Posts Tagged ‘Taliban’

Kabul: Explosion rocks Afghan capital near political gathering, seven dead

November 16, 2017
Weapons seized by the local government in Bala Bolok district of Farah Province in early October

Weapons seized by the local government in Bala Bolok district of Farah Province in early October

KABUL (Reuters) – At least seven people were killed and many wounded in a suicide bomb blast that in the Afghan capital on Thursday near a gathering of supporters of regional leader Atta Mohammad Noor, according to the interior ministry.

Noor is the governor of the northern province of Balkh and a leader of the mainly ethnic Tajik Jamiat-i-Islami party.

The explosion was the latest in a wave of violence in Afghanistan that has killed and wounded thousands of civilians this year.

Political tensions are up as politicians have begun jockeying for position ahead of presidential elections expected in 2019.

A spokesman for the interior ministry said the suicide bomber approached a hotel hosting the gathering in the Khair Khana district of Kabul, on foot. The dead included five policemen and two civilians, and many more were wounded.

President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday sacked the chairman of the Independent Election Commission, raising doubts over whether parliamentary and council ballots scheduled for next year will take place as planned.

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel


Afghan opium output soars as cultivation hits record high

November 15, 2017


© AFP/File / by Usman SHARIFI | Opium production in Afghanistan has soared to record levels according to the latest survey

KABUL (AFP) – Afghan opium producers have had a bumper year with output soaring 87 percent as the area under poppy cultivation hit a record high, the latest annual survey said Wednesday.

The price of opium as it left farms in war-torn Afghanistan this year soared by 55 percent to almost $1.4 billion, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said, helping to fuel the bloody insurgency.

Rising insecurity, lack of government control and corruption were among the key drivers along with unemployment and lack of education, according to the Afghanistan Opium Survey, jointly compiled by the UNODC and Afghanistan’s counter-narcotics ministry.

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Potential opium production from this year’s harvest is estimated at 9,000 tons, up 87 percent from the 4,800 tons produced last year, boosted by increased cultivation and better yields.

Over the same period the area under poppy cultivation expanded by 63 percent to a record 328,000 hectares (810,500 acres) — topping the previous record of 224,000 hectares in 2014 — with the number of poppy-growing provinces jumping to 24.

Only 10 Afghan provinces are now considered poppy free.

“The significant levels of opium poppy cultivation and illicit trafficking of opiates will probably further fuel instability, insurgency and increase funding to terrorist groups in Afghanistan,” the report warned.

“More high quality, low cost heroin will reach consumer markets across the world, with increased consumption and related harms as a likely consequence.”

Strong increases in cultivation were recorded in almost all major poppy producing provinces, with restive Helmand in the south seeing the biggest rise of 79 percent.

Around 60 percent of the opium poppy cultivation took place in the southern provinces where the Taliban has a strong presence and virtually no eradication took place.

Helmand remained the top poppy-cultivating province, accounting for 44 percent of the total, followed by Kandahar, Badghis, Faryab, Uruzgan and Nangarhar — all hotbeds for Taliban or Islamic State activity.

Poppy eradication nearly doubled to 750 hectares in 14 provinces, compared with 355 hectares in seven provinces the previous year.

Yet those efforts were dwarfed by the sheer increase in cultivation.

International donors have spent billions of dollars on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan over the past decade, including efforts to encourage farmers to switch to other cash crops such as saffron. But those efforts have shown little results.

Addiction levels have also risen sharply — from almost nothing under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime — giving rise to a new generation of addicts since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

by Usman SHARIFI

Deaths By Terrorism Down Globally But Up in Europe

November 15, 2017

Even as terrorism-related deaths drop dramatically in some parts of the world, fatalities in OECD countries have reached a 16-year high. Research Director of the Global Terrorism Index Daniel Hyslop tells DW why.

Trucks as terror weapons: 12 people died in an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin in 2016 (picture-alliance/rtn-radio tele nord rtn/P. Wuest)
  • The study by the Institute for Economics and Peace shows terrorism fell significantly in the worst-affected countries  Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria — bringing down global casualty figures.
  • The report went on to call 2016 a “turning point” in the fight against radical Islamist extremism.
  • The so-called Islamic State was the “main driver” for a rise in deaths in Europe and other developed countries. The group was linked to 75 percent of deaths from terrorism in OECD nations since 2014.
  • The rise in European deaths coincides with a tactical shift towards simpler and cheaper methods of attack.

