Tolo News: President Ashraf Ghani has ordered the appointment of Nargis Nehan as the minister of mines and petroleum. “In line with provisions of paragraph 11 of article 64 of the constitution, the nomination and appointment of Nargis Nehan as minister of mines and petroleum is approved,” part of the presidential order reads. Click here to read more (external link).
WELLINGTON, March 27 (Xinhua) — The commander of New Zealand’s armed forces on Monday refuted claims that special forces killed civilians in a botched raid in Afghanistan but questions remained about the accusations.
Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Tim Keating told a live broadcast press conference that the claims made by two investigative journalists in the book “Hit and Run” appeared to have confused a raid led by New Zealand’s Special Air Service (SAS) with an unrelated action 2 km away.
Keating conceded that civilians might have been killed in the SAS-led raid, dubbed Operation Burnham, on the village of Tirgiran in August 2010.
However, he said, the premise of the book was incorrect, and New Zealand troops had never operated in the two villages named in the book – Khak Khuday Dad and Naik.
The book, released last week claimed the Special Air Service led U.S. and Afghan forces in a raid that killed six civilians including a 3-year-old girl in the two villages in Afghanistan’s Baghlan province.
Another 15 civilians were wounded in the villages where the SAS mistakenly believed they would find insurgents who had attacked a New Zealand patrol 19 days earlier, killing a New Zealand officer, in neighboring Bamiyan, the book claimed.
An air force officer said at the press conference that the two locations were “significantly different” from each other.
Khak Khuday Dad and Naik were in a dry valley, while Tirgiran was a lush location at the confluence of two rivers.
Keating said it was “highly unlikely” that the New Zealand-led force had also raided nearby villages that could have been confused with Operation Burnham.
He was not asked, and did not offer any explanation, of who could have raided Khak Khuday Dad and Naik.
He said the conduct of the SAS throughout Operation Burnham has been “exemplary.”
An International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) report into the operation concluded there might have been some civilian deaths, after rounds fired by a U.S. Apache helicopter fell short, hitting a building where civilians could have been.
But civilian casualties had not been corroborated, he said.
In total, nine identified insurgents were killed, he said.
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) issued a statement of rebuttal on Sunday and “Hit and Run” authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson responded Monday, saying they stood by the facts in their book.
They said in a statement that the NZDF response to the book was “bizarre and a continuation of seven years of cover up.”
“We are absolutely confident that an SAS raid took place on Aug. 22, 2010, where six civilians were killed and another 15 injured,” they said.
“We have testimony about these events from members of the SAS, Afghan commandos and people living in the villages that were raided, Naik and Khak Khuday Dad. The SAS and villagers both talked about assaults on the same named people’s houses. It is actually impossible that the story is wrong.”
New Zealand lawmakers have called for an independent probe into the claims, but Prime Minister Bill English told Radio New Zealand Monday that allegations of war crimes appeared to be unfounded and there was unlikely to be an inquiry into that.
March 26, 2017
The American University of Afghanistan, a prestigious institution of higher education in the country, has just reopened seven months after a deadly terrorist attack that killed 13 people and injured more than 35 others.
Among those killed last August were seven students, one professor, three police officers and two security guards according to the country’s Ministry of Interior Affairs.
The school – whose faculty consists of Afghans and foreign nationals, including Americans -officially reopened on Saturday, but classes are scheduled to start March 28.
“We continued our commitment to the future of Afghanistan,” David Sedney, Acting President of the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) told VOA’s Afghanistan service.
Sedney added that the university campus is now safer than before because of new security measures taken in the wake of last year’s terrorist attack.
The university seemed to have been a target of the militants for a while. Prior to the attack, but during the same month, an American and an Australian professor were kidnapped at gunpoint while on their way to the campus.
Both professors appeared in a video in January asking the American government to negotiate and secure their release, but they have yet to be freed.
