Suicide bomber hits meeting of Afghan religious figures condemning terrorism, killing 14

 0:45
Several killed in suicide blast in Afghanistan

At least 14 people were killed in a suicide blast outside a two-day peace gathering of Muslim clerics in Afghanistan’s capital on June 4. 

June 4 at 1:12 PM

 A suicide bomber killed 14 people Monday outside a large gathering in Kabul where top religious figures had just condemned suicide attacks as violations of Islam.

The attack occurred near the main entrance to a large tented compound in the Afghan capital, where about 2,000 Muslim clerics had assembled to deliberate on the war and attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic State, which are battling the Afghan government as well as U.S. and allied troops.

The group, called the Afghan Ulema Council, had issued an unprecedented religious edict earlier in the day that said the insurgency in Afghanistan has no religious basis. It also declared that suicide attacks, often used by Taliban and Islamic State insurgents, are “haram,” or forbidden by Islam.

Police said seven of the victims were clerics who had been invited from various parts of Afghanistan by President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which has been seeking ways to make peace with the Taliban with the strong support of the U.S. government and Western donors.

Many people at the meeting had left the tent by the time the bomber detonated his explosives, reducing the potential number of casualties.

The Taliban distanced itself from the attack, and no other group immediately claimed responsibility. The blast occurred after several months of frequent bombings and other attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in the country. The insurgents have targeted mosques, government ministries, voter identification offices, charities, hotels and police stations.

 While singling out the insurgents’ lethal tactics for condemnation, the council called on Afghan government forces and militant groups to halt the fighting, agree on a cease-fire and hold peace talks.

It was the first time in 17 years of conflict that the nation’s senior Muslim clerics have made such an appeal. Many are deeply conservative Pashtuns who share religious and tribal roots with the Taliban and whose views could carry weight with the insurgents. However, they have much less connection or potential influence on the Islamic State, a foreign-based extremist group with few Afghan roots.

Shortly before the attack, a member of the council read an edict, or fatwa, from the group, saying that the war is “illegal according to Islamic laws, and it does nothing but shed the blood of Muslims.”

“We, the religious Ulema, call on the Taliban to respond positively to the peace offer of the Afghan government in order to prevent further bloodshed in the country,” it added.

The fatwa also said that killings by any means, including suicide attacks and crimes such as armed robberies and kidnappings, are sins in Islam.

Enatullah Balegh, a senior council member and adviser to Ghani, told the meeting that clerics also do not support the presence of foreign troops and that religious scholars should form a larger gathering and find a way to end the war.

Pamela Constable in Essex, Conn., contributed to this report.

COURTESY: TWP

Gunmen kill Christians and Muslims in Quetta, Pakistan

The Christian family was going to visit relatives when they were shot dead in an attack claimed by the “Islamic State.” The Muslims were killed by gunmen on motorcycles in a separate unclaimed attack in Quetta.

Troops guard a Christian church in QuettaTroops guard a Christian church in Quetta

An affiliate group of the “Islamic State” (IS) militant organization has taken responsibility for Monday’s attack on the Christian family, but it was unclear who was behind the unrelated attack on the Muslims, police said. Both attacks took place in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

“Three members of a family, including a woman, were killed when the motor rickshaw they were (in)… came under attack,” Moazzam Jah Ansari, the provincial police chief, said of the attack on the Christians in Quetta on Monday. “The rickshaw driver, who was also a Christian by faith, is among the dead,” he added. A child was injured and taken to hospital.

“Initial investigations suggest the people were ambushed because of their faith,” Ansari said. Christians make up only two percent of the Pakistani population of 200 million people, most of whom are Muslims. The religious minority has faced discrimination and violence.

In another attack in Quetta on Monday, gunmen on a motorcycle killed five Muslims.

In addition to Islamist extremists, ethnic Baloch militants have been engaged in a long-running separatist insurgency in the region.

US troops in Helmand Province, AfghanistanUS troops in Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Death sentences confirmed

Earlier on Monday the death sentences for ten convicted militants were confirmed by Pakistani military courts. The militants had been found guilty of taking part in separate attacks that had killed 62 people.

Among the victims of the attacks were a well-known Sufi singer, Amjad Sabri, who was killed together with his father in Karachi in 2016.

Military trials, closed to the public, were reinstated after the 2014 attack on a Peshawar school in which more than 150 people, mostly young students, were killed. The moratorium on the death penalty was also lifted at that time.

Pakistan and US links

Quetta, where Monday’s attacks took place, is the capital of the western Pakistani region of Baluchistan. The city lies close to the border with Afghanistan. Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a drone strike near Quetta in 2016.

