Posts Tagged ‘Jalalabad’

Suicide bomber, gunmen attack Save the Children office in Afghanistan

January 24, 2018


© Screengrab FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-01-24

A suicide bomber detonated a car bomb outside the Save the Children office in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad Wednesday as gunmen stormed the premises in an ongoing attack that wounded 11 people so far, according to a local official.

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A massive blast was heard near the Save the Children offices early Wednesday, according to witnesses, in what appeared to be a coordinated attack on the London-based NGO that has a long history of working in Afghanistan.

“At around 9:10am a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb at the entrance of Save the Children’s compound in police district three of Jalalabad city,” Nangarhar governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP.

“A group of armed men then entered the compound. So far 11 wounded people have been brought to hospitals.”

Special forces arrived at the scene of the attack and cordoned off a large area around the premises, according to the Afghan Tolo TV station.

The attackers also tossed hand grenades towards security forces, a police officer on the scene told Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary.

We are fighting 2 or 3 attackers who are inside. Our forces are dealing with a complex situation, a senior officer with Ningarhar police tells me.

Afghan security services have cordoned off a large area around the compound, while relatives of Save the Children staffers, anxious for news of their loved ones, rushed to the scene of the attack.

‘I jumped out of the window’

Mohammad Amin, who was inside the compound when the attackers stormed inside, told AFP from his hospital bed that he heard “a big blast”.

“We ran for cover and I saw a gunman hitting the main gate with an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) to enter the compound. I jumped out of the window,” Amin said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Nangarhar, a restive province bordering Pakistan, is a stronghold for the Islamic State (IS) group and also has a significant Taliban presence.

US and Afghan forces have been carrying out ground and air operations against IS group fighters in Nangarhar.

While Afghan security forces are conducting most of the fighting against the IS group and Taliban militants, US troops operate alongside them in a training capacity and are frequently on the front lines.

The attack comes days after Taliban gunmen raided a luxury hotel in Kabul, killing at least 22 people, mostly foreigners.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2018-01-24


Blast at funeral in eastern Afghanistan kills 15: official

December 31, 2017


JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) – A suicide attack at a funeral in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Sunday killed at least 15 people and wounded 13, the governor’s spokesman said.

Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the attacker had blown himself up as people gathered for the funeral of a former district governor at a cemetery in the city.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which comes days after at least 41 people were killed and more than 80 wounded in a suicide attack on a Shi‘ite cultural center in Kabul on Thursday.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack, one of the worst in the Afghan capital in months.

Backed by intensive U.S. air strikes, Afghan forces have claimed growing success against the Taliban and other militant groups, including Islamic State, but attacks on civilian targets have continued, causing heavy casualties.

Reporting by Ahmad Sultan and Rafiq Sherzad; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Gareth Jones

Six dead as suicide blast hits Afghan political rally

December 3, 2017


© AFP | Afghan volunteers carry an injured boy to hospital after the suicide attack in Jalalabad

JALALABAD (AFGHANISTAN) (AFP) – At least six people were killed when a suicide bomber drove a motorcycle into a crowd at a political rally in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Sunday, police said.

The crowd had gathered in a sports stadium for a demonstration in support for President Ashraf Ghani, said Nangarhar province’s police spokesman Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal.

Image result for Nangarhar, afghanistan, map

“Six people including a woman and a child have been killed and 13 more injured, all of them civilians,” he told AFP by phone.

The toll was confirmed by the provincial governor?s spokesman as well as a local health director, who said some of the wounded were in a serious condition.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but Nangarhar province is considered a hotbed for the Islamic State (IS) group, which emerged in Afghanistan in late 2015.

The Taliban also have an active presence in parts of the province.

Afghan and US officials have stepped up their attacks on IS, saying the group was steadily losing territory with fighters largely confined to two or three districts in Nangarhar compared to around nine in January.

But the group has also intensified attacks across the country, particularly in the east and in the capital Kabul, recruiting followers and in some places challenging the Taliban on their own turf.

Last month a suicide attack claimed by IS militants hit a political gathering in Kabul, killing 14 people.