Daniel Hyslop, Research Director at the Institute for Economics and Peace, talks to DW about global changes in terrorism-related deaths.

DW: What was unique about this year’s study?

Daniel Hyslop: The main report finding that was unique was the fact that the number of terrorist deaths actually decreased by 22 percent globally in 2016 compared to the peak of 2014. So it’s a positive story.

Four of the five countries that are most impacted by terrorist activity have actually seen a notable decrease in the number of deaths that they’ve experienced. That’s really a turning point in the fight against terrorism.

Which countries have seen a significant decrease in terms of terror deaths and which ones a significant increase?

Thecountry that saw the largest decreases was Nigeria, largely because of the Multinational Joint Task Force — the coalition of countries that are fighting Boko Haram — which led to an 80 percent decrease in the number of deaths that the groups committed. Maybe about 3,000 fewer people were killed last year from the group’s actions.

The other thing is Boko Haram split into three groups and it’s no longer the coherent group that it was a couple of years ago. It’s a big improvement in Nigeria and a big part of the story.

Read more – AFRICOM: ‘Terrorist groups’ remain a challenge across Africa

Daniel Hyslop, Research Director at the Institute for Economics and Peace (Institute for Economic Peace)


Daniel Hyslop: ’80 percent fewer terror victims in Nigeria’

There has also been an improvement in Yemen and Afghanistan, as well as Syria and Niger, which is connected to the improvement in Nigeria. The improvement in Yemen is really because of the sporadic peace talks that have occurred. There has been less use of terror tactics by Houthi rebels. Afghanistan was seeing sort of a perverse trend where the number of conventional battle deaths by the Taliban, the most deadly group in Afghanistan, has actually increased. But the use of terror tactics has actually decreased, so there’s a different trend going on there.

In Syria, we have seen a decrease in the level of terrorism from”Islamic State” (IS). The worst groups really tried to hold on to territory in the country and spent all of its resources on conventional battlefield situation.

Your numbers show that terrorism deaths are down by 22 percent compared to 2014. But we see terrorist attacks in the news every day. How do you explain that?

In Europe, I think one of the concerning trends is that in 2016 we saw the highest number of terrorist deaths in the OECD member countries, which include most of Europe, the US, Australia and Canada. And that number was the highest number since 1988. I think that’s largely the reason why at least in Europe we have the perception of there being perhaps more terrorism than before.

Read more – Cities struggle for security in light of terrorist attacks

Which countries had the most surprising outcomes?

Nigeria soldiers at a checkpoint in Gwoza (picture-alliance/AP Photo/L. Oyekanmi)Regional cooperation has helped combat Boko Haram, which used to be the deadliest terror organisation in the world

I think the most surprising outcome was Nigeria. The fact that it’s going down by about 80 percent, that is a dramatic improvement. You have to remember only two years ago Boko Haram was the deadliest terrorist group in the world. We’ve now seen the group significantly hollowed out, split into three parts. It’s also an example of cooperation between those countries in the region to fight against terrorism. And that just shows that these regional coalitions can be very impactful in terms of dealing with their own security challenges.

Has there been a change in how terrorist attacks have been carried out?

In the places where the majority of terrorism happens, which, of course, is in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Nigeria, there hasn’t been a dramatic change. However, in Europe there has been. What we have seen is a shift towards much simpler tactics, involving a lot less planning and a lot less people, for instance the use of trucks which Islamic State actually called for back in 2016. That has been a particularly disturbing trend. It has been effective and it’s been used several times already. It’s really in response to the fact that a lot of the really complex attacks are much easier to foil by the security services.

Does that mean that security measures and secret services are working more effectively?

If you look at the proportion of terrorist attacks foiled in OECD member countries, it has gone from about 19 percent of attacks being foiled in 2015 to about 34 percent of attacks on average being foiled in 2016.

