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Taliban launches overnight and pre-dawn assaults on 2 districts in Afghanistan, captures one of them

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said it has taken control of the entire district of Khan Abad in northern Kunduz province of Afghanistan

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Taliban Fighters. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Taliban forces launched overnight and pre-dawn assaults on two districts in eastern and northern Afghanistan, capturing one of them, say Afghan officials and insurgent sources.

Local police commander Munir Himat told VOA hundreds of Taliban insurgents staged a pre-dawn assault on Hesarak in eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan, but that security forces with the support of airstrikes pushed them back, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. He reported fighting was still taking place in parts of the district.

Afghan officials also confirmed the fall of Khan Abad district in northern Kunduz province to the Taliban in overnight fighting and say heavy fighting is taking place in the nearby Aliabad district.

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Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid says it has taken control of the entire district of Khan Abad in northern Kunduz province and has released video of Afghan soldiers insurgents captured before the important territorial victory.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid. Image source: www.pakistantoday.com.pk
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid. Image source: www.pakistantoday.com.pk

The fall of the Khan Abad district after days of heavy clashes would bring the Islamist insurgent group close enough to threaten the strategically important provincial capital also named Kunduz that was briefly overrun by the Taliban during last year’s fighting.

Significance of Kunduz

Kunduz’s fall to the Taliban in September of 2015 had dealt a blow to authorities and Afghanistan’s international backers because this was the first major urban centre the insurgents captured after NATO withdrew its combat forces from the country.

“Kunduz is currently the most vulnerable province in the Afghan North. Since the provincial capital fell last year, Kunduz has seen more Taliban attacks on district centres than any other province in the country,” according to Kabul-based independent Afghanistan Analysts Network.

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The insurgents recently captured a district in the neighbouring Baghlan province to expand their influence in the area in a bid to threaten Afghanistan’s crucial ring road, which circles the country. Observers say the Taliban appears to be trying to cut off of the road to restrict Kabul’s access to the northern provinces

US airstrikes

Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General David Golden revealed this past week that B-52 strategic bombers have carried out airstrikes against targets in Afghanistan for the first time in a decade, underscoring the intensity of the fighting.

According to a statement, U.S. warplanes have flown more than 800 sorties and conducted more than 140 strikes in the country since U.S. President Barack Obama ordered in June that air power be used more proactively in Afghanistan.

Critics say that recent security gains by Afghan forces across the country have been overshadowed by the Taliban’s recent battlefield victories.

The insurgent group has overrun several districts in Afghanistan’s largest province of Helmand and fighting there has most recently been taking place near the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

The Taliban’s steady advances in the poppy-growing province, which borders Pakistan, have come despite increased in American airstrikes in the area. (VOA)

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Rockets Fired near Diplomatic Area in Kabul

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Kabul
Downtown are in Kabul. Wikimedia

Kabul, October 21: Three rockets were fired onto a diplomatic area in Kabul on Saturday, Afghan police and witnesses said.

“The attack occurred at around 6.10 a.m., and the rockets struck localities in Police District 10 and Police District 9,” a witness told Xinhua news agency.

However, there were reports of any casualties or injuries.

One rocket reportedly hit a wall at an embassy and two others exploded close to Resolute Support headquarters, Tolo News quoted the police as saying.

Saturday’s incident comes after two suicide attacks took place on Friday in Kabul and Ghor province resulting in the deaths of at least 70 people.

In Kabul, a suicide bomber detonated explosives inside the Imam Zamam mosque in a neighborhood predominantly populated by the Shia Hazara minority, reports Efe news.

The bomber was standing among the congregation. The attack killed 39 people and injured 45 others, according to the Interior Ministry.

About an hour before the blast in Kabul, a suicide attacker detonated explosives at the Khwajagan mosque in the Du-Layna district of Ghor province.

The attack occurred as an important anti-Taliban militiaman, Fazal Hayat Khan, and his men were praying inside, provincial authorities said. At least 31 people were killed.

So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the three incidents.(IANS)

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Taliban Warns Phone Companies to Shut Down Their Coverage in Ghazni

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Taliban Ghazni
Members of the Taliban gather in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. voa

Ghazni, Washington October 11: Taliban militants have ordered mobile phone companies to shut down their networks at dark in central Ghazni province, provincial police authorities told VOA.

In a bid to mitigate risks, the insurgent group has asked telecom operators in Ghazni province to halt operations from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. in order to make it difficult for the Afghan forces to get intelligence and tips on militants through mobile phones.

The insurgent group has destroyed several telecom towers in the restive province over the last three days.

“The recent uptick in airstrikes against militants is causing increasing casualties in Taliban ranks. The militants want to destroy telecom towers to disturb communications,” Fahim Amarkhil, a police spokesperson in Ghazni told VOA.

The Taliban has said Afghan and U.S. forces use the network signals to locate the group’s fighters.