Political rivalries have also been intensifying in the country before next year’s long-delayed district and parliamentary elections, which would pave the way for a 2019 presidential ballot.

Afghanistan: At least two security guards killed after two suicide bombers launched a coordinated attack in eastern Nangarhar province — Plus: Afghanistan is the battleground of empires

August 30, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan official says at least two security guards have been killed after two suicide bombers launched a coordinated attack on a lawmaker’s house in eastern Nangarhar province.

Attahullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor, said both suicide bombers detonated suicide vests full of explosive outside of parliamentarian Zahir Qader’s house in Jalalabad, the provincial capital, on Wednesday morning.

One guard was wounded in the attack, said Khogyani.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Nangarhar province is one of the most dangerous regions of Afghanistan, where both the Taliban and Islamic State group affiliates operate. It also borders neighboring Pakistan and has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent years.

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Afghan security guard walks in front of Kabul Bank after suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017.


Afghanistan: The Empire Stopper

Foreign powers have tried to control Afghanistan for three centuries.
It has not gone well for them. Now the U.S. is digging back in.

Suicide bombers storm state TV station in eastern Afghanistan

May 17, 2017


© Noorullah Shirzada, AFP | Afghan security personnel guard a checkpoint on the outskirts of Jalalabad on April 28, 2017.

Latest update : 2017-05-17

Suicide bombers stormed the national television station in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, triggering gunfights and explosions as journalists remained trapped inside the building, officials said.

At least two people were killed and 14 others wounded in the ongoing assault, which underscores the growing dangers faced by media workers in Afghanistan.

No insurgent group has so far claimed responsibility for the raid in Nangarhar province, a hotbed of Islamic State jihadists, where the US military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb last month in an unprecedented attack.

“Four attackers entered the RTA (Radio Television Afghanistan) building this morning. Two blew themselves up and two others are still resisting,” government spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP. He had earlier said there were three attackers.

“At least two civilians have been killed and 14 others wounded so far,” Kohgyani said, with a health worker telling AFP that many of those brought to hospital suffered gunshot wounds.

An RTA photographer said he fled the building as soon as the gunfight erupted, but many of his colleagues were still stuck inside.

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At least 17 wounded taken to main hospital in Jalalabad. 2 wounded in critical conditions, direc health Nin. Photos shared by a friend

Islamic State insurgents are active in Nangarhar province, of which Jalalabad is the capital.

The US military last month dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb — dubbed the “Mother Of All Bombs” — on IS positions in Nangarhar, killing dozens of jihadists.

The bombing triggered global shock waves, with some condemning the use of Afghanistan as what they called a testing ground for the weapon, and against a militant group that is not considered as big a threat as the resurgent Taliban.

According to the US Forces-Afghanistan, defections and recent battlefield losses have reduced the local IS presence from a peak of as many as 3,000 fighters to a maximum of 800.

Deadly country for media

The Pentagon has reportedly asked the White House to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan to break the deadlocked fight against the Taliban.

US troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies, who also mainly serve in an advisory capacity — a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago.

Wednesday’s attack marks the latest militant assault on an Afghan media organisation.

Afghanistan suffered its deadliest year on record for journalists in 2016, according to the Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee (AJSC), adding that the country is the second most dangerous for reporters in the world after Syria.

Soldiers in the Afghan Army capturing a suspected militant after an attack on a TV station in Jalalabad, in Afghanistan, on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Witnesses reported multiple loud explosions and gunfire.Credit Ghulamullah Habibi/European Pressphoto Agency


As least 13 journalists were killed last year, AJSC said, claiming that the Taliban was behind at least ten of the deaths.

In January last year, seven employees of popular TV channel Tolo, which is often critical of the insurgents, were killed in a Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul in what the militant group said was revenge for “spreading propaganda” against them.

It was the first major attack on an Afghan media organisation since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 and spotlighted the dangers faced by journalists as the security situation worsens.

Dan Coats, the head of US intelligence agencies, warned last week that the security situation “will also almost certainly deteriorate through 2018, even with a modest increase in the military assistance by the US”.