Pakistan was one of the largest recipients of American aid until the Trump administration announced in January that it was suspending $900 million (€731 million) in security assistance to Pakistan until the country took action against the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network militants.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley accused Islamabad of “playing a double game for years” with its selective support for various militant groups operating from Pakistan.

The US military has relied on Pakistani air and ground routes for supplies to its troops in Afghanistan, estimated at around 14,000. Their mission there is to train, advise and assist the Afghan military who are fighting the Taliban and IS militants.

Watch video01:43

Pakistan under pressure to repeal blasphemy laws

jm/cmb (AFP, AP)

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Taliban attacks cast doubts on US’ Afghan strategy

It seems as if there is no end in sight to the spate of deadly attacks occurring relentlessly in Afghanistan, killing scores and throwing lives in disarray. Is the new US strategy responsible for this spike in terror?

Watch video01:04

Afghanistan: IS militants attack Kabul military base

A string of brutal attacks over the past several weeks, killing and injuring hundreds of innocent Afghans, have shown the world the fragile and worsening state of security in Afghanistan and made it once again a staple of international headlines.

The incidents have plunged war-weary Afghan citizens into a state of despair and highlighted the limitations faced by the government in Kabul in ensuring public security.

Both the Taliban and the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) have claimed responsibility for the violence.

A bloody start

2018 did not start on a positive note for the nation ravaged by the vagaries of conflict and turmoil over the past several decades. Many Afghans believe the attacks they have witnessed in January mark only the beginning in the latest bout of violence. Fears abound about the number of casualties rising in the coming months. The alleged peace talks that were mentioned only a few weeks ago are now but a distant memory.

Watch video00:40

Deadly blast in Kabul

What are the reasons for this surge in violence?

The latest attacks can be regarded as a response to the recent US military offensive in the Afghan provinces Helmand, Nangarhar, Kunduz and others, said A.D. Mohammad Arif, an Afghan security expert.

“The Taliban usually start their offensive after the winter (as a spring offensive), but they have now brought it forward in response to the US’ new Afghanistan strategy. They want to show that they are far from being defeated,” Arif told DW.

Unlike in previous years, the US, along with Afghan security forces, began its offensive against the insurgents in the winter this year. The move is part of the US’ new Afghan strategy, unveiled by President Donald Trump in August 2017.

Trump then affirmed that he would increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan and remain engaged in the country until it no longer needed them. The US president also blamed Pakistan as the main reason for the lack of progress in Afghanistan.

To lend weight to his words, Trump even froze US military aid to Islamabad.

Washington’s stated objective is to put pressure on Pakistan until Pakistani authorities revoke their alleged support to outfits like the Afghan Taliban and other insurgent groups.

The right solution?

At a press conference on Monday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani indirectly blamed Pakistan for the recent series of attacks. “(The Taliban) have claimed responsibility without hesitation, as per their masters’ wish. These masters have made it clear that they will not bow to pressure from the outside,” said Ghani.

Read more:

–  Trump is good for Afghanistan, tough on Pakistan, say experts

– What Donald Trump can really do to ‘rein in’ Pakistan

Nicole Birtsch, an Afghanistan expertat the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), is also of the view that the recent attacks could be a reaction to the air strikes and anti-insurgent operations the US military and Afghan security forces have been jointly carrying out against the Taliban.

Birtsch is unconvinced about the effectiveness of the US strategy to pressure Pakistan. “The strategy does not lead to a conducive environment for the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan to hold talks on an equal footing.”

The analyst says she is not optimistic about the near future, suspecting that the coming weeks will continue to be characterized by escalating violence. “I fear that people in Kabul, in particular, are losing hope for a more stable future because of the violence. They are therefore merely surviving rather than living.”

 

COURTESY: DW

Why is ‘Islamic State’ targeting Shiites in Afghanistan?

“Islamic State” has once again chosen to target Shiites in its latest Kabul bombings that killed at least 40 people. Experts say the group is trying to create sectarian rifts in the country and use them to its advantage.

Attack in Kabul on Thursday, December 28 (Getty Images/AFP/S. Marai)

Afghan officials first acknowledged Islamic State (IS) as a security threat as early as 2015. IS, officials claimed at the time, was confined only to the eastern Nangarhar province, where it controlled most parts of the Achin district.

The government subsequently launched military operations in the area and declared victory against the militant group in March 2016. In August of the same year, Washington and Kabul confirmed that Hafiz Saeed Khan, IS’s regional chief for the group’s so-called Khurasan branch, which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Central Asian countries, had been killed in a US drone strike.