In addition to Ghazni, the insurgent group has asked mobile phone companies to halt their networks’ coverage in several other provinces as well, an official of a major cell phone company in Kabul told VOA on the condition of anonymity.

The official added that in many cases, the operators have no option but to comply with what the insurgents want.

The disruption in telecom services have angered customers in Ghazni who rely on mobile phone as their only means of communication. The residents fear that if the government does not address the issue in a timely manner, the telecom companies may end their operation in the province.

“Some time ago, the Taliban had warned the telecom companies to pay taxes to the Taliban, not to the government, and the issue was resolved,” Jamil Weqar, an activist in Ghazni told VOA. “But this time, they destroyed the towers which has created many problems [for customers],” he added.

The telecommunication sector in Afghanistan has made tremendous progress following the fall of the Taliban and the establishment of a new government in the post-2001 era. With little to no access to cell phones and the internet 15 years ago, the country now has more than 20 million mobile phone subscribers, covering more than 85 percent of the population.

New strategy

The communication blackout comes as the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is increasing military pressure on militant groups across the country. The new plan includes a more intensive use of airpower against militants.

The latest official data shows U.S. forces dropped 751 bombs in September against the Taliban and militants linked to the so-called Islamic State terror group in Afghanistan. This is the largest number of bombs dropped on militants in a single month since 2012.

“This increase can be attributed to the president’s strategy to more proactively target extremist groups that threaten the stability and security of the Afghan people,” according to a summary from the U.S. Air Force’s Central Command.

U.S.-backed Afghan forces are trying to regain control of areas and districts lost to the Taliban across the country.

The government has said it controls nearly two-thirds of the country’s 407 districts. Taliban reportedly control 33 districts, less than 10 percent of the national total. Around 116 districts are “contested” areas, according to a recent U.S. military assessment. (voa)

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Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah thanks India, slams Pakistan

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Afghanistan leader abdullah abdullah
Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. ians

New Delhi, Sep 29: Afghanistan Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah on Friday thanked India for its “generous contributions” in reconstructing the war-torn nation and slammed Pakistan for its role in destabilizing the country.

However, he added, Afghanistan would continue to extend hands of friendship to all its neighbours including Pakistan.

Delivering the 24th Sapru House Lecture here, Abdullah, who is on a visit to India to enhance ties between the two countries, said terror was a threat to all nations and that a stable Afghanistan would benefit all countries in the region.

He said Afghanistan faced some “serious challenge” when it came to its relations with Pakistan.

“The fact that there are groups based in Pakistan which are threatening the security of Afghanistan and (they) continue to receive support and continue to embark upon destabilizing activities and acts of terror in Afghanistan. That is a very serious challenge for us and for the whole region,” Abdullah said.

Referring to Pakistan, he added that there were some “very clear lessons in the past when some of the terrorist groups created for other purposes turned against those who created them and started to pose a threat and continue to do so.

“Our message is very clear: Afghanistan’s civility and prosperity is in the interest of the region. Afghanistan has no bad intention towards any neighbouring country.

“We have extended and will continue to extend hands of friendship to all its neighbours and countries of the region. And we expect reciprocation,” Abdullah said, adding his country would continue the dialogue process with neighbours to address common challenges.

He said countries needed to decide that “terrorism would not be used as a tool for foreign policy”.

Referring to India, the Afghan leader said its contributions had made a difference to lives of millions of Afghan people.

“Relations between Afghanistan and India, which are founded in the bonds of history and culture of both nations, have been strengthened in the past 16 years with your generous contributions that made a difference to lives of millions of people,” he said.

Abdullah added that India’s support in many fields including education, infrastructure and security had “contributed in its own way in stabilization of our country and pursuit of our democratic aspirations and also betterment of lives of our people”.

He said while he was supposed to arrive in India a day earlier, his visit was delayed “because of the terrorist attack on Kabul International Airport”.

“But I was determined to come. Terrorist attacks may have caused us some delay but they could not stop us.”

He said while on one side there were aspirations and efforts of millions to create a stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, on the other there were efforts of a “tiny minority” to destroy lives of people through acts of terror.

“But our wisdom says that human dignity will prevail and acts of terror would be condemned to fail.”

He said “terror is terror” and that there should be no differentiation when it comes to terror: “good and bad terrorist groups”.

Abdullah said Afghanistan can play its “rightful” role as a bridge between South Asia and Central Asia.

“We are working together – India and Iran have taken lead – towards operationalisation of Chabahar. We hope, as India has annouced, it would contribute further, that one year target of full operationalisation of Chabahar would be met.”

He said India, Iran, Afghanistan and other countries would benefit from this.

“We will witness the first act of operationalisation by receiving shipments of wheat through Chabahar in a few days time. But further work would continue,” Abdullah added.

Iran’s Chabahar port lies outside the Persian Gulf and is easily accessed from India’s western coast, bypassing Pakistan. Once operationalised, India can bypass Pakistan to transport goods to Afghanistan.(IANS)