What we have seen in the first half of 2017 is actually fewer deaths than at the same time 2016. It is not a uniform trend across all European countries but certainly in Germany, for instance, there have been no successful attacks in 2017. There have been several foiled attacks, but no success.

Read more – EU introduces new measures to combat ‘low-tech’ terrorism

Read more – Preventing terrorism: What powers do German security forces have?

I think one thing that we touched on the report is the fact that whilst Islamic State, the most devastating group, has almost been militarily defeated in Iraq, in Syria, it’s very hard to defeat the ideology that has given rise to the extreme violence that the group is being based on. I think that is the concerning trend going whether or not there is the potential for more violent permutations of IS to emerge. That is why we really think that what is important to address terrorism in the long run, especially in Iraq and Syria, is to develop more inclusive post-conflict settlements that include the disenfranchised groups like the Sunni groups to ensure that there is a long-term peace.

A lot of our work is based on positive peace, so on a concept of building up the attitudes, institutions and structures that sustain peaceful societies. That’s really where we need to focus rather than on the short-term counterterrorism.

Daniel Hyslop is the Research Director at the Institute for Economics and Peace. He has led consulting work with a range of intergovernmental organizations and think tanks including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Hyslop holds a Masters of Economics from Sydney University.

The interview was conducted by Nastassja Shtrauchler and edited for clarity.

Dozens of Afghan security forces killed in Taliban raids

November 14, 2017


© AFP | Afghan security forces have faced soaring casualties in their attempts to hold back the insurgents since NATO combat forces pulled out of the country at the end of 2014

KABUL (AFP) – Dozens of Afghan police and soldiers have been killed in a wave of Taliban attacks on checkpoints in Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday, as insurgents step up assaults on the beleaguered security forces.

The raids in the southern province of Kandahar and the western province of Farah on Monday night came hours after a suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a US military convoy, wounding four soldiers.

The Taliban issued statements on their social media accounts claiming the attacks.

“I can confirm that last night the Taliban launched a wave of attacks on police checkpoints in Maiwand and Zhari districts and we lost 22 brave policemen,” Kandahar governor spokesman Qudrat Khushbakht told AFP.

He added that 45 militants were killed during the fighting that lasted around six hours.

In one of the attacks militants used an explosives-packed police pickup to ambush a checkpoint, Kandahar police spokesman Matiullah Helal told AFP.

At least 15 policemen were wounded in the coordinated assaults.

The attack on the US military convoy in Kandahar added to the casualty toll.

“There were a total of four US service members injured and all are in stable condition in US medical treatment facilities,” a spokesman for NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan said, adding there were no fatalities.

Farah governor spokesman Naser Mehri told AFP nine Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in two separate attacks in the province bordering Iran that also claimed the lives of at least three civilians.

“There are signs the Taliban may have used night vision technology to approach and surprise our forces, though they were spotted before reaching the posts and suffered casualties,” Mehri said.

The Taliban have intensified attacks on security installations across the country in recent weeks in a show of strength as the United States deploys more troops to train and assist Afghan forces.

Analysts said the Taliban’s almost daily attacks are intended to show their ability to strike even heavily defended targets with the aim of further demoralising Afghan forces already beset by huge casualties and desertions.

The Taliban often use bomb-laden armoured Humvees and police vehicles stolen from Afghan security forces to blast their way into security compounds.

The tactic was used multiple times last month with devastating effect: hundreds were killed and wounded over a bloody few days that left military bases and police headquarters destroyed or severely damaged.

Afghan security forces have faced soaring casualties in their attempts to hold back the insurgents since NATO combat forces pulled out of the country at the end of 2014.

Casualties leapt by 35 percent in 2016, with 6,800 soldiers and police killed, according to US watchdog SIGAR.

The insurgents have carried out more complex attacks against security forces in 2017, with SIGAR describing troop casualties in the early part of the year as “shockingly high”.

In August, Trump announced that American forces would stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, increasing attacks on militants and deploying more troops.


