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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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Khalilzad says things could have been very different had Ghani stayed

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(Last Updated On: September 27, 2021)

US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said this weekend that former president Ashraf Ghani’s decision to leave Afghanistan without warning took everyone, including Washington, by surprise.

In an exclusive interview with Ariana News, Khalilzad said that the night before his departure, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken to Ghani on the phone.

He said Ghani had not given any signal as to his intentions.

“Everyone including the US were shocked when this happened,” he said.

However, he implied that had Ghani stepped down as president in the lead up to the IEA’s takeover, things could have been very different.

One of the key reasons however for the breakdown of peace talks between Ghani’s government and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) was that the former president wanted the IEA to be included in the existing government as opposed to a new government being formed, as per the agreement with the United States.

“There were different reasons for the lack of major progress in the negotiations;

“The main one was that there was a long, huge, big gap between the two sides around a political settlement and agreement,” Khalilzad said.

According to him, efforts were made to move the process forward and some progress was made in certain areas.

“But I think the main issue was that the US and the Taliban had reached an agreement over the formation of a new Islamic government.

“The government of Afghanistan wanted the Taliban to be integrated into the former government instead of forming a new government,” he said.

According to him, this would have resembled the government of national unity after the 2014 elections which saw former president Ashraf Ghani and former CEO Abdullah Abdullah sharing power.

Khalilzad said a trilateral agreement was suggested between Ghani, Abdullah and the IEA.

However, Ghani’s opinion was that the country’s Constitution did not allow for such a move.

“For a long time, they (government) assumed if they insisted on this, the Taliban would eventually agree to it.

“The Taliban was in favor of the formation of a new Islamic government. Some Taliban wanted the establishment of the 1990s Emirate while some others were in favor of a new (inclusive) government,” he said

Khalilzad also said that after coming into power, US President Joe Biden “thought that he could reject the deal which was signed during (former president Donald) Trump’s tenure or bring changes to it and this caused the negotiations to be postponed”.

However, once Biden announced his decision to stick to the deal made during Trump’s tenure, and withdraw all troops, “changes came in the balance on the battlefield”.

Touching on the issue of terrorism, Khalilzad said the overall picture has changed and that al-Qaeda’s footprint in the country had been reduced significantly.

He said terrorists were no longer confined to one base but were today spread out around the world.

“They can be found in small and large groups in different countries around the world.

“Therefore, Afghanistan is not what it used to be in terms of the threat of terrorism,” he said adding that currently, only a small number of al-Qaeda members are present in the country.

He said the number did not warrant the presence of US troops in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad also stated that after the deal had been signed in February last year between the US and the Taliban, Washington would not have withdrawn had Americans been targeted.

“The US troops would not have pulled out from Afghanistan if an American had been killed by the Taliban after the agreement,” he said.

A critical question around the collapse of the former government was however the sudden change of heart by the Afghan military, he said adding that in the days leading up to the fall of Ghani’s government, “unexpected things happened, where they (soldiers) did not fight”.

Khalilzad explained that in the hours before the takeover of Kabul by IEA forces, a meeting was underway in Doha between the US, the IEA and the republic.

He said an agreement was reached that the IEA would not attack Kabul and would instead give the then Afghan government two weeks, from August 15, to travel to Doha, meet with all parties concerned, and agree to the formation of a new government.

He said the delegation from the republic would have included former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah.

“And an agreement would have been made on an inclusive government; but the (former) government would have remained in place in those two weeks.”

Khalilzad stated that the delegation would have been authorized to sign off on an agreement with the IEA.

However, this meeting never took place, nor was any deal signed. Instead, Afghanistan’s then-president, Ghani, fled the country and security forces disintegrated within hours.

Khalilzad confirmed a security and government vacuum immediately emerged which led to the decision that the IEA forces would move into Kabul to secure the capital but stated that Ghani’s sudden, unannounced, departure took everyone, including Washington, by surprise.

“A night earlier the (US) Secretary of State had spoken to the president of Afghanistan; the president of Afghanistan did not signal any intention to leave.

“Everyone including the US were shocked when this happened,” he said adding that Ghani might have thought his life was in danger.

Had Ghani however resigned in order to bring peace to Afghanistan, and allowed the establishment of a new government, “it could have been a historic step”.

“The name of the president could have been written in gold in the history of Afghanistan,” he said, adding that only Ghani can answer the question on why he chose to do it this way.

On whether the US will recognize the IEA government, Khalilzad said this all depends on the IEA – if they stick to the commitments they made.

“The world is waiting to see if the Taliban (IEA) will fulfill the commitments they have made, and if they do, the normal relationship between the world and the Taliban (IEA) will be established,” Khalilzad said.