The Pentagon confirmed in July 2017 that Abu Sayed, head of the IS terror group in Afghanistan, had been killed in a US airstrike in Kunar province. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Sayed’s death was a significant blow to IS.

In , almost 700  were killed in the first 9 months of the year (2017), @UNICEFAfg

Clashes with the Taliban, a much stronger and older Islamist group in Afghanistan, also hindered IS’s progress in the war-torn country. Due to these reasons, Afghan officials were hopeful that IS would not be able to establish itself in their country.

But things haven’t turned out exactly the way the Afghan government had hoped for. IS fighters continue to launch deadly attacks in the country.

The group claimed the Thursday suicide bomb attacks in the capital, Kabul, which killed at least 40 people and wounded over 30. The target of the assault was a public gathering at a Shiite cultural center.

Watch video01:04

Kabul: Dozens killed in IS-claimed attack

Sectarian divisions

It was not the first time that Islamic State, a largely Sunni militant group, targeted Afghan Shiites. Afghanistan’s Shiite minority has witnessed several attacks in 2017. Hundreds of people have been killed in attacks on their mosques and religious ceremonies. Among them were three attacks on Shiite mosques in Kabul in August, September and October.

Kabul-based security analyst Wahid Muzhdah believes the jihadist group is trying to create sectarian rifts in Afghanistan.

“IS is facing a huge challenge from the Taliban, who are a potent militant force in the country,” Muzhdah told DW.

“To establish itself in Afghanistan, IS needs support from local extremist Sunni groups. IS is targeting Shiites to distinguish itself from the Taliban,” Muzhdah added.

“This gruesome attack underscores the dangers faced by Afghan civilians. In one of the deadliest years on record, journalists and other civilians continue to be ruthlessly targeted by armed groups” – @birajpat

Afghan security experts fear IS could divide the country along sectarian lines. Muzhdah, however, believes it won’t be an easy task for the jihadist group.

“After each IS attack on Afghan Shiites, religious leaders from all Islamic sects have come forward in support of the victims,” he said. “But if the government doesn’t do anything to stop such attacks, the sectarian split could deepen,” Muzhdah warned.

Read more: Donald Trump’s Afghanistan strategy raises the stakes

Bildergalerie IS in Afghanistan (picture-alliance/dpa/G. Habibi)IS fighters continue to launch deadly attacks in Afghanistan

From Middle East to South Asia

The IS focus on Afghanistan was quite inevitable after the group suffered heavy losses in Syria and Iraq in 2017. After IS’s defeat in Iraq, experts had warned that a large number of its fighters could move into Afghanistan and Pakistan from the Middle East.

“As a result of setbacks in Iraq and Syria, we will most likely experience a major influx of IS fighters into Afghanistan and Pakistan looking for new areas of operations,” Siegfried O. Wolf, a South Asia expert at the University of Heidelberg, told DW.

IS presence in Afghanistan is no longer confined to Nangarhar province. According to new reports, the group has increased activities in other parts of Afghanistan as well, including the relatively safe northern regions.

IS or IS-linked attacks have also spiked in Pakistan. Experts say the group could get support from Pakistan-based militant outfits that are against Shiites and the Iranian influence in their country.

Read more: Shias in Pakistan’s Parachinar caught in the middle of proxy wars

Afghan authorities have repeatedly accused Islamabad of supporting the Taliban and other militant groups and sending them into Afghanistan to destabilize the government. Experts say that although Pakistan does not consider IS an ally or a group which can fulfill its strategic interests in the region, things could change in the future as the hardline Saudi Wahhabi ideology could be a binding factor.

Read more: What is Pakistan’s militancy issue all about?

COURTESY: DW

Suicide bomber kills cadets in Afghanistan

Fifteen cadets have died in the second deadly suicide bomb attack in the capital, Kabul, within 24 hours. An attack on a mosque on Friday evening claimed at least 56 lives and injured some 55 more.

Firefighters and soldiers near the scene of Saturday's attack (Getty Images/AFP/W. Kohsar)

A suicide car bomber killed 15 Afghan army cadets as they left their military base in Kabul on Saturday, in the second deadly attack in the capital within 24 hours.

“This afternoon, when a minibus carrying army cadets was coming out of the military academy, a suicide bomber on foot targeted them, martyring 15 and wounding four,” said Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri.

It was not immediately clear who carried out Saturday’s attack, but a resurgent Taliban has been attacking military posts and installations with devastating effect, while Islamic State (IS) militants have stepped up attacks against Shiite mosques.

Watch video00:38

Suicide bomber attacks Shiite mosque in Kabul

IS claimed responsibility for Friday evening’s suicide bomb attack inside a Shiite mosque, which left 56 deadand another 55 injured.

