August 19, 2017
Security forces are on high alert across Afghanistan, as the country marks the 98th anniversary of its independence from Britain.
The celebrations this year are occurring following a number of high-profile attacks in the country and as the U.S. administration is trying to forge a new strategy in the 16-year war against the Taliban.
Afghan pop star Aryana Sayeed went ahead with a charity concert in Kabul on the evening of August 19 despite threats from conservatives who oppose women performing in public.
More than 1,000 people gathered at the five-star Hotel Inter-Continental amid tight security to attend the performance.
“I’m going to try to give a smile to my fellow Afghans, and give them a good time, and try to change their mind, and take their tension away for at least an hour or two,” Sayeed told RFE/RL on August 17.
August 19 commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi in 1919, which gave Afghanistan complete independence from British rule after three wars. Although Britain controlled Afghanistan’s foreign policy for 40 years following the end of the second Anglo-Afghan War, Afghanistan was never part of the British Empire.
Earlier in the day, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani laid a wreath at the Freedom Minaret inside the Defense Ministry compound in Kabul during a ceremony attended by cabinet members and other government officials.
Ghani also welcomed dozens of Afghan dignitaries and family members at the presidential palace to mark the anniversary, and later traveled to the western city of Herat, where he inaugurated two factories and addressed both troops and ordinary Afghans.
“A very happy Independence Day to everyone in AFG,” Ghani wrote in a message on Twitter.”This day was earned with lots of sacrifices. We must pay homage & celebrate this legacy.”
There is an increased police presence in Kabul, which has been on edge since a massive truck bomb ripped through its diplomatic quarter on May 31, killing about 150 people. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
“All of our police units are on the highest state of alert and they are placed everywhere across the city,” Kabul police spokesman Abdul Basir Mujahid told AFP.
“We have increased the number of police checkpoints in and around the diplomatic quarters [too],” he added, amid fears that the Taliban would mark the anniversary with a large-scale attack.
Taliban militants are currently at the peak of their summer fighting season.
In the southern province of Helmand, officials said clashes with Taliban militants killed at least five police officers and wounded five others late on August 18. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in Nawa district.
The Taliban also attacked a checkpoint at Tarin Kot, the capital of the neighboring Uruzgan Province. One police officer and 15 militants were reported killed in the fighting, while three officers were wounded.
The celebrations this year are also occurring after President Donald Trump met with his military advisers at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland on August 18 to discuss a U.S. strategy in South Asia.
On August 19, Trump tweeted about the meeting, saying, “Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan.”
It was unclear what decisions were made and when they will be announced.
Speaking after meeting at Camp David, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump had made no decision on committing more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
“The president is studying and considering his options and will make an announcement to the American people, to our allies and partners, and to the world at the appropriate time,” Sanders told reporters.
There are currently some 8,400 U.S. and 5,000 NATO troops supporting Afghanistan’s security forces in the fight against Taliban and other militants.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson conveyed his congratulations to Afghanistan on the eve of the anniversary of the country’s independence from Britain, saying, “Our strong friendship with Afghanistan is based on our mutual dedication to helping the Afghan people secure a safe and prosperous future.”
“Afghanistan has made significant economic, political, and social progress in the last 16 years, and we bear witness every day to the Afghan people’s dedication to building a more democratic and peaceful country,” a statement said.
“The Afghan spirit of resilience and courage in the face of adversity continues to guide the people of Afghanistan toward a better future,” it added.
With reporting by AFP and AP