Pakistan’s Afghan problem — Afghanistan unable to sustain itself — Pak-US relations worsen with every drone strike

November 8, 2017

By Dr. Qaisar Rashid

The US cannot push Pakistan to ‘do more’ beyond a certain extent if it wants to maintain cordial relations

India and Afghanistan are the two major beneficiaries of the mounting trust deficit between Pakistan and the US. There was time when Pakistan enjoyed American nearness, the facility is available no more.

Pakistan might have been successful in securing a guarantee from the US for not extending any role to India in Afghanistan other than economic, but Pakistan is overlooking the fact that, in the post-2001 phase, it was India’s economic investment in Afghanistan’s reconstruction contributing to the India-Afghanistan and India-US bonhomie. Moreover, in his recent visit to New Delhi, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that Afghanistan would not be part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) unless Pakistan provided trade access to India as well.

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The Afghan President raucously demanded access of Afghanistan to India through Pakistan. He also gave an ultimatum that Afghanistan would not offer Pakistan access to Central Asia in addition to accusing Pakistan for providing sanctuaries, logistics, training and ideological basis to those attaching Kabul. On the other hand, he welcomed the new role of India in Afghanistan and a conditions-based approach of the US in the region. The Afghan president’s speech tells two things. First, Pakistan has failed to entice Kabul. Second, Afghanistan values its relations with India.

Pakistan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Khawaja Asif thinks that the time has come to make the US fix the allegation of its failure in Afghanistan not solely on Pakistan as it is also the failure of their strategy there being made by its army generals. Asif does not know that it is still premature to say if the US was looking for scapegoats or not as the failure or success was not the point of discussion. As per the bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the US, the latter is allowed to operate and stay in Afghanistan till 2024. In fact, Afghanistan is a multilateral reality. Afghanistan has not developed its physical infrastructure to the point it can sustain itself independent of any external factor.

Pakistan seems to have been looking at Afghanistan through its archaic ethnic glasses and not any political criteria. From the perspective of Kabul, there are two immediate objectives. First, to develop infrastructure, the area where India is helping Afghanistan. Second, to suppress the Taliban insurgency dissuading it to taking over Kabul, the area where the US is helping Afghanistan. Within this context, Pakistan is considered to be frustrating both these objectives.

The present situation in Afghanistan has developed over the years. In his speech on February 26, 1999, former US President Bill Clinton hinted at the threat coming primarily from amorphous dangers, the term reified subsequently into non-state actors. Clinton remained instrumental in squashing the amorphous danger spawning in Afghanistan, but he avoided sending his troops to crush the menace. From 1996 to 2001, al-Qaeda thrived there under the Taliban regime and the US was in the know of its presence.


At that time, attacks on US outposts in various parts of the world were the reflection of al-Qaeda’s global reach with Afghanistan as its operational centre. The remoteness and sovereignty of Afghanistan must be the two reasons for the hesitation exercised by the US to intervene initially. George W. Bush who was the US President during the September 11, 2001 attacks got infuriated at the audacity of al-Qaeda operatives to attack US mainland. It was already known to US policy makers that there existed a strong ethno-political link between the Taliban reigning over Kabul and Pakistan.

What saved the Pakistan’s skin was that it had been an active ally of the US since the 1950s. The war on terror broke out but Pakistan was given a status of respect by the Bush administration. Former US President Barack Obama had to violate this leverage and announce his AfPak strategy (not policy) in March 2009 to dwarf the regional size of Pakistan and to equate it with Afghanistan.

The strategy included Pakistan’s tribal areas into Afghanistan for operational purposes. At the operational level, the US preferred not to drop his soldiers on the ground but the US did sniff out more al-Qaeda operatives and their Taliban supporters from the tribal area of Pakistan. As always has been the case, war helps create new technology. Missile-laden drones are the biggest achievement, which has helped the US forces not only to keep their body count low but also to eradicate al-Qaeda operatives.

During the Bush regime, the US remained focused on the al-Qaeda in the tribal area of Pakistan; however, during the Obama era, the focus turned towards the Taliban operatives (i.e. Afghan Talibans) active in the tribal area to disrupt the Kabul regime. With the elimination of al-Qaeda, the US might have felt itself safe and this was one of the reasons for departure of its forces from Afghanistan in 2014. However, the next challenge is how to sustain the Kabul regime against the onslaught from the Afghan Taliban. To meet this objective all help is extended to Kabul to withstand the terrorist threat posed by the Afghan Taliban.