US-led forces have been fighting in Afghanistan for almost 16 years, making it America’s longest war.

Afghanistan: President Obama Changes Afghan Strategy, Will Keep 5,500 Troops Past 2016

October 15, 2015

NBC News

President Barack Obama plans to keep 5,500 U.S. troops across Afghanistan into 2017, senior administration officials told NBC News — well more than the small security force he promised last year.

The United States currently has about 9,800 troops in Afghanistan — sharply down from 100,000 that were in the country as recently as 2010. Obama said last year that he wanted to withdraw nearly all of them by the end of 2016, leaving only about 1,000 to provide security for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

The president is expected to make a formal announcement sometime Thursday morning that he plans to maintain 5,500 troops at bases in  into 2017 and the term of his successor, the U.S. officials said Wednesday night.

American Army soldiers at a base in the Khogyani district of Afghanistan in August. Wakil Kohsar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Obama reconsidered after a months-long review of U.S. policy in the region, which has included regular discussions with top Afghan leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani, one of the officials said.

The larger contingent of troops will have the same “limited mission,” the officials said: counterterrorism activities against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, along with training Afghan personnel to make sure Washington has a “capable partner.” They said it would cost $14.6 billion to keep the larger force in the country, while Obama’s original Kabul-only presence would have cost about $10 billion.

Related: Will Taliban Invasion Keep U.S. Boots on the Ground in Afghanistan?

Afghan forces have been battling to retake the northern city of Kunduz from the Taliban since Sept. 28, but the U.S. officials denied that the recent surge of violence drove Obama’s decision, saying the plan has been under consideration for months.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter may have signaled the change in strategy last week when he asked allies in the NATO force in Afghanistan “to remain flexible and to consider the possibility of making adjustments.”

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Army Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said “a lot has happened” since Obama announced his drawdown strategy last year.

“Based on conditions on the ground, I do believe we have to provide senior leaders with options,” Campbell said. He didn’t give any numbers, but before he before he stepped down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last month, Gen. Martin Dempsey had proposed that the United States keep more than 5,000 troops in Afghanistan.

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The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The United States will halt its military withdrawal from Afghanistan and instead keep thousands of troops in the country through the end of President Obama’s term in 2017, Mr. Obama will announce on Thursday, prolonging the American role in a war that has now stretched on for 14 years.

The current American force in Afghanistan of 9,800 troops will remain in place through most of 2016 under the Obama administration’s revised plans, before dropping to about 5,500 at the end of next year or in early 2017, senior administration officials said.

Some of the troops will continue to train and advise Afghan forces, while others will carry on the search for Qaeda fighters and militants from the Islamic State and other groups who have found a haven in Afghanistan, they said.


Iran Backing Taliban With Cash and Arms — Why Is President Obama Working Toward a “Nuclear Deal”?

June 12, 2015


Iran: Shiite Tehran has quietly boosted ties with the Sunni militant group and is now recruiting and training its fighters

Afghan security officials last month escorted suspected Taliban militants after arresting them in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
Afghan security officials last month escorted suspected Taliban militants after arresting them in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. PHOTO: GHULAMULLAH HABIBI/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
The Wall Street Journal

KABUL—When Abdullah, a Taliban commander in central Afghanistan, needs more rifles and ammunition, he turns to the same people who pay his $580-a-month salary: his Iranian sponsors.

“Iran supplies us with whatever we need,” he said.

Afghan and Western officials say Tehran has quietly increased its supply of weapons, ammunition and funding to the Taliban, and is now recruiting and training their fighters, posing a new threat to Afghanistan’s fragile security.


Iran’s strategy in backing the Taliban is twofold, these officials say: countering U.S. influence in the region and providing a counterweight to Islamic State’s move into the Taliban’s territory in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s aggressive military push and thenew momentum toward peace negotiations between them and Kabul also raises the possibility that some of their members could eventually return to power.

“Iran is betting on the re-emergence of the Taliban,” said a Western diplomat. “They are uncertain about where Afghanistan is heading right now, so they are hedging their bets.”

