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American Troops Fight To Keep Opium Fields In Afghanistan

A Royal Marine from 42 Commando (Cdo) is pictured in a poppy field as a Chinook helicopter takes off in the background. On the 15 May 2011 J Company went on a Helo Operation which proved to be successfull and locals were very friendly and accomodating in the area. J company flew in to the area at 0400in the morning under cover of darkness just before first light. Thereafter they proceeded to do a friendly, thorough, surprise search of all the compounds in the area. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Photographer: LA(Phot) Dave Hillhouse Image 45152881.jpg from www.defenceimages.mod.uk

U.S. forces are back helping Afghan troops repel Taliban insurgents from the strategic opium-growing town of Musa Qala in Helmand province, where in 2007 British and U.S. soldiers waged one of the emblematic battles of the war.

U.S. aircraft carried out three strikes over the weekend after the Taliban advanced on the town, seizing weapons and vehicles from Afghan soldiers they captured in an offensive aimed at expanding the militants’ grip on Helmand.

The Taliban have sought to secure territory in the north and south this summer but, despite some gains and a spike in attacks in the capital Kabul, they struggle to hold ground, even though most foreign coalition forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014.

Brian Tribus, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said air strikes were called in against “individuals threatening” both Afghan and NATO coalition troops. He did not give details. A spokesman for the Afghan army in the area said 37 militants were killed in the strikes, and another 40 wounded.

The district governor in Musa Qala called on Monday for more military support to stop the town falling back into the hands of the Taliban, who occupied it for months until a 2007 battle that involved thousands of troops.

Success in that battle was hailed by then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and was a morale boost for the fledgling Afghan army, which fought its first major battle in Musa Qala.

British forces have suffered more fatalities in Helmand than any other Afghan region, losing more than 400 soldiers from the U.S. invasion of the country that ended the Taliban’s five-year, radical Islamist rule through last year. More than 350 U.S. Marines have also died there.

The Marines operated a base in Musa Qala until 2013, although the area was never completely free of militants drawn in part to the district’s status as one of Afghanistan’s most lucrative opium-producing centers.

“The Taliban are getting prepared to attack us from three directions tonight. If we don’t get support soon the district will collapse in Taliban hands,” governor Mohammad Sharif said.

Sabiq Jihadmal, a Twitter user with links to the insurgents, said they had seized several army posts on Sunday night. Over the weekend, a large army camp a few miles from town was overrun, and 25 soldiers were captured.

“They are missing now. The Taliban have their weapons and vehicles now and are fighting us with those heavy weapons,” Sharif said.

Since the Taliban were toppled from power by the U.S. invasion prompted by the Sept. 11 al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, they have waged a guerrilla war to regain power in Kabul.

One Helmand district bordering Musa Qala is already totally controlled by the Taliban and they dominate several other neighboring districts. One of those, Naw Zad, has been under alternate Taliban and Afghan army control for several weeks.

Another district, Tajiki, is home to Afghanistan’s largest hydroelectric dam. The dam generates electricity to Helmand and Kandahar but on Monday, because of the fighting, supplies were cut, a frequent occurrence.

(Source / 12.12.2015)

Hunger rising in Afghanistan at alarming rate: UN

Afghan men and children reach out for food donated by a charity in Mazar-i-sharif on January 22, 2015.  (AFP Photo)

Afghan men and children reach out for food donated by a charity in Mazar-i-sharif on January 22, 2015

The number of Afghan people without enough to eat has increased at an “alarming” rate over the past year, says a report.

The 2015 Seasonal Food Security Assessment in Afghanistan, which was compiled by the United Nations and partner agencies, was released by the Afghan Food Security and Agriculture Cluster (FSAC) on Thursday.

According to the report, 5.9 percent of Afghans are now deprived of food, up from 4.7 percent recorded 12 months ago.

The total number of those classed as severely food insecure currently stands at over 1.5 million, up 317,000 this year, the report added.

This is while another 7.3 million people – more than one in four Afghan citizens – are moderately food insecure.

“These figures are extremely alarming, especially in a country where more than one third of all people are already food insecure. This report could [be] portent [of] a future spike in the next 12 months in the need for food and other humanitarian assistance,” said Claude Jibidar, Country Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Afghanistan.