The arrival of US President Donald Trump not only increased the level of disrespect for Pakistan but also the level of threat. The Trump regime has shown signs of abandoning Pakistan in case it does not help stabilize the Kabul regime by eliminating the Afghan Taliban surviving somehow under its umbrella.

This is the latest tug of war between Pakistan and the US. Presently, the US is reminding Pakistan of the billion dollars Pakistan received and consumed in the name of its national security. In his meeting with Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi assured the US delegation that Pakistan was not sabotaging the war on terror nor had Pakistan abandoned it.

Pakistan provided a list to the US delegation containing names of the operatives and hideouts of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in Afghanistan. The US might take it as a counter-offensive to its claims of paying Pakistan billions of dollars to augment Pakistan’s defence. The soothing aspect is that Pakistan has agreed to help Afghanistan experience a peaceful political settlement of its internal matters including a dialogue between certain groups of the Taliban and the Kabul regime.

In fact, it is the protraction of the conflict in Afghanistan taking its toll on Pak-US relations. Before Rex Tillerson’s visit, Pakistan showed its weakness by taking cover behind the presence of millions of Afghan refugees on its soil offering a sanctuary to those attacking Kabul.

Nevertheless, one thing is getting clear that the definition of safe heavens might be different for the US from what is being understood by Pakistan. The US is focusing on Afghan refugee camps as a supply depot of militants attacking Kabul, whereas Pakistan looks at Afghan refugees on humanitarian grounds and hence has shown its inability to take any action against them.

Apparently, it seems that the patience of the US is running out. Trump wants action either by Pakistan or by US forces including missile-laden drones. The base line is this: any attempt by the US to hit an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan will spell disaster for Pak-US relations.

War with India not an option, says Pakistan PM

November 7, 2017
PTI | Updated: Nov 6, 2017, 20:20 IST


  • Kashmir is the core issue with India and until that is resolved, India-Pak relations will remain tense, Abbasi said.
  • He also dismissed any support for an independent Kashmir.
  • Abbasi’s key message was that the world must acknowledge Pakistan as the country fighting “the largest war on terror in the world”.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. (Reuters File Photo)

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. (Reuters File Photo)

LONDON: Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has said that war is not an option with India and that only talks can resolve all outstanding issues including Kashmir.

Addressing a conference on ‘Future of Pakistan 2017’ at the London School of Economics‘ South Asia Centre here on Saturday, Abbasi described Kashmir as a “core issue” and said relations with India will remain tense until that is resolved.

“Kashmir is the core issue with India. Until that is resolved, Pakistan-India relations will remain tense. We are always open to talks at any level and talks are the way forward. War is not an option,” Abbasi said.

Highlighting India’s Cold Start Doctrine among recent developments, Abbasi said Pakistan had a “deterrent” in place.

“We have a deterrent to that (Cold Start Doctrine) but I don’t think deterrents where both sides are nuclear powers is a solution to any problem. The only solution is continued talks,” the Pakistani leader noted.

He, however, expressed little hope of any significant movement with talks between the countries as both are prepared for elections – Pakistan next year and India the year after.

“Any expectation of a great initiative is probably misplaced,” Abbasi said.

He also dismissed any support for an independent Kashmir on the ground, while addressing questions from students at the LSE conference on Saturday.

“I have not seen support for that concept (independent Kashmir). This is something that is floated often but it really has no basis in reality. The solution lies with the Security Council resolution that the people are given the right of determination,” he said.

Abbasi, who took charge of the Pakistani government in August following the disqualification of the Nawaz Sharif led PML(N) government by the country’s Supreme Court, said that while there was “never a dull moment in Pakistan’s political life”, the country has achieved a level of stability despite the challenges that remain.

The central message of his keynote address at the conference was that the world must acknowledge Pakistan as the country fighting “the largest war on terror in the world”.