Iranian officials didn’t respond to requests for comment, but Tehran has repeatedly denied providing financial or military aid to the Taliban in conversations with Afghan and Western officials. “Whenever we discussed it, they would deny it,” a former senior Afghan official said.

The developing Iran-Taliban alliance represents a new complication in Mr. Obama’s plans for both the Middle East and the future of Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been working to curb the Taliban’s role ahead of a planned withdrawal of all but 1,000 U.S. troops at the end of his presidency in 2016. At its peak in 2011 there were 100,000 U.S. troops.

The White House-supported international nuclear talks with Iran that are scheduled to finish this month face world-wide criticism for potentially setting up a new regional dynamic in which Tehran, unfettered by punitive economic sanctions and flush with new resources, would be able to pursue an activist agenda through its proxies in and around the Middle East. Tehran’s growing ties to the Taliban is another sign of that, these critics say.

Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Iran’s support to the Taliban could increase if a nuclear deal is signed and Iran wins sanction relief.

“Across the region, Iran is stepping up its support for militants and rebel groups,” Mr. Royce said. “With billions in sanctions relief coming, that support goes into overdrive.”

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Iran’s increased support to the Taliban is a continuation of its aggressive behavior in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. “This is further evidence of the administration’s continued willful disregard for the facts on the ground in light of Iranian aggression in the region,” he said.

U.S. officials declined to comment specifically about closer Iran-Taliban ties, but have said that its diplomacy with Iran doesn’t alter its concerns about Iran’s destabilizing influence in the region. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a recent letter to lawmakers that Iran was the “foremost state sponsor of terrorism.”


The Taliban have long used Pakistani territory as their main recruiting base and headquarters. But Afghan and Western officials say Iran, through its elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, has emerged as an important ally for the Taliban.

What’s more, they say, Tehran is turning to Afghan immigrants within its borders—a tactic it has also used to find new recruits to fight in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

Mr. Abdullah is one of those Iranian-backed Taliban fighters. After being detained for working as an illegal laborer in the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas, Mr. Abdullah said he was approached by an Iranian intelligence officer.

“He asked me how much money I made, and that he would double my salary if I went to work for them in Afghanistan,” he said.

Mr. Abdullah said smugglers hired by Iran ferry supplies across the lawless borderlands where Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan meet and deliver them to Taliban units in Afghan territory. He said his fighters receive weapons that include 82mm mortars, light machine guns, AK-47 rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and materials for making roadside bombs.

Military and intelligence officials see Iran’s support to the Taliban as an alliance of convenience. Historically, relations between Iran, a Shiite theocracy, and the hard-line Sunni Taliban have been fraught. Iran nearly went to war against the Taliban regime in 1998 after 10 of its diplomats were killed when their consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif was overrun.

Iran didn’t oppose the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, and it has since maintained friendly relations with the Western-backed government in Kabul.

But Iran has long been uneasy with the U.S. military presence on its doorstep, and the Revolutionary Guard Corps have been delivering weapons to the Taliban since at least 2007, according to an October 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Iran’s alliance with the Taliban took a new turn in June 2013 when Tehran formally invited a Taliban delegation to participate in a conference on Islam and to meet senior Iranian officials.

By the fall of that year, Afghan security officials said they had clear evidence that Iran was training Taliban fighters within its borders. Tehran now operates at least four Taliban training camps, according to Afghan officials and Mr. Abdullah, the Taliban commander. They are in the Iranian cities of Tehran, Mashhad and Zahedan and in the province of Kerman.

“At the beginning Iran was supporting Taliban financially,” said a senior Afghan official. “But now they are training and equipping them, too.”

The drawdown of U.S. and allied troops has made it easier for Taliban fighters and smugglers to cross the porous border undetected. “In the past, the U.S. had significant surveillance capabilities,” said Sayed Wahid Qattali, an influential politician from the western city Herat, where Iran has long had influence. “But now that the Americans have left, Iran is a lot freer.”

