DW: The United States’ renewal of sanctions on Iran is having an unintended knock-on effect on Afghanistan. The country’s currency is taking a beating as dollar smugglers rush to provide much-needed foreign exchange to the neighboring Iranian economy. Click here to read more (external link).
Tolo News: Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who has been reportedly pushing for the US government to “privatize” the war in Afghanistan, said on Monday that one year after the launch of the Pentagon’s new strategy for South Asia, the Afghan war “remains a total failure.” Prince meanwhile said last week that he hasn’t spoken directly to Trump about the plan, but said he plans to launch an aggressive media “air campaign” to get the president to embrace it. Click here to read more (external link).
RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan
August 20, 2018
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — The Taliban has reportedly rejected an offer by the Afghan government for a cease-fire, with militant commanders vowing to carry on their attacks after Taliban fighters in the north seized nearly 200 hostages from a convoy of passenger buses.
A Taliban spokesman said Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada on August 20 rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s offer a day earlier of a “conditional” cease-fire with the Taliban to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
The cease-fire was meant to begin on August 20 and run for three months, conditioned upon Taliban participation.
But the Taliban spokesman told Reuters by telephone on August 20 that Akhunzada had rejected the new offer on grounds that it would only help the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan.
“Our leadership feels that they’ll prolong their stay in Afghanistan if we announced a cease-fire now,” the Taliban spokesman said, declining to be identified.
An official in Ghani’s office said the Afghan government would continue its military operations against the Taliban if the militants did not respect the cease-fire.
Afghan officials say government security forces on August 20 freed 149 people who had been taken hostage by the Taliban several hours earlier in the northern province of Kunduz.
Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry, told RFE/RL that the militants continued to hold 21 others hostage on August 20 after they ambushed a convoy of passenger buses traveling to Kabul for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
He said fighting in the area had halted while Afghan authorities used local elders as intermediaries in negotiations with the Taliban for the release of the remaining hostages.
The buses were stopped in the province’s Khan Abad district, an area under Taliban control — prompting a battle against government forces deployed in a rescue operation.
Rahimi said the rescue operation had killed at least seven Taliban fighters before the militants fled the scene. He said the Taliban had left behind the 149 freed hostages because the militants were unable to transport all of the group due to the rescue operation.
Rahimi said the remaining 21 hostages were taken by the Taliban to an undisclosed location. He said none of them were government employees or members of Afghanistan’s security forces.
However, a Taliban spokesman said the militants were conducting their own investigations to determine if any of the remaining hostages work for the Afghan government or security forces.
Sayed Assadullah Sadat, a Kunduz provincial council member, said earlier on August 20 that the buses “were packed with people and maybe there were army soldiers and police” among those taken hostage.
Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the Kunduz provincial council, said he thinks the Taliban were looking for government employees or members of the security forces.
Abdul Rahman Aqtash, the police chief in neighboring Takhar province, says the passengers were from Badakhshan and Takhar provinces.
The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.
August 20, 2018
ISLAMABAD — Most of the bus passengers kidnapped by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan have been released following mediation by Afghan tribal elders.
Minister of Interior advisor Bahar Mehr said insurgents are still holding 12 passengers from three buses seized early Monday in Kunduz province.
Each bus had a capacity of 60 people and Afghanistan’s local ToloNews reported the buses had 170 passengers, including women and children.
The buses were on their way to Kabul from Takhar province when they were seized.
On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a three-month cease-fire, conditional on Taliban participation.
Taliban sources said their leadership would give instructions to their military commanders to cease fire for four days of Eid-al-Adha, but may not announce it officially.
Earlier, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced the group would release a number of prisoners, to allow them to spend the Muslim holy festival Eid-al-Adha with their families. Afghanistan will celebrate the Eid festival beginning Tuesday.
The last time Ghani announced a cease-fire in June, for the Eid-al-Fitr festival, the Taliban reciprocated.