‘Campus is safe’
“While the American University of Afghanistan’s doors remained closed for students after the August 2016 attack, we reviewed our security system to make it stronger so that our students return to a safer environment,” Zubaida Akbar, director of communications at the university told VOA.
Established in 2006 with the help of Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, the university offers graduate and undergraduate programs based on the American system.
“Today is a good day for the world. I am delighted that AUAF has reopened. I know that the university community has been eagerly waiting for this day,” Khalilzad, who is also a member of the AUAF Board of Trustees, told VOA.
“The Afghan people and the Afghan leadership rallied in support of the University,” he added.
The university has about 1,700 students and is viewed as one of the country’s finest institutions of higher education. Some of its graduates are working in senior positions within the Afghan government.
“Our goal is to help provide a modern and prosperous future to Afghanistan and we want to help educate the future leaders of Afghanistan,” Akbar said.
Attack not deterring students
The terrorist attack has not deterred Afghans from seeking education at AUAF.
“We have 80 new students this semester, the highest enrollment rate in a single year,” Akbar said.
Militants have increasingly targeted educational institutions, young professionals and educated members of the Afghan society. Experts believe militants are purposely targeting these institutions to deprive the younger generation from education and to disconnect them from the rest of the world.
“The attackers wanted to permanently close this excellent center of learning. They failed,” Khalilzad said. “I wish the AUAF success in delivering on its mission: to educate its students and provide them with 21st century skills, who can lead successful lives and, in turn, can help Afghanistan succeed.”
Initially, for many the attack on the school seemed to have been the beginning of an end for the university. But the institution’s administrators told VOA that many of the university’s foreign faculty have returned.
Some parents remain concerned about the safety of their children, fearing another attack by the militants.
But the university says parents are welcome to visit the campus to examine the new security measures put in place by the administration in the wake of the terrorist attack.
To students like Faryal Yaqubi, however, the American University of Afghanistan presents an opportunity and hope of a better tomorrow.
“My parents and I want to complete my studies at this university because it is one of the best universities in the country,” Yaqubi told VOA. “Now, we do not have any [security] issues. The university is fully functional.”
Business administration student, freshman Kabir Ali, told VOA that he was anxious to return to the classroom.
“I have been impatiently waiting for the reopening of the university. Now I feel safer and more optimistic about my higher education at AUAF,” Ali said.
VOA’s Afghanistan service contributed to this report.
ISLAMABAD, March 26 (Xinhua) — Pakistani and Afghan lawmakers, former officials, members of civil society and media will hold a three-day dialogue here from Monday to explore ways to bring ties closer, organizers said on Sunday.
Independent think tank the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad and the Kabul-based Women & Peace Studies Organization will hold the talks at a time when tensions have affected bilateral official contacts.
The last week meeting of senior Pakistani and Afghan advisers in London led to the reopening of the border after nearly a month and both sides also agreed on “bilateral engagement.”
However, a follow-up meeting has not yet been held since the advisers’ meeting on March 15.
The civil delegates will also hold meetings with senior Pakistani officials including Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz and National Security Adviser Nasir Janjua. Some of them will also speak to students at two major universities.
Organizers said the dialogue aimed at developing understanding on the identified bilateral issues to help detox narratives, improve public perceptions, and mitigate mutual allegations and suspicions.
They said the members will act as bridge between the two governments to ensure continuation of bilateral conversation and promote and foster better people-to-people contacts between the two countries.
During their dialogue last month in Kabul, the Afghan and Pakistani members called on both countries to exercise restraint in the current situation in the larger interest of the people of the two countries.
The groups also called on both governments to instantly provide counsellor access to prisoners detained in both countries on various charges as this could help in providing mutual legal assistance and fair trial.
1TV: The open trial of four former officials of the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing (MUDH) were begun on Sunday in Kabul after almost two years delay. The four officials were tried on charges of embezzlement of at least one billion Afghanis in Khwaja Rawash and Hakim Sanayee housing projects of MUDH. The primary court sentenced two of the officials to 20 years and fine of $200 million each, while two others were jailed for seven years and 450 million Afghanis each respectively. Click here to read more (external link).