Afghan men and children hold up dishes to receive food donated by a private charity in Herat on January 3, 2015

Abdul Majid, FSAC coordinator, also expressed concern over the statistics, saying, “It is the last resort when farmers start selling productive assets such as livestock, machinery or land.”

Tomio Shichiri, the representative of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Afghanistan, warned that many Afghans will not be able to purchase food from the market despite a surge in wheat production this year.

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001 as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror. The offensive removed Taliban from power, but many areas in the country are still beset with insecurity, which has taken a heavy toll on various sectors of the Afghan society, including economy and agriculture.

At least 13,500 foreign forces remain in Afghanistan despite the end of the US-led combat mission, which came on December 31, 2014. Afghan security forces have been engaged in various clean-up operations, but the war-torn Asian country is still gripped by the Taliban-led militancy and violence.

(Source / 10.09.2015)

Afghan capital rocked by multiple blasts, dozens dead

Government buildings close to Kabul airport and a police academy were targeted on Friday, hours after a truck bomb tore through the center of the city. The blasts killed at least 35 people and left more than 250 wounded.

A truck bomb tore through Kabul city center

Four bombings by suspected Taliban militants rocked the Afghan capital on Friday, including two close to Kabul airport.

The two most recent blasts targeted an area close to coalition bases and Afghan government buildings late in the evening, security sources said.

Gunfire continued after the attacks, and NATO jets were heard flying overhead.

The number of casualties from the two evening blasts wasn’t immediately known.

Earlier, a suicide bomber blew himself up close to Kabul’s police academy on Friday, killing at least 20 recruits, officials said.

According to a police source, the attacker, dressed in police uniform, walked into a group of trainees waiting outside the building compound and detonated his explosives-laden vest. At least 25 recruits were wounded.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the police academy attack, in a statement on Twitter.

A truck bomb tore through Kabul city center

The truck bomb flattened several buildings in central Kabul

Less than 24 hours before that, a massive truck bomb was detonated in central Kabul, killing 15 civilians and wounding 240 others.

That blast was described as one of the largest ever in Kabul, leaving a 30-foot crater in the ground, near a government complex.

The bombings were the first major assaults in the Afghan capital since the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar was announced.

Afghanistan’s leaders have repeatedly claimed that the security situation is improving despite the pull-out of most NATO troops last December.

New United Nations data published on Wednesday revealed the number of civilian casualties hit a record high in the first half of 2015, with 3,329 people injured.

On Thursday, Taliban insurgents killed nine people in multiple attacks on police targets, including a truck bombing in eastern Logar province.

(Source / 07.08.2015)

Mullah Akhtar Mansoor: Taliban’s new leader has a reputation for moderation

Mullah Omar’s reported successor joined the group at its founding and is known to be in favour of peace talks with the Afghan government

Taliban fighters on a training exercise in 2011

Mullah Akhtar Mansoor – believed to be the Taliban’s new leader – has an unexpected reputation as a relative moderate and fierce proponent of peace talks, raising hopes that his leadership could pave the way for an end to years of fighting.

He was a founding member of the group, who knew Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden personally, but kept a relatively low profile until the deaths and arrests of more prominent insurgent fighters thrust him towards power.

“He is known among fighters in the field as more into peace talks than Mullah Omar, and less strict,” said one Taliban commander who asked to stay anonymous.

Mansoor grew up in Maiwand district of Kandahar province, and lived not far from the home of Mullah Omar when the country descended into civil war after the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

He joined the Taliban when it began as a movement to tackle venal and brutal warlords in the area, helping bring in money and guns from rich businessmen in his tribe.

The young mullah eventually rose to become aviation minister, handling the grinding day-to-day logistics of the group’s air battles against opposing factions in the north.

He got to know Bin Laden in that period because the Saudi fighter lived not far from Kandahar airport, where Mansoor spent most of his time, and would sometimes drop by to talk with volunteer Arab fighters.

He surrendered in 2001, like many senior Taliban; going to the new Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to ask for amnesty and then retiring to his home district.

But American forces refused to believe that the commanders had given up fighting, and after a series of aggressive night raids he fled to Pakistan, where he helped reshape the Taliban as an insurgent force.

Initially a minor figure, he rose within the group after more senior fighters were killed or arrested by Pakistani security forces. A companion who travelled with him to Dubai in 2001, when the Taliban were discussing the expulsion of bin Laden, remembers a friendly, moderate man.