Taliban fighters headed to cities and offered prayers with their battlefield enemies in the security forces and took selfies with them. It was the first time in two decades of war when hostilities briefly ceased between the two sides.
“The last cease-fire in Afghanistan revealed the deep desire of the Afghan people to end the conflict, and we hope another ceasefire will move the country closer to sustainable security,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday. He added, “The U.S. is ready to “support, facilitate and participate in direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.”
Tolo News: Kabul hosted Sunday’s friendly between the Afghanistan national football team and Palestine’s national team at the Afghanistan Football Federation’s stadium. Both teams had a number of opportunities at goal – but neither team scored. When the final whistle was blown, the score stood at 0-0. Click here to read more (external link).
August 19, 2018
ISLAMABAD — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has announced a three-month unilateral conditional cease-fire with the Taliban, hours after authorities confirmed the Islamist insurgency overran a northern district and apparently captured dozens of government soldiers.
Ghani explained Afghan forces will halt their operations from Monday, provided the insurgents reciprocate and respect also his truce.
The cease-fire coincides with the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Adha marking the culmination of the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca and commemorating the sacrifice of Abraham.
There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban to the announcement.
A similar gesture by President Ghani had prompted the Taliban in June to observe a temporary cease-fire during the three-day Eid-ul-Fitr festivities that marked the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Sunday’s government peace gesture followed fighting in northern Faryab province.
Faryab Governor Naqibullah Fayiq told VOA the embattled Bilchiragh district had been under attack for several days and fell to insurgents Saturday because besieged Afghan security forces there could not receive timely reinforcements.
The governor would not discuss the fate of the government forces. Local media reported around 100 Afghan security personnel are missing.
A Taliban spokesman claimed its fighters entered the district without facing resistance from government forces. He added Afghan security forces “welcomed and joined hands” with the insurgency.
It was not possible to verify insurgent claims from independent sources and Afghan military officials were not available to discuss the battlefield details.
Post-fighting Ghazni situation
Elsewhere, the embattled southeastern Ghazni city, with an estimated population of 270,000, began receiving relief supplies Sunday, days after Afghan forces regained full control of the provincial capital from Taliban insurgents following several days of clashes.
The fighting caused massive damage to buildings and other infrastructure in Ghanzi, leading to critical food and water shortages.
The U.N. estimated the fighting for the control of the strategically important city killed around 200 civilians while Afghan officials and media said the government and the Taliban collectively lost about 400 combatants.
Violence against aid workers
Meanwhile, a U.N. statement on World Humanitarian Day warned attacks against aid workers in the country this year have increased by 20 percent, with 23 killed, 37 injured and 74 abducted. it said during the first six months of this year 1,692 civilians were killed by conflict, the highest number in the past decade.
More than 130 schools were attacked and two health facilities were completely destroyed.
Toby, Lanzer, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, renewed his call for all parties to the conflict to abide by their obligation under international humanitarian law and avoid targeting civilians and staff of relief groups in the country.
Last year, armed groups closed more than 140 health facilities, denying two million people access to health care.
“This worrisome trend continues in 2018: In July and August more than 300,000 people were temporarily deprived of access to health care in Zabul Province as a direct result of closure of health facilities,” lamented the U.N. agency.
At the same time, several dozen troops from a military base in the same province remain unaccounted for, ToloNews reported, citing a source.
The Taliban movement captured Sainia base, which hosted 76 government troops, a spokesman for Shaheen Camp, Mohammad Hanif Rezaee, told Sputnik earlier this week.
According to media reports, at least 18 Afghan troops were killed and 12 were injured during the attack on the base. The government forces in Afghanistan have been fighting the Taliban radical movement for years.
Tolo News: Today, Sunday, August 19, thousands of Afghans around the country will celebrate the 99th anniversary of Independence Day. This national holiday honors Shah Amanullah Khan’s defeat of the British Empire in 1919 and the founding of the nation. Click here to read more (external link).