Iran formalized its alliance with the Taliban by allowing the group to open an office in Mashhad, maintaining a presence there since at least the beginning of 2014, a foreign official said. The office has gained so much clout that some foreign officials are now referring to it as the “Mashhad Shura,” a term used to describe the Taliban’s leadership councils.

One of the main points of contact between Tehran and the insurgency is head of the Taliban’s Qatar-based political office, Tayeb Agha, Afghan and foreign officials said. His most recent trip to Iran was in mid-May, the insurgent group said. The Taliban deny they receive support from Iran or any other foreign country, but say they want good relations with Afghanistan’s neighbors.

Iran’s backing of the Taliban has a strategic rationale. Tehran is already battling Islamic State, also known as Daesh, in Syria and Iraq, and it is wary of a new front line emerging close to its eastern border, Afghan officials say.

“Iran seeks to counter Daesh with the Taliban,” said an Afghan security official.

For the Taliban, Islamic State militants represent a threat of a different kind: they are competitors. Since an offshoot of Islamic State announced plans to expand in Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year, the new group has been actively recruiting fighters, many of whom are disaffected Taliban, say residents and Afghan officials.

This has pitted the two rival jihadist groups against each other, with clashes erupting between them in provinces including Helmand in the south, Nangarhar in the east and specifically involving Iran-backed Taliban in Farah, near Iran’s border, Afghan officials say.

Iranian funding gives more options to the militant group, support that is beginning to have an impact on the battlefield.

“If it wasn’t for Iran, I don’t think they would’ve been able to push an offensive like they are doing now,” said Antonio Giustozzi, a Taliban expert who has tracked Iran’s involvement in Afghanistan.

In recent months, security in Afghanistan’s west and north deteriorated sharply compared to last year, as Taliban fighters amassed in large numbers, testing the ability of Afghan troops to hold their ground.

It’s unclear, however, how far Iran will go to promote the Taliban.

“They wouldn’t want the Taliban to become too strong,” said a second foreign official. “They just want to make sure that they have some levers in their hands, because if the Taliban would win, God forbid, then they would lose all their leverage.”

UN: Taliban now a criminal enterprise making profit from extortion, kidnapping, narcotics (opium) and illegal mining operations

June 14, 2014

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The Taliban’s reliance on extortion and kidnappings, along with narcotics and illegal mining operations, is transforming it from a group driven by religious ideology into a criminal enterprise hungry for profit, U.N. sanctions monitors said in a new report.

The latest annual report by the U.N. Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team on the Taliban was distributed to reporters on Friday, a day before Afghans vote in a run-off presidential election.

“In addition to voluntary or forced donations from Afghan businesses outside the country as well as voluntary donations motivated by religious or ideological convictions, the Taliban have established a fairly sophisticated system to generate resources inside the country,” the report said.

“Increasingly Taliban finances also rely on abductions of wealthy businessmen for ransom.”

The report said executing civilians and aid workers helps the Taliban reassert their power, block security improvements and prevent economic development 13 years after it was ousted from power by a U.S. invasion. It also creates new funding sources for the Taliban, hardline Islamists bent on toppling the Afghan government.

“However, these activities increasingly change the character of parts of the movement from a group based on religiously couched ideology to a coalition of increasingly criminalized networks, guided by the profit motive,” the monitors said.

Taliban revenue generation is uneven. In provinces such as Nimroz and Kandahar, the Taliban are financially self-sustaining, while others depend on payments from the central leadership.

In Kandahar, the Taliban raise $7 million to $8 million a month from narcotics, extortion and mining, the report said.



The report includes details on Helmand, which it said is the Taliban’s main province for generating funds. Helmand is the top opium-producing region in Afghanistan, with some 100,000 hectares of land cultivated with poppy in 2013.

In the worst case, it said, Afghan officials expect $50 million yield from this year’s Helmand poppy harvest. Most of Helmand’s poppy farmers can expect to pay 10 percent of their opium production as tax for the Taliban.

Another lucrative Taliban business is illegal marble mining, which the monitors said is the second major revenue source in Helmand.

“The illegal and unlicensed mining sector in the province appears to be several times larger than the legal mining sector,” the report said. “The Team has currently identified from 25 to 30 illegal mining operations in southern Helmand.”

