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Merkel stresses need for a ceasefire during chat with Ghani

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(Last Updated On: January 28, 2021)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Ashraf Ghani in a video call on Wednesday night the escalation of violence was a matter of concern and that it was unacceptable that Afghans were being harmed while conflict and peace talks ran parallel to each other.

In a series of tweets issued by the Presidential Palace (ARG), Merkel reportedly stressed the need for a ceasefire.

Both sides stressed the need to expand relations between the two countries and also discussed the expansion of bilateral relations, regional issues and the Afghan peace process.

Merkel said Germany supports an independent and prosperous Afghanistan dominated by a democratic system, and that Afghanistan’s efforts should lead to peace and stability in the country.

She reiterated her commitment to continue providing assistance to Afghanistan. Recalling the signing of a Siemens Memorandum of Understanding with Afghanistan, she said this had paved the way for other German companies to invest in Afghanistan.

Both sides discussed the NATO Defense Ministers’ Conference scheduled for February; its importance to Afghanistan; its impact on the peace talks and the message that the conference will continue to support Afghanistan, especially the security and defense forces, ARG stated.

Ghani thanked Germany for its assistance and cooperation in various fields and said Afghanistan will use all resources available to expand economic and trade cooperation between the two nations.

Ghani also gave detailed information on Afghanistan’s plans to bring about peace and regional connectivity.

According to ARG, Ghani stated government is looking at creating an air corridor between the two countries so that Afghan products, especially fresh and dried fruits, can reach German markets, a proposal that was welcomed by the German Chancellor.

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US airstrikes target Taliban in Helmand province

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(Last Updated On: May 6, 2021)

The United States has carried out a number of airstrikes against the Taliban in the southern Helmand province in the past few days as fierce fighting takes place between Afghan military forces and the Taliban.

A US official told VOA late Wednesday that American forces were actively carrying out airstrikes against the Taliban.

This comes after US Forces Afghanistan and NATO officially started their withdrawal process from the country on Saturday.

The airstrikes also come in the wake of repeated pledges by the US to carry on supporting Afghanistan.

The US official who spoke to VOA, on condition of anonymity, declined to share additional details, citing the need for operational security.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby meanwhile said during a briefing that as US forces transition out of Afghanistan they will continue to try to support local forces.

He said that “there’s still quite a bit of robust capability” at the disposal of US commanders on the ground.

“To the degree we can, as we transition out, we’re going to continue to try to support Afghan national security forces in the field,” Kirby said.

The US airstrikes come amid intense fighting around the Helmand capital, Lashkargah, that started over the weekend.

On Tuesday, reports indicated over 1,000 families had fled their homes on the outskirts of the city due to heavy fighting.

MSF Afghanistan (Doctors Without Borders) said in a series of tweets on Tuesday that fighting around Lashkargah city increased significantly on Monday.

“Our medical teams treated 53 war-wounded patients on 3 & 4 May,” Sarah Leahy, MSF project coordinator at Boost Provincial Hospital said.

According to her, MSF teams in emergency room and operating theatres have treated people for injuries caused by bullets and shrapnel.

“Patients and staff tell us that access routes to the city are blocked; we’ve seen fewer admissions of children and pregnant women,” she said.

A nurse described helping his family flee from the frontlines: “There was a lot of shooting, bullets coming into our home. People were afraid, running without shoes, without hijabs, without anything.”

One local government official told AFP on Wednesday that US airstrikes were key to stopping the Taliban advance.

“The bombing was intense,” the official, Atiqullah, said. “I have never seen such bombardment in several years.”

Afghan government forces also faced fierce opposition in other areas in the country – including in Ghazni and Baghlan provinces.

But Kirby told journalists during his Wednesday briefing that the “Afghan security forces are more capable than they have been in recent years.”

He said: “They have been in the lead for quite some time.”

Afghan military officials have been equally insistent that they are up to the task.

Ministry of Defense deputy spokesman Fawad Aman told VOA’s Afghan Service on Wednesday: “Currently, ANSDF [Afghan National Security and Defense Forces] 100% independently plan, command and control, and conduct the military operations.”

“There is no support and physical presence of foreign troops in the battlefields,” Aman said.