Mansoor’s name first rose to public prominence in 2010 when western intelligence officials spent tens of thousands of dollars ferrying a “senior commander” to Kabul for peace talks, only to discover that they had been courting an imposter, a grocer pretending to be Mansoor.

Mansoor has never publicly commented on what was widely seen as a debacle for the Nato forces fighting in Afghanistan.

The real Mansoor had been a strong advocate of peace talks, and supported meetings in Doha this year, where for the first time the Taliban used the word “election” and made more moderate statements about the role of women.

As deputy leader already, he takes up the top role from a position of strength, but this is the Taliban’s first leadership transition and it may take some time to see how strong his grip on power is.

Rivals likely to vie for influence include Mullah Omar’s son, Yacoub, who reportedly walked out of a meeting about the succession in anger, and former military leader Abdul Qayum Zakir.

Zakir is a hardliner who has been in conflict with Mansoor for years now, and has a strong power base in Helmand province.

(Source / 30.07.2015)

Doctors Without Borders hospital raided in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan military commandos raided and searched a Doctors Without Borders’ hospital in the north of the country, firing several shots in the air and threatening the staff, the humanitarian group said Friday.

In a statement, Doctors Without Borders condemned the “violent intrusion,” which occurred on Wednesday, as a breach of the Geneva Conventions.

The group said that it had temporarily suspended work at the facility, which is in Kunduz, and is the main trauma hospital in Afghanistan’s northeast. The hospital has stopped admitting new patients, although the current patients are still being treated, the organization said.

“This serious event puts at risk the lives of thousands of people who rely on the center for urgent care,” Dr. Bart Janssens, the organization’s director of operations, said in the statement.

The local army brigade commander in Kunduz, Col. Nader, said he did not believe the army was involved. “Afghan National Army Special Forces have neither raided any hospital nor arrested anyone whatsoever,” he said. “We completely deny that Afghan National Army had any involvement at all.”

Local officials, however, speculated that an army unit from another part of the country had been involved. Calls seeking clarification from Interior Ministry officials went unanswered Friday night.

Afghan civilians wounded in crossfire and bomb blasts around the country usually turn to trauma care hospitals run by nongovernmental organizations such as Doctors Without Borders or Emergency, an Italian organization. Patients often come from neighboring provinces to seek care.

The hospitals generally refuse to permit armed men onto the premises, but they treat not only civilians but also wounded combatants from both sides of the conflict. “We never take sides,” Janssens said in the statement. “Our doctors treat all people according to their medical needs.”

The doctors often offer the best, and usually only, front-line care in a conflict that is killing and wounding more civilians than ever before. Civilian casualties from the war exceeded 10,000 people last year, the highest number since the United Nations began tracking them in Afghanistan in 2007. That number is expected to increase this year, as the Taliban gain ground and the fighting grows fiercer between the insurgents and the Afghan army and police forces, which number more than 300,000 strong.

Doctors Without Borders has been operating in Afghanistan for some 30 years, although it did withdraw from Afghanistan for a five-year stretch after five of its staff members were shot to death in 2004.

Kunduz, a commercial city not far from the border with Tajikistan, has been threatened by the Taliban since April, with fighting encroaching into the city’s outskirts. The government has rushed forces in from around the country to fight the insurgents.

In response to a reporter’s questions, Doctors Without Borders said that this was the first “armed intrusion” at the facility, known as the Kunduz Trauma Center, since it opened four years ago. The organization did say there had, in the past, been “tensions” with some of the many armed groups that operate around Kunduz with varying degrees of allegiance to the government.

“However, we have always managed to resolve problems through dialogue,” it said. “Up until now, we have been able to ensure a safe, neutral space, in which staff can provide medical care to our patients. We’re therefore extremely concerned by such a violent intrusion into the hospital.”

Some details of what occurred on Wednesday remain unclear, in part because the organization would not say whom the soldiers were searching for when they entered the hospital. But in the early afternoon, the group’s statement said, heavily armed men who said they belonged to the Afghan Special Forces entered the hospital and “cordoned off the facility and began shooting in the air.”

The soldiers assaulted three staff members and eventually arrested three patients, the group said. At one point, a staff member was threatened at gunpoint. The episode ended when the men released the patients and left on their own. It does not appear that the three patients who had been detained were the target of the raid.

