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Taliban ‘targeting’ Afghan pilots to bring down air force: Reuters report

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(Last Updated On: July 11, 2021)

At least seven Afghan pilots have been assassinated off base in recent months, according to two senior Afghan government officials, Reuters reported.

According to Reuters, this series of targeted killings, which haven’t been previously reported, illustrate what U.S. and Afghan officials believe is a deliberate Taliban effort to destroy one of Afghanistan’s most valuable military assets: its corps of U.S.- and NATO-trained military pilots.

In so doing, the Taliban — who have no air force — are looking to level the playing field as they press major ground offensives.

Reuters confirmed the identities of two of the slain pilots through family members but could not independently verify the names of the other five who were allegedly targeted.

In response to questions from Reuters, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the group had killed Afghan Air Force Major Dastagir Zamaray, and that it had started a program that will see Afghan Air Force pilots “targeted and eliminated because all of them do bombardment against their people.”

A U.N. report documented 229 civilian deaths caused by the Taliban in Afghanistan in the first three months of 2021, and 41 civilian deaths caused by the Afghan Air Force over the same period.

In response to questions from Reuters, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the group had killed Zamaray, and that it had started a program that will see Afghan Air Force pilots “targeted and eliminated because all of them do bombardment against their people.”

Afghanistan’s government has not publicly disclosed the number of pilots assassinated in targeted killings and the Defense Ministry did not respond to requests for comment by Reuters.
The Pentagon meanwhile told Reuters it was aware of the deaths of several Afghan pilots in killings claimed by the Taliban, but declined to comment on U.S. intelligence and investigations.

Afghan military pilots are particularly attractive assassination targets, current and former U.S. and Afghan officials say. They can strike Taliban forces massing for major attacks, shuttle commandos to missions and provide life-saving air cover for Afghan ground troops. Pilots take years to train and are hard to replace, representing an outsized blow to the country’s defenses with every loss.

Shoot-downs and accidents are ever-present risks. Yet these pilots often are most vulnerable in the streets of their own neighborhoods, where attackers can come from anywhere, said retired U.S. Brigadier General David Hicks, who commanded the training effort for the Afghan Air Force from 2016 to 2017.

“Their lives were at much greater risk during that time (off base) than they were while they were flying combat missions,” Hicks said.

Although Taliban assassinations of pilots have happened in years past, the recent killings take on greater significance as the Afghan Air Force is tested like never before, Reuters reported.

“Pilots are on top of the Taliban’s hit list,” the senior Afghan government official said.

That Afghan official and two others, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they’re working to protect pilots and their families, moving some to on-base housing and relocating others to safer civilian neighborhoods.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson strongly condemned “all targeted assassinations in Afghanistan” and stressed U.S. commitments to continue providing security assistance to the Afghan military, Reuters reported.

The Pentagon meanwhile told Reuters it would seek to provide Afghanistan with extra aircraft to ease the strain of combat losses and maintenance downtime.

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Magnitude 5.6 quake hits western Afghanistan, killing more than 20

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(Last Updated On: January 18, 2022)

An earthquake rocked western Afghanistan on Monday, killing more than 20 people and destroying hundreds of homes, local authorities said.

The 5.6 magnitude tremor shook the western province of Badghis, bordering Turkmenistan, in the afternoon, reducing brick homes to rubble, according to photos shared by local authorities, Reuters reported.

“Unfortunately, our initial reports show that 26 people, including five women and four children, have been killed and four others injured,” said Baz Mohammad Sarwari, the director of Information and Culture of the Badghis provincial administration.

“The Mujahideen have reached to some of the affected areas, but Badghis is a mountainous province, the number of casualties might go up,” he added, referring to Taliban fighters, and adding that heavy rain was also lashing the area.

Mullah Janan Saeqe, head of the Emergency Operations Centre of the Ministry of State for Emergency Affairs, confirmed the death toll and said more than 700 houses had been damaged, Reuters reported.

Sanullah Sabit, the head of the nursing unit at the main hospital in Badghis’ capital said they had received five patients injured in the quake, mostly with broken bones and fractures.

The quake was at a depth of 30 km (18.64 miles), according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.

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Pakistan fired 21 rockets towards Afghanistan: officials

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(Last Updated On: January 18, 2022)

Military officials in the eastern zone told Ariana News on Monday that clashes broke out between Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) and Pakistani forces on Sunday night in the Sarkano district of Kunar province, close to the Durand Line.

Officials said that Pakistani forces fired 21 rockets towards Afghanistan, but that no casualties were reported.

Hamdullah Hamdard, the spokesman for the 1st Border Battalion of the Eastern Zone, said that IEA forces also fired several rockets back at Pakistani forces.

“Clashes erupted between Taliban (IEA) and Pakistani forces in Sarkano district of Kunar province. The clashes continued until 9:00 pm. The cause of the clashes was because of the attack by Pakistani forces. In response, Taliban (IEA) forces also fired rockets towards them, and maybe they suffered casualties. Our forces and people did not suffer casualties,” added Hamdard.

IEA officials said recently they are establishing 32 new check posts along the Durand Line to counter Pakistani attacks.

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China’s birthrate falls to lowest level in 61 years

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(Last Updated On: January 17, 2022)

China’s birthrate has fallen to its lowest level in six decades, barely outnumbering deaths in 2021 despite major government efforts to increase population growth and stave off a demographic crisis.

Across China, 10.62 million babies were born in 2021, a rate of 7.52 per thousand people, the national bureau of statistics said on Monday.

In the same period 10.14 million deaths were recorded, a mortality rate of 7.18 per thousand, producing a population growth rate of just 0.34 per thousand head of population, the Guardian reported.

The rate of growth is the lowest since 1960, and adds to the findings of last May’s once-a-decade census, which found an average annual rise of 0.53%, down from 0.57% reported from 2000 to 2010.

China, like much of east Asia, is in the grip of a population crisis, with lowering birthrates, and predictions of imminent negative population growth and an ageing population. Monday’s figures showed the proportion of over-60s in China rose from 18.7% in 2020 to 18.9%.

Beijing has announced major reforms to address the decline, including raising the retirement age. A three-child policy has replaced the two-child policy that was introduced in 2016 and had sparked a slight increase in births before falling again.

The high cost of living, delayed marriages and lack of social mobility are frequently cited as contributing factors to young Chinese people’s reluctance to have children.

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