Over the past five days there have been seven major attacks that have left more than 200 dead.

The barrage of deadly assaults underscores the deteriorating security situation across the country.

NATO’s Resolute Support mission tweeted that the latest strike was an “attack on the future” of Afghanistan and its security forces.

“This attack in #Kabul shows the insurgents are desperate and cannot win” against Afghanistan’s security and defense forces, it said.

This attack in  shows the insurgents are desperate and cannot win against  on the battlefield (2/2)

Attacks on the rise

But among the recent attacks, one of the deadliest — claimed by the Taliban — killed about 50 Afghan soldiers during an assault on a military base in the southern province of Kandahar on Thursday.

The militants blasted their way into the military base using two Humvees packed with explosives. It was one of three such attacks this week, according to officials.

The base, in the Chashmo area of Maiwand district, was razed to the ground, according to the Defense Ministry.

Afghan security forces secure the site of a Shiite mosque after a suicide bomb attack.More than 50 people were killed in Friday’s attack on the Imam-e-Zaman mosque in Kabul

On the same day, Taliban militants surrounded a police headquarters in the province of Ghazni, attacking it for the second time in a week.

Afghan security forces have endured soaring casualties as they struggle to hold back the insurgents. Their casualty rate has accelerated since NATO withdrew its combat forces from the country at the end of 2014.

The number of casualties jumped 35 percent in 2016, with some 6,800 soldiers and police officers killed, according to SIGAR, a US watchdog.

Insurgent attacks against security forces have become more sophisticated over the past year. SIGAR described Afghan casualty rates in the early part of the year as “shockingly high.”

People inspect the aftermath of a suicide bomb attack inside a Shiite mosque in Kabul.Friday’s mosque attack underscores the fragile security situation in Afghanistan

An attack on a military base in Mazar-i-Sharif in April was devastating, killing 144 people. Similarly, an attack on a military hospital in Kabul in March killed as many as 100.

People are growing increasingly angry at the government’s inability to protect them, particularly in Kabul, where nearly 20 percent of the country’s civilian deaths in the first half of the year occurred.

“If our government officials cannot protect us, they have to resign and let other competent officials take charge,” said an eyewitness to the mosque bombing Friday night.

bik/tj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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Dozens dead after ‘IS’ attack on Shiite mosque in Kabul

Islamic State fighters have killed several people and injured many more at a Shiite mosque in Kabul. The attack lasted for four hours before security services could kill the assailants without harming hostages.

The scene of the attack in Kabul

At least 20 people were killed when militants loyal to “Islamic State” (IS) stormed a mosque in the Afghan capital, Kabul. This was the latest in a string of attacks targeting Afghanistan’s minority Shiites.

The attack occurred during afternoon prayers and reportedly lasted for four hours, with the death toll expected to rise due to the dozens of seriously wounded victims who were brought to local hospitals.

Two assailants blew themselves up inside the mosque, while a further two were shot dead by Afghan security forces.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that IS terrorists were turning to attacks on places of worship because they were losing on the battlefield, and called on all Islamic clerics in the nation to condemn the violence.

One of the first groups to do so was actually the Afghan Taliban, which is fighting an armed insurgency against Ghani’s government. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid made it clear in a phone call to the news agency AP that his group had nothing to do with the attack and did not approve of it.

US promises more troops

The attack comes on the heels of US President Donald Trump announcing his new strategy for America’s longest war. After promising a complete removal of troops during his campaign, Trump said on Monday that after speaking with advisors, he realized a pullout was simply not feasible.

He added that he would send more troops to the region, but did not give a specific number.

Trump said that the removal of US soldiers from the country would leave a “vacuum” that could allow both the Taliban and IS to make gains against Ghani’s democratically elected government. He added that the US would focus on “killing terrorists” instead of “nation building,” without clarifying what he meant by either of those terms, though he did say he believed the future of Afghanistan should lie in the hands of its people and not Washington.

Trump’s speech received mixed reactions from allies in Kabul and around the world. For its part, Ghani’s government agrees that prolonged US presence is necessary as it continues its asymmetrical conflict with two armed Islamist insurgencies.

es/rt (AP, dpa)

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Trump’s Afghanistan plan: Can it actually work?

Trump acknowledges flip-flop on Afghanistan
Trump acknowledges flip-flop on Afghanistan 00:45

(CNN)On Monday night, President Donald Trump unveiled his new strategy for American involvement in Afghanistan — a country that has been the stage for a seemingly unwinnable war for 16 years.