In an interview, a member of the provincial council in Kunduz, Mohammad Yousaf Ayubi, said “the raid ended after the Special Forces finished their search and were satisfied that they were tipped with wrong intel and they left without arresting anyone.”

(Source / 03.07.2015)

14 killed in US drone strike in eastern Afghanistan

This file photo shows a US MQ-1 Predator drone equipped with Hellfire air-to-surface missiles under its wings.

This file photo shows a US MQ-1 Predator drone equipped with Hellfire air-to-surface missiles under its wings

More than a dozen people have lost their lives in an assassination strike carried out by a US unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar.

Provincial police spokesman Colonel Hazrat Hussain Mashraqiwal said on Wednesday that the drone targeted two residential buildings in the Lal Pur district of the province, situated over 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of the capital, Kabul, the previous day, killing at least 14 people and injuring more than a dozen others.

He added that the assault targeted a group of Taliban militants and those killed in the airstrike were members of the terrorist group.

Taliban militants, however, have not yet made any comments on the incident.

An aerial assault in the same province, which lies on the border with Pakistan, reportedly killed at least seven people on June 20.

The United States has been conducting targeted killings through armed drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia as well as Yemen.

Despite Washington’s allegations that the raids target al-Qaeda militants and other extremists, local officials and witnesses have attested that civilians have in most cases been the victims of the attacks.

(Source / 01.07.2015)

Taliban warns ISIL against meddling in Afghanistan

A file photo of Taliban militants in Afghanistan's eastern Ghazni province. (AFP photo)

A file photo of Taliban militants in Afghanistan’s eastern Ghazni province

The Taliban has warned terrorist ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi against meddling in Afghanistan amid reports of deadly clashes between the two rival terrorist groups.

In a letter signed by the Taliban deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor on Tuesday, the group warned al-Baghdadi “against waging a parallel insurgency in Afghanistan.”

The letter, published on the Taliban website in Pashto, Urdu, Arabic and Dari languages, also asked the ISIL leader to stay out of Afghanistan by withdrawing his support from certain elements who are recruiting young militants in the so-called Taliban strongholds.

The Taliban group has seen a string of defections in recent months. The ISIL is using a sophisticated social media campaign to woo local Taliban militants.

Fears are growing that the ISIL militants have been making inroads in Afghanistan. A series of violent clashes between the rival militant groups has been reported across Afghanistan over the past weeks.

On Sunday night, several militants were killed during clashes in Shirzad district of the eastern Nangarhar province.

A file photo of ISIL Takfiri militants in Afghanistan

At least 20 militants were also killed in fierce fighting between the rival terrorist groups in Anar Dara district of the western Farah province  in early June. More than two dozen militants were killed in the Taliban-ISIL battles in Khaki Safed district of the same province in late May.

Afghanistan has been experiencing a massive influx of foreign militants from a host of countries over the past years.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently warned that the ISIL group is posing serious threats to the county’s peace and security. Ghani has said that ISIL is worse than al-Qaeda for Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is facing bloodshed and  insecurity nearly 14 years after the United States and its allies invaded the country in 2001 as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror.

(Source / 16.06.2015)

Four killed in US drone strike in eastern Afghanistan

This file photo shows a US MQ-9 Reaper drone armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.

This file photo shows a US MQ-9 Reaper drone armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles

At least four people have been killed in a fresh US drone attack on Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar, police officials say.

Colonel Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal, a spokesman for the Nangarhar provincial police department, said the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fired a missile at a car in Goshta district, located 35 kilometers (20 miles) east of the provincial capital of Jalalabad, late on Thursday.

He further noted that the assault targeted a group of Taliban militants and those killed in the airstrike were members of the terrorist group.

Taliban militants, however, have not yet made any comments on the incident.

A similar attack in the Khas Kunar district of Afghanistan’s northeastern province of Kunar killed at least seven people earlier in the day.

On May 4, a drone strike in the Momand Dara district of Nangarhar Province left at least seventeen people dead. A local Taliban militant commander was reportedly among the dead.

A drone raid in the Chapa Dara of Kunar Province killed least three people on April 28.

The United States carries out targeted killings through drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia.

While Washington claims the targets of the drone attacks are al-Qaeda militants, local officials and witnesses maintain that, in most cases, civilians have been the victims of the attacks over the past few years.