However, Khalilzad said that Afghanistan is in need of urgent humanitarian aid and has pledged an additional $64 million. He said that not only was the war an issue but unemployment, drought, COVID and a low level of economic activity were also contributing factors to the current situation.

He said discussions are currently underway in various countries and within the United Nations on getting Afghanistan’s assets released.

Khalilzad pointed out that the war in Afghanistan has ended and that fears of a civil war were unfounded. This was “a positive point”, he said.

Drawing a parallel to the civil war that broke out following the withdrawal of Soviet Union troops in 1989, he said “the government at the time could not form an inclusive government, igniting civil war.

“But I hope the bad experience will not be repeated and an inclusive government will be set up,” he said adding that “if they (IEA) go through with their promises, it will be a positive era for the future of Afghanistan.”

CLICK HERE to watch the full interview with English subtitles.

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Journalists, activists slam evacuees for faking their professions

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(Last Updated On: September 27, 2021)

The Afghanistan Civil Society And Journalist Group has lashed out at Afghans who have tried to evacuate under the guise of being journalists and civil society activists.

The group’s officials say that although most journalists have chosen to stay in Afghanistan, the actions by civilians pretending to be journalists and activists is an insult to the media and to media workers.

Journalists in turn have also spoken out against foreign countries for not vetting applicants properly, which has enabled scores of people to leave the country posing as journalists.

While all Afghans have the right to travel abroad, thousands of people reportedly produced fake documents that got them safe passage to foreign countries.

Civil society groups and journalists see the move as a blatant insult and say a distinction must be made between real journalists and fake journalists, as many journalists want to stay in their country and continue working.

“Interestingly, out of thirty-four million people, nine million have introduced themselves as journalists, which is an obvious insult to journalists, and journalists are the voice of the people, and journalists value everyone, and the identities were not checked during evacuation.

“It was a tragedy and the responsibility lies with the world,” said Nasir Ahmad Akhtarzai, head of Afghanistan Civil Society And Journalist Group.

“The international community has evacuated journalists and civil activists from Afghanistan, and the Islamic Emirate must prosecute those involved in forging journalists documents,” said Frozan Khalilyar, a female activist.

The Afghanistan Civil Society And Journalist Group, meanwhile, insists that people have forged press cards and media documents in exchange for money.

At the same time, a number of journalists said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan should provide the necessary ground for media activities to continue.

“With the support of the Islamic Emirate, the media coverage space should not be limited, because most journalists, especially women, have resigned, most journalists are present in Afghanistan and others have left the country in the name of journalists,” said Farkhunda Mohibi, a journalist.

“The system must have a clear strategy for freedom of expression and journalistic activities and partner with the media, because there is a great concern that many people have abused the name of the journalist and gone abroad,” said Sarajuddin Patan, a journalist.

However, these civil activists and journalists emphasize that this concern has no political aspect and the main purpose is to identify real and fake journalists; and they called on the international community to assess documents of those who have been evacuated to foreign countries claiming to be journalists.

This comes after Bloomberg News reported that Kam Air, a private Afghan airline, evacuated at least 155 relatives of Kam Air executives to Abu Dhabi on a flight meant for journalists and activists.

According to the report, relatives of the airline’s leadership were crammed into the half-empty plane at the last moment.

After the plane landed in the United Arab Emirates, the US State Department discovered the evacuees were not on the list, according to the report.

Officials at Kam Air denied the claims, saying the company was not picking evacuees. The company was only responsible for transferring them, they said.

“We had only two flights–to Abu Dhabi and Tbilisi. They went according to the list. Because many people remain in Afghanistan, they make these claims that Kam Air took some families and relatives,” said Mohammad Dawood Sharifi, Kam Air chief executive.

The passengers who were allegedly not on the list are reportedly still in Abu Dhabi and their fate is uncertain.

 

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IEA accuse Tajikistan of interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs

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(Last Updated On: September 27, 2021)

Tajikistan is interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, Abdul Ghani Baradar, the acting deputy head of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) said on Sunday.

“Tajikistan interferes in our affairs, for every action there is a reaction,” Baradar said in an interview with al Jazeera TV channel.

A day earlier, IEA spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter that the IEA had sent thousands of fighters to the Afghan province of Takhar, which borders Tajikistan. According to Mujahid, this was needed to counter security threats.

Earlier this month, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon suggested creating “a security belt” around Afghanistan to prevent the potential expansion of terrorist groups. Rahmon was speaking at a joint summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which was focused on the recent developments in Afghanistan.

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