Most of the illegal mines are near the Pakistani border, enabling the illegal miners to quickly smuggle the marble across the frontier and move it onto the international market.

“The Team’s preliminary assessment is that this Taliban revenue stream is significantly larger than $10 million a year,” the monitoring team said about marble mining.

The monitors recommended that the Security Council sanctions committee warn U.N. member states about the Taliban’s use of illegally mined marble for financing.

In Helmand, the Taliban’s “Financial Commission” transfers its funds to the Quetta Shura, a group including the top Taliban leadership, who arrange for the transfer of narcotics to Pakistan for sale.

The money is then transferred back to the Quetta Shura in cash or via “hawala” agents, an informal system based on trust used to transfer money without actually moving any physical currency. The monitors said the Taliban spend 20 percent of the money on fighting the government in Helmand, while the Quetta Shura get 80 percent to redistribute to needier Taliban elsewhere.

The Taliban has been under U.N. sanctions since 1999. The sanctions include an international asset freeze. Many individual members face U.N. travel bans and asset freezes.


(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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Afghanistan opium production hits record despite billions spent to combat trade (NBC News)

Karzai may try to head off the Doha talks between Taliban, U.S.

June 19, 2013
By DAVID RISING and AMIR SHAH     Associated  Press

KABUL, Afghanistan—Hopes dimmed for  talks aimed at ending the Afghan war when an angry President Hamid Karzai on  Wednesday suspended security negotiations with the U.S. and scuttled a peace  delegation to the Taliban, sending American officials scrambling to preserve the  possibility of dialogue with the militants.

What provoked the mercurial Karzai and infuriated many other Afghans was a  move by the Taliban to cast their new office in the Gulf nation of Qatar as a  rival embassy. The Taliban held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday in which they  hoisted their flag and a banner with the name they used while in power more than  a decade ago: “Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

Senior members of the Taliban at the opening of the organisation's office in Doha

Senior members of the Taliban

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Karzai on the phone, telling  him that his concerns were justified and that he would work to resolve the  issue.

An American official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to  disclose the information, said he still expects to have the first public meeting  with Taliban representatives in the next few days in Qatar but that no exact  meeting date has been set.

Nevertheless, the militants’ attempt at a publicity coup clearly played to  Karzai’s longstanding distrust of both the Taliban and the United States, who  had announced Tuesday that they would pursue negotiations in the Qatari capital  of Doha—at least initially without the Afghan government.

Afghan President Karzai listens to a journalists question during a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen after a security handover ceremony at a military academy outside Kabul

President Hamid Karzai (Photo by Reuters)

It may have also given Karzai an excuse to try to head off the Doha talks,  which he probably agreed to support only reluctantly and under U.S. pressure.  Karzai has for years opposed talks outside Afghanistan and dominated or directed  by the U.S. The Taliban, on the other hand, have never really wanted to  negotiate with Karzai, preferring to talk directly with the U.S.

“To have this whole ceremony, televised worldwide, without a single mention  of the Afghan government having a role in whatever process is going to happen  … they (Karzai and his peace delegation) suddenly realized, basically they  weren’t out in front,  they didn’t feature at all,” said Kabul-based analyst  Martine van Bijlert.

In a statement released by his office, Karzai lashed out at the U.S., using  his leverage with Washington by suspending negotiations over what presence the  United States will keep in Afghanistan after 2014. He said his High Peace  Council would not enter talks with the Taliban until the negotiations were  “completely Afghan.”

He also criticized the Taliban and insisted that they halt their attacks on  the ground before negotiations can begin.

But the Taliban appeared in no mood to lay down their arms. They claimed  responsibility for a rocket attack on Bagram Air Base outside Kabul that killed  four American service members late Tuesday.

Five Afghan police officers were also killed Tuesday at a security outpost in  Helmand province by five of their comrades, officials said, the latest in a  string of so-called “insider attacks” that have shaken the confidence of the  nascent Afghan security forces. Local official Mohammad Fahim Mosazai blamed the  killings on Taliban infiltrators.