Afghanistan faces a security challenge years after the United States and its allies invaded the country in 2001 as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror. The offensive removed the Taliban from power, but many areas in the country are still witnessing violence, which threatens stability.

At least 13,500 foreign forces remain in Afghanistan despite the end of the US-led combat mission, which came on December 31, 2014. The forces, mainly from the US, are there for what Washington calls a support mission. US-led NATO says the forces will focus mainly on counterterrorism operations and training Afghan soldiers and policemen.

(Source / 08.05.2015)

Key Afghan city threatened by Taliban battle

Heavy fighting on the outskirts of Kunduz erupts after hundreds of fighters attack police and army posts.

Kunduz province is the Talibans’ last stronghold before US coalition forces drove them from power in 2001

Heavy fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters has killed more than 30 people and threatened a major northern city, officials said.

The battle on the outskirts of Kunduz on Monday, part of a stepped-up wave of attacks after the departure of most foreign troops, prompted President Ashraf Ghani to delay his departure on a state visit to India by several hours.

Officials said hundreds of Taliban fighters attacked police and army checkposts in the wider province of Kunduz, the group’s last stronghold before US coalition forces drove them from power in 2001.

Now they threaten to overrun parts of the provincial capital, after fighting that killed eight Afghan security forces and at least two dozen Taliban, a spokesman for the provincial governor said.

“The threat level is very high, but with new reinforcements, our security forces have gained morale and god willing, we will win the fight,” the spokesman, Abdul Waseh Basel, said.

The fighters overran seven army and police checkposts in central Kunduz and two districts, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an emailed statement.

Presidential spokesman Ajmal Obidy said Ghani left for India late on Monday afternoon. He had delayed his departure for New Delhi to meet NATO’s General John Campbell at the presidential palace to discuss the Kunduz fighting, Campbell said.

Battles were raging about 6km south of Kunduz city, officials said. Fighters also broke into the city itself, in the southern district of Gul Tepa, Basel told the Reuters news agency.

Afghan security forces used artillery in defense.

“The sound of heavy weapons fired by Afghan forces can be heard in the city,” Kunduz police spokesman, Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, said.

Taliban members, including foreign fighters, this month launched major attacks in another northern province, Badakhshan, and on Monday fired on a government delegation meeting armed forces there.

Rockets and gunfire from the Taliban narrowly missed the group, led by Ahmad Zia Massoud, head of Ghani’s governance commission, a close aide said. The delegation quickly withdrew by helicopter.

(Source / 27.04.2015)

Afghanistan president blames Islamic State for Jalalabad suicide bombing

Ashraf Ghani says Isis militants were behind blast that killed at least 33 people and injured more than 100

Afghan policemen inspect the site of the suicide bombing in Jalalabad on Saturday morning.

Afghan policemen inspect the site of the suicide bombing in Jalalabad on Saturday morning

A suicide bomber in Afghanistan’s eastern city of Jalalabad killed at least 33 people and injured more than 100 after setting off a blast outside a bank where government workers collect salaries, the city’s police chief has said.

The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, blamed Islamic State militants, without giving further details. If true, it would be the first such major attack carried out by the group in Afghanistan, marking a significant step in its expansion into south Asia.

Up until now militants claiming allegiance to Isis in Afghanistan have been widely identified as former Taliban fighters disillusioned with their leadership. The Taliban itself condemned Saturday’s attack as “evil”.

The explosion smashed windows and sent debris flying across a tree-lined street, filling the air with smoke and dust.

“It was a suicide attack,” police chief Fazel Ahmad Sherzad told a press conference. He added that officials were investigating witness reports of a second explosion after people had rushed to the area to help the wounded.

Police said a later blast that shook Jalalabad was a controlled detonation after experts discovered a further bomb close to the scene of the initial explosion.

Local media said a former spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility on behalf of Isis in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Islamist militants of various hues already hold sway across unsettled and impoverished areas of south Asia, but Isis has started to draw support from younger fighters in the region, impressed by its rapid capture of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Ghani visited the US last month and warned that Isis posed a “terrible threat” to his country.

Taliban insurgents denied responsibility and did not comment on the alleged Isis link. The militants, who were ousted from power by a US-led invasion in 2001, rarely claim attacks that kill large groups of civilians, saying they target foreigners or the Afghan military and government.

“It was an evil act. We strongly condemn it,” a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Reuters.

(Source / 18.04.2015)