There was not much in terms of specifics, though Trump did reveal that more US troops would be deployed and the military would have more freedom to fight America’s opponents as it sees fit. He also singled out Pakistan as part of the problem — implying that unless the Pakistanis stopped providing safety for terrorists, they might lose financial aid from the United States.
Perhaps the most significant revelation was Trump’s desire to find a political solution to end the war — one that includes bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

What’s new in Trump’s plan?

Trump’s Afghanistan plan
  • Five key pillars of Trump’s plan
  • OPINION: The view from Islamabad
The new plan for American engagement in Afghanistan that Trump announced is — until he puts more meat on the bones — the same old plan, only with less accountability to Washington.
Yes, Trump more publicly called out Pakistan as being part of the problem. But he failed to lay out any serious detail, making it hard to see exactly now this plan differs from existing US policy and how it will succeed where the old one failed.
On the other hand, the lack of clarity may keep the enemy guessing: no drawdown dates, no troop numbers, only the threat that the enemy cannot win on the battlefield.

How realistic is it?

Trump said: “Someday after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
A political solution to the fight with the Taliban is the only realistic way for US forces to leave Afghanistan and not give a free hand to al Qaeda and ISIS. In acknowledging this, it is clear that Trump is now listening to the advice of his generals.
If you listened carefully, you’ll have noticed that Trump differentiated between his enemies. This is key to leaving the door open for a political deal with the Taliban. He said that his objectives are to “obliterate ISIS,” “crush al Qaeda” and “prevent the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan.”
The Taliban have responded by seemingly leaving the door open for talks. They couched their threat to keep fighting the United States by saying, “If the US keeps following a war strategy, we will keep fighting them.” That careful use of the word “if” may come to be incredibly important.

Will the tough talk on Pakistan work?

Pakistan fears that India would like Afghanistan to become a client state on the Pakistani border.
Pakistan has long supported the Afghan Taliban to prevent this from happening and as a result has a controlling influence in the Afghan government.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Taliban have complained that Pakistan has prevented their efforts at negotiating peace on their own terms.
Trump’s demand that Pakistan stop offering a haven to criminals, terrorists and other groups is not new.
Trump: US in Afghanistan to kill terrorists
Trump: US in Afghanistan to kill terrorists 00:54
But when the United States has previously blamed Pakistan for supporting the Taliban — and in particular the Haqqani network — it has not worked out so well: Vital US troop resupply routes that run through Pakistan have been shut down, local tribes have protested and the government has closed the border.
In such situations, the United States has turned to Russia for help. Russia has allowed resupply trains to run across its territory to Afghanistan. But the Russia route is not ideal because it takes much longer — supplies can take more than a month to arrive, as opposed to days from Pakistani ports.
And the political situation today means that Russia is far less likely to allow United States the luxury of a backup path for supplies, should Pakistan close its borders again.

What does success look like?

Success for the United States in Afghanistan would be a negotiated political solution that sees the Taliban as a political entity in the Afghan government.
It is something the Taliban have demanded in the past. The group is seeking ministerial places as well as senior positions in the army.
The Taliban are a national force that has a nationalist agenda, unlike al Qaeda and ISIS, which both have international ambitions.
Recognizing that — as Trump appears to have — is key. Certainly, it wouldn’t guarantee success, but it would help create conditions where success may be possible.
Haley: Trump listened to his generals
Haley: Trump listened to his generals 01:32
It would certainly require more diplomatic heavy lifting than the United States has managed in the past. The Taliban have a vested interest in seeing ISIS defeated and al Qaeda diminished — both are threats.
Both groups share a broadly common conservative Islamic philosophy and, to a significant degree, their fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan are drawn from the same Pashtun ethnic group, with similarly strong cultural beliefs. This makes it even more important for the Taliban to gain recognition as a political force to represent their community and shut down sympathy for ISIS and al Qaeda.
And that’s the Taliban’s value to the Afghan government and to Trump: to co-opt them into denying territory to terrorists.

What will it take to achieve the plan?

Trust between all parties is central to this plan working.
Pakistan will have to feel that it can trust the United States to act in Pakistan’s interest as well as its own — something that will be complicated because of Trump’s huge appeal in India.
First, the United States cannot afford to make any mistakes — by this we mean civilian casualties that further damage its reputation. Second, it needs to practice quiet diplomacy and try to build a working relationship with the Taliban — which has suffered the most from American intervention.
India has to hold its venom on Pakistan, which it came close to doing in its statement Tuesday responding to Trump’s address.
And the Afghan government needs to win the confidence of its own people through curbing corruption and cronyism.
This is the only way it can build an army that thinks it has a country worth fighting for.
The fate of Afghanistan has always been in the hands of the generals who are invading it.
Trump’s announcement Monday night has done nothing to change this.
Courtesy, CNN
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