The parallel statements and events in Afghanistan and Qatar left the Taliban  looking stronger, Karzai appearing shaky and the U.S. doing damage control to  find a political resolution to the war as troops leave.

President Barack Obama told reporters during a visit to Berlin that  “ultimately we’re going to need to see Afghans talking to Afghans.”

Obama said later the U.S. knew that mistrust was rampant between the Taliban  and the Afghan government and had expected “there were going to be some areas of  friction, to put it mildly, in getting this thing off the ground.”

Karzai had said Tuesday that he would send representatives from his High  Peace Council to Qatar for talks with the Taliban, presumably to be held a few  days after talks were held between the Taliban and the Americans.

But aides said he changed his mind after objecting to the way the Taliban  announcement was handled.

Shafiullah Nooristani, a member of the High Peace Council, told the AP that  the reference to “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” violated agreements that  Karzai’s government had made with the U.S. and caused diplomatic issues for  Afghanistan.

“The agreement was that the office should open only—and only—for  negotiations, not as a political entity like a parallel institution to the  Afghan Embassy which is already there,” Nooristani said.

In his phone conversations with Karzai on Tuesday night and Wednesday, Kerry  reiterated that the U.S. does not recognize the name “Islamic Emirate of  Afghanistan,” according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“The office must not be treated as or represent itself as an embassy or other  office representing the Afghan Taliban as an emirate, government or sovereign,”  Psaki said.

“We were disappointed by the rollout on the ground, of course,” Psaki said.  “It was inconsistent with what we all believed the rollout would be.”

In an attempt at damage control, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said late Wednesday  that the Taliban had violated an agreement to call the office the “Political  Bureau of the Taliban Afghan in Doha.”

Psaki said Qatar has had the sign with the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”  name taken down.

Karzai does not always enjoy broad political support among Afghanistan’s  power brokers, but after seeing the Taliban open its new Doha office under its  formal name and flag, many lined up behind him.

The Taliban gesture “is absolutely undermining the sovereignty of the country  and its elected government,”  said Abdul Sattar Murad, a member of the powerful  Jamiat-e Islami faction, whose leader, former Afghan President Burhanuddin  Rabbani, was slain by a suicide bomber claiming to carry a Taliban peace message  in 2011.

Murad said the hope among lawmakers was that Washington would also step in.

“It is now for the U.S. to find a way out of this,” he told the AP. “I myself  cannot say anything other than that the flag should be brought down and it  should not be seen as a political representation of the so-called Islamic  Emirate.”

In his eight years as president, Karzai has often had rocky relations with  his U.S. allies and has upset the Americans by questioning their motives. In  June 2011, for example, he likened the Americans to occupiers, saying they were  not in Afghanistan to help Afghans but “for their own purposes, for their own  goals.”

Some of Karzai’s anti-American rhetoric in the past has appeared aimed at  gaining political favor at home and staving off accusations he is a U.S. puppet,  but in this case he does not appear to be posturing, said van Bijlert, who is  with the Afghanistan Analyst Network.

“The opening of the office changed the place in the world of the Taliban,”  said van Bijlert. “It made them much more easily acceptable, it raised their  profile, it makes them look respectable. And I think that just angered the  Afghan government, that they had to take a backseat.”

The Taliban ceremony also upstaged Tuesday’s formal handover of all security  operations in Afghanistan from U.S.-led forces to the Afghan army and police.

The international force is to be cut in half by the end of the year, and by  the end of 2014 all combat troops are to leave and be replaced—contingent on  Afghan governmental approval—by a smaller force that would be on hand for  training and advising.

The U.S. has not yet said how many troops will remain in Afghanistan, but it  is thought that it would be a force made up of about 9,000 Americans and 6,000  allies.

Shukria Barakzai, an independent member of parliament from Kabul, criticized  Karzai’s move to suspend negotiations with the U.S. on the security agreement,  saying “we want to see our partners staying with us.”

But she also questioned why the Taliban were able to open a political office  in Qatar under their old flag.

“It’s not really acceptable for the people of Afghanistan,” she said.