“Pakistan is fighting terror for the world and we are committed to fighting this menace,” he asserted.
Giving a snapshot of the country’s foreign policy and relations with global powers, Abbasi claimed that there was a greater understanding of Pakistan’s role in the war on terror in the US and that Pakistan-US ties must not be seen only through the prism of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: Gunmen storm Kabul TV station in ongoing attack

November 7, 2017


© AFP / by Shah MARAI | Afghan security personnel gather at the site of an ongoing attack on a television station in Kabul

KABUL (AFP) – Gunmen stormed a television station in Kabul on Tuesday killing at least one person in an ongoing attack, officials said, in the latest deadly assault targeting Afghan journalists.

The militants were firing rocket propelled grenades at heavily armed security forces surrounding Shamshad TV, an AFP photographer said, as some staff remained trapped inside the building.

Security forces were trying to blast their way through a wall of the compound in order to enter the Pashto-language broadcaster, which had gone off the air and was transmitting only a holding image.

“I saw three attackers on security cameras entering the TV station building. They first shot the guard and then entered the building. They started throwing grenades and firing,” Shamshad TV reporter Faisal Zaland, who escaped through a back door, told AFP.

“Many of my colleagues are still in the building,” he added.

An AFP photographer saw security forces helping two employees escape the compound.

Gunshots could be heard inside the building every few minutes as more and more security forces swarmed the area.

“A group of armed men have entered the building and security forces are fighting them,” Kabul police spokesman Basir Mujahid told AFP.

“The security forces have been able to rescue a large number of Shamshad TV staff. Initial information on casualties shows at least one guard has lost his life.”

Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said as many as three attackers were involved in the assault.

“The security forces have been able to bring one down and the operation is ongoing,” Danish told AFP, adding that “most” staff have been rescued.

– Taliban not involved –

There was no immediate claim of responsibility in the attack, but in a Twitter statement the Taliban swiftly denied it was involved.

Kabul has been rocked by a series of deadly attacks in recent weeks as the Taliban and Islamic State insurgents step up offensives against security installations and mosques.

Violence against Afghan journalists surged in the first half of 2017, a media watchdog said in July.

Last year the country suffered its deadliest year on record for journalists, according to AJSC, with at least 13 media workers killed — 10 by the Taliban. That made it the second most dangerous place for reporters in the world after Syria.

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 media workers in Afghanistan as the security situation worsens.

Security in Kabul has been ramped up since a May 31 truck bomb exploded on the edge of the so-called “Green Zone”, killing around 150 people and wounding 400 others.

That attack also caused extensive damage to 1TV, a private news channel located close to the bombing site. In an act of defiance, the news channel managed to resume operations within a few hours.

Special truck scanners, barriers and permanent and mobile checkpoints have been rolled out across the city since the May bombing.

But a suicide bomber struck again in Kabul’s heavily fortified diplomatic quarter last week, killing at least five people, showing that militants can still hit the heart of the city despite tighter security.

by Shah MARAI

Shamshad TV Station Comes Under Attack In Kabul

Gunmen stormed Shamshad TV station after detonating explosives at the gate – leaving at least one person dead.


A Shamshad TV employee has told TOLOnews that attackers entered their compound after detonating explosives at their compound gate. 

At least one person is believed to have been killed and about 20 wounded.

The attack started at about 10:45 am on Tuesday morning when a suicide bomber reportedly detonated his explosives at the entrance gate.

Two or three gunmen then stormed the building.

The ministry of interior’s spokesman Najib Danish told TOLOnews that security forces are working to clear the compound of insurgents and Crisis Response Unit members were searching nearby houses.

An Olympic Committee source said their building is behind Shamshad TV and that they were able to rescue about 25 Shamshad TV staff members.

The Taliban has denied any involvement in the attack.

The Fence Driving a Wedge Between Pakistan and Afghanistan

November 2, 2017


By Ismail Dilawar  and Kamran Haider

  • Border smuggling dwarves official trading between neighbors
  • Pakistan has only fenced 43 kilometers of large pourous border

On the upper deck of the Hamza Fort border check-point in Pakistan’s South Waziristan, Major General Nauman Zakaria points to a 12-foot high fence just yards away — the latest initiative the military says will stem insurgent attacks across a more than 1,000 mile disputed border with Afghanistan.

