is trying to coordinate opposition to Iran and to Islamist violence.

– Major air base –

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut diplomatic relations with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran.

The sides have been at an impasse since then, despite efforts by Kuwait — and a previous unsuccessful trip by Tillerson in July — to mediate the crisis.

The blockade has had an impact on Qatar’s gas-rich economy, and created a new rift in an already unstable Middle East, with Turkey siding with Qatar and Egypt with the Gulf.

Iran, Washington’s foe, only stands to benefit from a split in the otherwise pro-Western camp, and US military leaders are quietly concerned about the long-term effects.

Trump, after initially vocally support the effort to isolate Qatar despite its role as a military ally and host of a major US airbase, has not called for a negotiated resolution.

Tillerson says there has been little movement.

“It’s up to the leadership of the quartet when they want to engage with Qatar because Qatar has been very clear — they’re ready to engage,” he said.

“Our role is to try to ensure lines of communication are as open as we can help them be, that messages not be misunderstood,” he said.

“We’re ready to play any role we can to bring them together but at this point it really is now up to the leadership of those countries.”

Simon Henderson, a veteran of the region now at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, said the parties may humor US mediate but won’t want to lose face to each other.

“Tillerson will say: ‘Come on kids, grow up and wind down your absurd demands. And let’s work on a compromise on your basic differences’,” he said.

Riyadh’s demands of Qatar are not entirely clear, but it has demanded Qatar cool its ties with Iran, end militant financing and rein in Doha-based Arabic media like Al-Jazeera.

“I haven’t seen Qatar make any concession at all other than to say negotiation is the way out of this,” Henderson said.

“The problem is that people, mainly the Saudis and the Emiratis, don’t want to loose face. It needs America to step in, but to save face, they should try to make this a Gulf-mediated enterprise with American support.”

Kuwait has tried to serve at a mediator, with US support, but the parties have yet to sit down face-to-face.

After his visit to Riyadh and Doha, Tillerson is to fly on to New Delhi in order to build what he said in a speech this week could be a 100-year “strategic partnership” with India.

Tillerson will stop in Islamabad to try to sooth Pakistani fears about this Indian outreach, but also pressure the government to crack down harder on Islamist militant groups.

by Francesco FONTEMAGGI

US drone strike kills leader of Pakistan’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar militants

October 19, 2017

In this screen grab taken from a video recording, Omar Khalid Khorasani, center, a top Pakistan Taliban commander, gives an interview in Pakistan’s Mohmand tribal region on June 2, 2011. (File photo: Handout via Reuters)
DERA ISMAIL KHAN: The leader of Pakistani militant group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, who planned some of the deadliest suicide bombings in Pakistan in the last year, died on Thursday after being wounded in a US drone strike in Afghanistan, a spokesman said.
“Our leader, Omar Khalid Khorasani, was wounded in one of the recent drone strikes in Afghanistan. He was wounded badly, and today he was martyred,” Asad Mansoor, a Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesman, told Reuters by telephone.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban and has in the past also supported Middle East-based Daesh.

43 Afghan soldiers killed in attack on military base — The third assault on a security installation this week

October 19, 2017

Above, an Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopter flies past commandos during a military exercise at the Kabul Military Training Center on the outskirts of Kabul on October 17, 2017. (AFP)
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: At least 43 Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban-claimed suicide attack on a military base in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, officials said, the third assault on a security installation this week.
Just two soldiers are known to have survived unscathed after the attack on the base in the Chashmo area of Maiwand district in Kandahar province, the defense ministry said in a statement, adding that nine soldiers were wounded and six unaccounted for.
Defense ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said the attackers detonated at least one explosive-packed Humvee vehicle and razed the compound in the early morning assault.
The Taliban claimed the ambush in a message to journalists which said all 60 security personnel on the base were killed.
Ten insurgents died, the ministry said.
“We have sent a delegation to assess the situation. The base is under ANA (Afghan National Army) control,” Waziri said.
It was the third suicide and gun attack on a security installation this week and takes the total death toll to more than 100, including soldiers, police and civilians.