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
March 26, 2017
The U.S. military has confirmed that an air strike on March 19 in Afghanistan killed Qari Yasin, described as an Al-Qaeda leader responsible for several high-profile attacks that killed dozens of people, including two U.S. service members.
The Pentagon on March 25 said the air strike on Yasin — a “senior terrorist figure” from Balochistan, Pakistan — was conducted in Afghanistan’s Paktika Province, the site of many U.S.-led air strikes over recent years.
Paktia, located near the Pakistani border, is a volatile area where the Taliban has a strong presence.
Yasin had ties to the Tehrik-e Taliban militant organization and had plotted multiple terror attacks, the Pentagon said.
U.S. officials said Yasin led the September 20, 2008, bombing on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed dozens of people, including U.S. Air Force Major Rodolfo I. Rodriguez and Navy Petty Officer Matthew J. O’Bryant.
Yasin was also responsible for the 2009 attack on a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, official said.
Six Pakistani policemen and two civilians were killed in that attack.
“The death of Qari Yasin is evidence that terrorists who defame Islam and deliberately target innocent people will not escape justice,” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said.
Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.
More Security News
March 25, 2017
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan says it has started fencing off its long border with Afghanistan and areas vulnerable to cross-border militant attacks are being given priority.
Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa revealed the project during a visit Saturday to tribal districts, including Mohmand, near the Afghan border where “terrorists” assaulted outposts from across the other side and killed five Pakistani soldiers this month.
Bajwa identified Mohmand and neighboring Bajaur district as “high threat zones”, saying fencing them is the military’s high priority.
An army statement quoted him as saying that efforts are also underway to “evolve a border security mechanism” with Afghan authorities.
“A better managed, secure and peaceful border is in mutual interest of both brotherly countries who have given phenomenal sacrifices in war against terrorism,” the general said.
Without elaborating, the Pakistan army chief said that “technical surveillance means” are also being deployed in addition to regular air surveillance to enhance the border security.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share a nearly 2,600 kilometer, largely porous, border and both blame each other for encouraging terrorist infiltration to support deadly attacks on their respective soils.
Relations between the countries have nosedived in the last two years over mutual terrorism allegations.
Islamabad closed all border crossings with the landlocked country a month ago, saying terrorist attacks in Pakistan were being orchestrated by fugitive anti-state militants sheltering in Afghan border areas.
Pakistan reopened the crossings earlier this week to allow legal travelers and thousands of stranded Afghanistan-bound shipping containers to resume their journey.
Kabul rejects charges anti-Pakistan militants are using Afghan soil for cross-border attacks and instead demanded Islamabad close insurgent sanctuaries on its side of the border being used to fuel violence in Afghanistan, charges Pakistani authorities deny.
1TV: President Ashraf Ghani has warned to ‘dissolve’ the parliament if it summons the security ministers. The issue was stated by Humayun Humayun, the first deputy speaker of the Wolesi Jirga ( House of representatives) during the Wolesi Jirga’s Saturday session which was held behind closed doors. Ghani’s remarks sparked strong reactions of a number of MPs in Wolesi Jirga. Click here to read more (external link).
1TV: The Afghan wedding halls will no longer receive “cash payments” from their customers based on the Finance Ministry’s new measure. The plan will require wedding halls to receive payments from their customers through the banking system. The measure is part of efforts to counter corruption and tax evasion. Click here to read more (external link).
CNBC: Last week, Afghanistan released new data showing opium production is surging, information that dovetailed with a widely circulated 2016 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report that showed similar findings. The primary problem is a new strain of genetically modified seed that comes from China, which allows poppies to be grown year round. The so-called Chinese seeds began appearing in 2015, according to the UNODC, leading to a massive 43 percent surge in production last year. Click here to read more (external link).