“There won’t be an inch of international border that shall not remain under our observation,” said Zakaria, who has served in counter-insurgency operations in restive border regions of south and north Waziristan.

At an estimated cost of more than $532 million, Pakistan has started fencing the 2,344-kilometer (1,456 miles) border with war-torn Afghanistan, the latest measure that’s driving a wedge between the fractious neighbors who have accused each other of harboring insurgents launching cross-border attacks.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has condemned Pakistan for instigating an “undeclared war of aggression” against his nation. While only 43 kilometers has so far been fenced since May, Ghani’s administration has repeatedly denounced and threatened armed confrontation over its construction across the disputed Durand Line, which divided the largely ethnic Pashtun communities in the region during British colonial rule.

Despite the objections, Pakistan is proceeding with its plan as Islamabad faces increased U.S. pressure to act against terrorists. President Donald Trump in August strongly denounced the nation’s alleged duplicity. He said the nuclear-armed Islamic Republic continues to harbor militant groups, such as the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, which have attacked American-backed forces in Afghanistan.

After visiting Islamabad during a tour of South Asia last month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was concerned terror groups are undermining political stability in Pakistan and called on leaders there to join in eradicating fighters that seek safe haven within its borders.

Feasibility Questioned

Pakistan’s military expects to complete construction of the chain-linked and barbed-wire topped fence across the South Waziristan portion by December 2018. No timeline has been given for completion of the entire length of the border and there are questions over whether the plan is logistically feasible along the porous and often mountainous terrain.

There are 235 crossing points, some frequently used by militants and drug traffickers, of which 18 can be accessed by vehicles, according to a report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network research group last month.

A soldier stands by a new border fence in Pakistan’s South Waziristan.

Photographer: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban are used to moving with ease between the two countries in the often lawless border lands and are usually waved through by Pakistan security forces, according to the AAN, citing conversations with multiple current and former Taliban fighters, doctors and Afghans living in the region. Pakistan’s military has long denied supporting militant groups, including the Taliban.

While there has been some tightening of security since, the AAN said more than 2,000 Taliban commanders traveled to the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta in July 2015 to witness Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s ascension to the group’s leadership, before his death last year when he was killed in Pakistan by a U.S. drone strike.

“It was like a free highway,” Asad Munir, a retired brigadier who served in Waziristan and other border regions, said about one of the crossing points in Birmal. Militants won’t sit idle and will find alternative routes to sneak across the fenced border, he said.

Officials from Afghanistan’s foreign ministry didn’t respond to calls seeking comment, though in April the ministry’s spokesman, Ahmad Shekib Mostaghni, said “any type of unilateral actions” along the Durand Line will be “ineffective, impractical and impossible” without Afghanistan’s agreement. The country will use its security forces to stop the fencing if diplomacy fails, he said.

Nafees Zakaria, a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry, said in a text message that the border fortification was being misconstrued by Afghanistan and is “instrumental in curtailing cross-border movement of terrorists and other undesired elements, smuggling of drugs, weapons and other goods.”

Opiate Trade

The fencing may reduce rampant smuggling which is valued at $3 billion by the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce & Industry — more than double the size of official trade between the two nations. Pakistan’s central bank recorded the bilateral trade at $1.2 billion in the financial year ended June.

The barrier is also aimed at reducing the drug trade across the border, which fund the Taliban’s operations in Afghanistan. About 40 percent of the opiates produced in the war-torn country are used in and transit through Pakistan, according to the United Nation’s. The UN estimates that Afghanistan’s opium poppy production grew by 700 tons to 4,800 tons in the decade ended 2016.

“Pakistan is one of the biggest transit routes for the smuggling of drugs from Afghanistan,” said Syed Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, a retired colonel who is a member of Pakistan’s Senate committee on narcotics control. Pakistan’s anti-narcotics force “is trying its best to control it, but lacks power to keep the whole border sealed.”