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NATO hands over another base to Afghan military

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(Last Updated On: May 5, 2021)

NATO forces have handed over another military camp to Afghan security forces in northern Balkh province, the 209 Shaheen Corps said in a statement.

The camp known as Camp Mike Spann was handed over to the Afghan forces during a ceremony at the Corps’ headquarters in Mazar-e-Sharif in the province on Wednesday morning.

Addressing the ceremony, the commander of Shaheen Corps General Ghulam Mustafa Wardak thanked the International Community and Germany for assisting Afghanistan in establishing and training the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANSDF).

Wardak stated that the Afghan forces are capable of independently defending Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, NATO’s commander for the northern sector of Afghanistan General Ansgar Meyer stated that the Afghan forces have been able to independently carry out operations against militants since 2014.

Meyer emphasized that the international community will continue to support Afghan forces in the logistics and armament sectors.

This comes after the US forces handed over the responsibility of Camp Antonik to the Afghan forces in southern Helmand province on Sunday.

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Concerns raised after NDS chief and Taliban issue warnings to the media

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(Last Updated On: May 5, 2021)

A number of media advocates said on Wednesday that warnings issued against the media by both government and the Taliban could undermine the hard-won gains in press freedom in Afghanistan over the past 20 years.

Concerns were raised after the National Security Directorate (NDS) chief Ahmad Zia told Parliament on Wednesday that a number of Afghan media outlets were broadcasting or publishing “propaganda in favor of the Taliban.”

The Taliban in turn threatened local media and said they would “face the consequences” for reporting biased stories in favor of the government.

Responding to this, the US Embassy and the UK Embassy in Afghanistan issued a joint statement on Wednesday night condemning the Taliban’s attempts “to silence journalists”.

The embassies said: “The Taliban today, two days after World Press Freedom Day, threatened the Afghan media accusing them of being proxies for the government and ordering them to alter their reporting or they would ‘face the consequences.”

“We know the Taliban propaganda machine constantly manipulates the truth in order to deflect blame for the atrocities they commit onto others and to avoid responsibility for their actions.

“We strongly support Afghanistan’s independent media. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the ongoing violence and threats against the media, and the Taliban’s attempts to silence journalists,” the statement read.

This comes after MPs said that NDS chief Ahmad Zia said in Parliament on Wednesday that Afghan media “should be aware of the enemy’s psychological war.”

MP Arif Rahmani tweeted that Zia claimed a number of politicians, experts, and media outlets publicize propaganda in favor of the Taliban. However, he reportedly warned that these individuals and entities would “be treated as a terrorist.”

According to Rahmani, the NDS Chief further said that propaganda broadcast by a number of television channels in favor of the Taliban “is shocking.”

He said “this is not freedom of speech, but it is an abuse of freedom of expression; We will not tolerate it.”

In response to Rahmani’s tweet, the Taliban, in turn, warned Afghan media outlets against publishing or broadcasting one-sided reports.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the group said in a series of tweets: “For several days, the Taliban have been witnessing one sided-propaganda and publications by some media outlets.”

He stated that the NDS is directly involved in such activities, adding: “Media must be aware of maintaining their neutrality” and avoid becoming a “propaganda tool” for the government in such a sensitive situation in the country.

Mujahid stated that if the media continue to broadcast or publish “misleading news and incorrect information” their objectivity could be questioned.

He said the same applies to the spreading of false news and misinformation by the media and journalists.

Should this continue, the onus will be on media executives to deal with the consequences and warned media executives and media workers against publicizing one-sided news in favor of the government.

Meanwhile, the media advocacy organization, NAI, and Afghanistan Free Press Hub said the remarks by the NDS Chief and the Taliban are concerning.

“The NDS Chief has accused some media of cooperating with the Taliban. He has to clarify which media outlets [he is referring to] and which media outlets have done this. A general accusation against all media is against the law. The Taliban also warned the media. This situation risks the work of the media in Afghanistan,” NAI Chief Executive Mujib Khilwatgar said.

The NDS, meanwhile, in a statement rejected the report and stated that Zia’s remarks were misinterpreted.
Afghanistan’s national spy agency said: “Disclosure and distortion of the contents of secret meetings to the public is unacceptable, and is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution and contrary to the principles of the internal duties of the House of Representatives.”
“The NDS has been at the forefront of protecting the freedom of expression and journalists,” the statement read.
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