The Taliban have for years refused to speak to the Afghan government or the  Peace Council, set up by Karzai three years ago, because they considered them to  be American puppets. Taliban representatives have instead talked to American and  other Western officials in Doha and other places, mostly in Europe.

In setting up the office, the Taliban said they were willing to use all legal  means to end what they called the occupation of Afghanistan—but did not say they  would immediately stop fighting. They also did not specifically mention talks  with Karzai or his representatives.

Despite all of the developments, the High Peace Council’s Nooristan held out  hope talks would eventually still be possible.

“We are working to solve these contradictions and fix these problems and act  based on the agreements we had before, so the High Peace Council can go there  and start the peace talks,” he said.


Associated Press writers Kay Johnson and Ahmad Seir in Kabul and Deb  Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.

Afghanistan’s Karzai Backs Away From U.S. Talks With Taliban

June 19, 2013

KABUL, Afghanistan     (AP) — Afghanistan’s president said Wednesday he will not pursue peace talks with the Taliban unless the United States steps out of the negotiations, while also insisting the militant group stop its violent attacks on the ground after it claimed responsibility for a rocket attack that killed four Americans.

Hamid Karzai’s strong response and the Taliban attack deflated hopes for long-stalled talks aimed at ending nearly 12 years of war in Afghanistan, just a day after the United States and the Taliban said they would begin initial meetings in Qatar.

Karzai had said Tuesday that he would send representatives from his High Peace Council to Qatar for talks but aides said he changed his mind after objecting to the way the announcement was handled, in particular the Taliban’s use of its formal name “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” in opening an office in Doha.

Hamid Karzai

Shafiullah Nooristani, a member of the High Peace Council, told The Associated Press that the use of the name violated agreements Karzai’s government had made with the U.S. and caused diplomatic issues for Afghanistan.

“The agreement was that the office should open only – and only – for negotiations, not as a political entity like a parallel institution to the Afghan Embassy which is already there,” Nooristan said.

Karzai also suspended talks with on a new U.S.-Afghan security deal that would allow some American troops to remain in the country after the international combat mission ends in 2014 to protest the fact that his government was being left out of the initial process.

The twin statements came despite an olive branch from Barack Obama to Karzai, with the U.S. president telling reporters during a visit to Berlin that “ultimately we’re going to need to see Afghans talking to Afghans.”

Obama said later the U.S. had anticipated “there were going to be some areas of friction, to put it mildly, in getting this thing off the ground. That’s not surprising. They’ve been fighting there for a long time” and mistrust is rampant. Obama said it was important to pursue a parallel track toward reconciliation even as the fighting continues, and it would up to the Afghan people whether that effort ultimately bears fruit.

Violence also cast a pall over the talks, with the Taliban claiming responsibility for a rocket attack on the Bagram Air Base that killed four American soldiers.

Read the rest:

Afghan police carry an injured Taliban fighter, who was captured after an overnight clash with Afghan police in Jalalabad, in the eastern province of Nangrahar, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Provincial police chief Masoon Khan Hashimi said his officers ambushed Taliban insurgents outside a village in the Surkh Rod district, killing several and capturing two. (AP Photo/Nisar Ahmad)

Afghan police carry an injured Taliban fighter, who was captured after an overnight clash with Afghan police in Jalalabad, in the eastern province of Nangrahar, east of Kabul,  Afghanistan, Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Provincial police chief Masoon Khan Hashimi said his officers ambushed Taliban insurgents outside a village in the Surkh Rod district, killing several and capturing two. (AP Photo/Nisar Ahmad)

On his last visit to the U.S. Mr. Karzai did not look happy.

President Barack Obama listens as Afgan President Hamid Karzai speaks during their joint news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

On Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, President Karzai of Afghanistan, Mr. Putin in Russia and Xi Jinping in China all got an obvious telegram from Barack Obama: The United States is mostly interested in healthcare, taxes, and social projects for the next four years. Do not be worried about American Military intervention. That era is over. At least for now.


“This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”

— Barack Obama

to Dmitry Medvedev, March 26, 2012