— With assistance by Eltaf Najafizada


Mattis, Tillerson ask Congress for authorization of military force without end date

November 1, 2017
“We must recognize that we are in an era of frequent skirmishing, and we are more likely to end this fight sooner If we don’t tell our adversary the day we intend to stop fighting,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday.
By James LaPorta  |  Updated Oct. 31, 2017 at 3:46 PM

Secretary of Defense James Mattis (left) and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testify during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on “The Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Administration Perspective” on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on October 30, 2017. Photo by Erin Schaff/UPI

License Photo

Oct. 31 (UPI) — As the 16-year debate rages on Capitol Hill over the legal authority sending the U.S. military to combat, a new bipartisan bill proposes a new legal authority to replace active authorities that date back to President George W. Bush‘s administration.

On Monday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cemented the White House’s reliance on a pair of 15-year-old authorizations for military force as the legal cornerstone permitting the executive branch to stage counter-terrorism operations.

A new authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, has been proposed by Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and is being considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The new AUMF would seek to replace two previous ones, the 2001 AUMF signed seven days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States and the 2002 AUMF authorizing the invasion of Iraq. The two AUMFs, in addition to Article II of the U.S. Constitution, are seen by the Trump administration as legally authorizing the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said their new AUMF would sunset after five years and require the administration to notify Congress if it sends troops to new areas of operation not listed in it.

“I think they’ve done a pretty good job in laying that out,” Corker said of Kaine and Flake’s AUMF proposal. “Members are going to want to express themselves, and Sen. Cardin and I are two members that are going to want to do that also. Again, I think that the only area to me that left somewhat of a debate was the associated forces issue and just whether an actual sunset versus reversing that out and giving Congress an ability to weigh in.”

The “associated forces” issue refers to groups that align themselves with terrorist organizations named under the original AUMF, such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Kaine and Flake’s AUMF draft defines associated forces as any group that supports al-Qaeda, ISIS or the Taliban, and is engaged in hostilities against the United States. The bill also requires congressional notification when the administration adds a new terrorist group to the list.

Corker said he plans to hold more hearings on the issue in months to come, but admitted he sees little hope for progress.

“Moving ahead without significant bipartisan support would be a mistake in my opinion,” Corker said. “And right now, we are unable to bridge that gap.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said last week that he is working with Democratic members on crafting a bipartisan AUMF compromise, adding that he expects the results of those negotiations to be reveal in the near future.

“The next step most logically is to attempt to move to a markup and to actually try to pass an [authorization for the use of military force] out of committee,” Corker said, noting that he plans to work with ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., to begin a draft “fairly soon.”

“We want to discuss what provisions are most likely to make it through, but fairly soon,” he said. “I don’t know why we would wait. We had a great hearing. We had a good classified briefing. We all know the subject matter. If we’re ever going to attempt to do this, I don’t know why we would wait beyond the next several weeks.”

Mattis and Tillerson told senators that a new AUMF should not be time or geographically constrained due to the metastasizing nature of foreign terrorist organizations, as well as to avoid telegraphing a timeframe of U.S strategy or when that strategy will cease.

“Generally speaking, you don’t tell the enemy in advance what you’re not going to do,” Mattis told Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. “There’s no need to announce that to the enemy and relieve them of that concern.”

“We must recognize that we are in an era of frequent skirmishing, and we are more likely to end this fight sooner If we don’t tell our adversary the day we intend to stop fighting,” Mattis said.

The secretaries told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the current 2001 AUMF, which was instituted seven days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to authorize the Bush administration to go after al-Qaeda operatives and the Taliban in Afghanistan — along with the 2002 AUMF for the Iraq War — and Article II of the U.S. Constitution, give the Trump administration the proper legal authorities to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Mattis and Tillerson both testified to Congress, however, that if a new AUMF were drafted and passed, it should not repeal the current AUMFs until the new authorization is in place. The goal would be to avoid operational conflict and continue running of the detention center at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

Blast hits Afghan capital Kabul — Another in a relentless string of terror bombings

October 31, 2017

KABUL (Reuters) – A loud blast shook windows and doors in an area of the Afghan capital Kabul where many foreign embassies and government departments are based, Reuters reporters heard on Tuesday.

The cause of the blast and the extent of any damage was not immediately apparent.

Reporting by James Mackenzie, Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani