Troops raided a militant hideout in a former Pakistani Taliban stronghold near the border with Afghanistan on Friday, triggering a shootout that killed two insurgents, the military said. Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif summoned the country's opposition leader to forge a response to the recent surge in violence, including a mosque bombing that killed 101 people. Troops on Friday recovered a cache of weapons in a militant hideout in North Waziristan, a district of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the military said in a statement. The militants killed during the raid had been involved in past attacks on security forces, it added. The statement provided no further details, and the identity of the slain militants was not immediately known. Troops routinely carry out such raids to trace and arrest the Pakistani Taliban, who are also known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but are allies of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan a year ago as U.S. and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has emboldened the Pakistani Taliban, who have stepped up attacks since November when they ended the ceasefire with the government. The latest development comes days after a suicide bomber attacked a mosque on the compound of police in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing 101 people. Authorities say the bomber wore a police uniform and the guards at the site assumed he was a police officer — their colleague — and did not search him. Read more: -Peshawar, the city of flowers, becomes epicenter of violence On Friday, Sharif said in a televised address that he had invited his predecessor and now opposition leader, Imran Khan, and other officials to a conference Tuesday to discuss next steps. There was no immediate response from Khan, who was ousted in a no-conference vote in Parliament in April last year. Sharif said Monday's attack inside the mosque was carried out by a suicide bomber, and there was no truth in allegations and claims that it was a drone attack. Pakistan blames the Pakistani Taliban, who maintain sanctuaries in Afghanistan, for orchestrating the bombing that wounded 225 wounded. Police say most of the casualties were not caused by the detonation of the bomber’s explosives but by the collapse of the roof of the 50-year-old Peshawar mosque. The force of the blast caused the roof, which was supported by outside walls but no pillars, to cave in.
Police announced a breakthrough Tuesday in the killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, charging a man from Afghanistan — himself a Muslim — with two of the slayings and identifying him as a prime suspect in the other killings that put the entire community on edge. Muhammad Syed, 51, was taken into custody a day earlier after a traffic stop more than 100 miles away, authorities said. Three of the four ambush shootings happened in the last two weeks. Police Chief Harold Medina said it was not clear yet whether the deaths should be classified as hate crimes or serial killings or both. Investigators received a tip from the city’s Muslim community that pointed toward Syed, who has lived in the U.S. for about five years, police said. Police were looking into possible motives, including an unspecified “interpersonal conflict.” When asked specifically if Syed, a Sunni Muslim, was angry that his daughter married a Shiite Muslim, Deputy Police Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock did not respond directly. He said “motives are still being explored fully to understand what they are.” Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, acknowledged that “there was a marriage,” but he cautioned against coming to any conclusions about the motivation of the suspect, who he said attended the center’s mosque “from time to time.” “Knowing where we were, you know, a few days ago to where we are today is an incredible sigh of relief that we’re breathing,” he said. “Lives have been turned upside down.” Read: One year after Afghan war, Biden struggles to find footing The exact nature of the relationships between Syed and the victims – and the victims to one another – remained unclear. But police said they continue to investigate how they crossed paths before the shootings. The slayings drew the attention of President Joe Biden, who said such attacks “have no place in America.” They also sent a shudder through Muslim communities across the U.S. Some people questioned their safety and limited their movements. When told about the arrest before the suspect’s identity was made public, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, brother of one of the victims, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, said he felt relieved but needed to know more about the assailant and the motive. “This gives us hope that we will have (the) truth come out,” he said. “We need to know why.” It was not immediately clear whether Syed had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. Naeem Hussain, a 25-year-old man from Pakistan, was killed Friday night. His death came just days after those of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussein, 41, who were also from Pakistan and members of the same mosque. The earliest case involves the November killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, from Afghanistan. For now, Syed is charged in the killings of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain because bullet casings found at the crime scenes were linked to a gun found at his home, authorities said. Investigators consider Syed to be the primary suspect in the deaths of Naeem Hussain and Ahmadi but have not yet filed charges in those cases. Police said they were about to search Syed’s Albuquerque home on Monday when they saw him drive away in a Volkswagen Jetta that investigators believe was used in at least one of the slayings. Read: Blinken: China should not hold global concerns 'hostage' Officers followed him to Santa Rosa, about 110 miles east of Albuquerque, where they pulled him over. Multiple firearms were recovered from his home and car, police said. Syed’s sons were questioned and released, according to authorities. Prosecutors expect to file murder charges in state court and are considering adding a federal case, authorities said. Shiites make up the second largest branch in Islam after Sunnis. Aneela Abad, general secretary at the Islamic center, said the two Muslim communities in New Mexico enjoy warm ties. “Our Shiite community has always been there for us and we, Sunnis, have always been there for them,” she said. Muhammad Afzaal Hussain had worked as a field organizer for Democratic Rep. Melanie Stansbury’s campaign. “Muhammad was kind, hopeful, optimistic,” she said, describing him as a city planner “who believed in democracy and social change, and who believed that we could, in fact, build a brighter future for our communities and for our world.” ___ Dazio reported from Los Angeles and Fam from Winter Park, Florida. Associated Press writer Robert Jablon in LA also contributed to this report.
Afghanistan’s women’s soccer team has played its first match since its evacuation from the Taliban-led country last year, helped by A-League team the Melbourne Victory. The Melbourne Victory Afghan Women's Team played a 0-0 draw in its opening game Sunday in Victoria's senior women's competition, only months after 30 players and coaches were rescued as part of an evacuation operation by the Australian government as the Taliban took back control of the country after 20 years and again placed women’s sports in jeopardy. Also read: Optimistic female Afghan students attend university classes The Victory are providing their support to the members of the team who relocated to Melbourne. The team held its first training session in February and will play under Victory’s banner this year. But instead of sporting Victory's traditional navy blue with a white ‘V’, the team will wear a kit which pays homage to their homeland, a red home shirt and white away shirt with the Afghanistan flag on the back The shirts do not have the player's family names on the back which the players say is to protect family members still in Afghanistan and potentially under threat from the Taliban. Instead the players have their first names or nicknames on their shirts. The Afghan team was created in 2007, played its first official international in 2010 against Nepal and won its first match 2-0 over Qatar in 2012. Also read: Afghanistan's Taliban announce ban on poppy production The rise of the Taliban and the subsequent escape of the players also led to the team withdrawing from qualifying matches for Women’s Asian Cup in India in February, which doubled as a qualifier for next year’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The last of thousands of Afghan refugees who awaited resettlement at eight U.S. military installations departed Saturday from a base in New Jersey, completing a journey that started with the chaotic evacuation from Kabul in August. With assistance from refugee resettlement organizations, Afghans evacuated after their country fell to the Taliban have been gradually leaving the military bases in recent months and starting new lives in communities throughout the United States. The U.S. admitted 76,000 Afghans as part of Operation Allies Welcome, the largest resettlement of refugees in the country in decades. “It’s a really important milestone in Operation Allies Welcome but I want to stress that this mission isn’t over,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of nine national resettlement organizations that were part of the effort. READ: Afghans protest US order to give $3.5B to 9/11 victims Afghans still in their country but facing danger under Taliban rule as well as those who have made it to the United States will still need assistance, Vignarajah said. “Successful resettlement and integration won’t happen in just a matter of days or weeks,” she said. “Our new Afghan neighbors are going to need our support and friendship for months and years to come because the challenges they face won’t disappear overnight.” The U.S. plans to admit thousands of Afghan refugees over the next year but they will arrive in smaller groups and will be housed in a facility at a location yet to be determined, the Department of Homeland Security said. Housing facilities for refugees at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in central New Jersey will remain open in the interim, the agency said. The base held the largest number of Afghans, reaching a peak of 14,500. The next largest was at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, where the last group departed this past week. Afghans underwent immigration processing and health screening while they waited at the bases, often for months, until the strained refugee organizations could place them in communities. The government set up schools for the children who made up about 40 percent of the refugees at the New Jersey base. Resettlement organizations and Homeland Security, the lead federal agency in the effort, had set a goal of having everyone off the bases by Feb. 15. It was a challenge because of the scarcity of affordable housing, cutbacks to refugee programs under President Donald Trump and the sheer number of refugees. Most of the refugees have settled in established Afghan communities in northern Virginia and the surrounding Washington area, as well as Northern California and Texas. States where between 1,000 and 3,000 have settled include Arizona, New York, Florida, Georgia, Colorado, Nebraska and Pennsylvania, according to State Department data obtained by The Associated Press. DHS has previously said about 40 percent of the Afghans will qualify for the special immigrant visa for people who worked as military interpreters or for the U.S. government in some other capacity during America’s longest war. Most of the rest, however, do not yet have permanent legal residency in the U.S. because they did not come under a refugee program but were admitted under a type of emergency federal authorization known as humanitarian parole. Advocates for the refugees, including a number of prominent veterans groups, are pressing Congress to provide permanent residency with an “Afghan adjustment act,” similar to what has been done in the past for Cubans and Iraqis.
Sorry is not enough for the Afghan survivors of an errant U.S. drone strike that killed 10 members of their family, including seven children. Emal Ahmadi, whose 3-year-old daughter Malika was killed on Aug. 29, when the U.S. hellfire missile struck his elder brother’s car, told The Associated Press on Saturday that the family demands Washington investigate who fired the drone and punish the military personnel responsible for the strike. “That is not enough for us to say sorry,” said Ahmadi. “The U.S.A. should find the person who did this.” Ahmadi said the family is also seeking financial compensation for their losses and demanded that several members of the family be relocated to a third country, without specifying which country. The AP and other news organizations in Kabul reported after the strike that the driver of the targeted vehicle, Zemerai Ahmadi, was a longtime employee at an American humanitarian organization and cited an absence of evidence to support the Pentagon’s assertion that the vehicle contained explosives. Read:Fearful US residents in Afghanistan hiding out from Taliban The missile struck as the car was pulling into the family’s driveway and the children ran to greet Zemerai. On Friday, U.S. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, called the strike a “tragic mistake,” and after weeks of denials, said that innocent civilians were indeed killed in the attack and not an Islamic State extremist as was announced earlier. The drone strike followed a devastating suicide bombing by the Islamic State group — a rival of the Taliban — that killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. military personnel at one of the gates to the Kabul airport. For days, desperate Afghans had swarmed the checkpoints outside the airport, trying to leave the country amid the chaotic U.S. and NATO troops pullout, fearing for their future under the Taliban. McKenzie apologized for the error and said the United States is considering making reparation payments to the family of the victims. Read: Afghan killed by drone praised by co-workers in US aid group Emal Ahmadi, who said he heard of the apology from friends in America, insisted that it won’t bring back members of his family and while he expressed relief for the U.S. apology and recognition that his family were innocent victims, he said he was frustrated that it took weeks of pleading with Washington to at least make a call to the family. Even as evidence mounted to the contrary, Pentagon officials asserted that the strike had been conducted correctly, to protect the U.S. troops remaining at Kabul’s airport ahead of the final pullout the following day, on Aug. 30. Looking exhausted, sitting in front of the charred ruins of Zemarai’s car, Ahmadi said he wanted more than an apology from the United States — he wanted justice, including an investigation into who carried out the strike “and I want him punished by the U.S.A.” In the days before the Pentagon’s apology, accounts from the family, documents from colleagues seen by The AP and the scene at the family home — where Zemerai’s car was struck by the missile — all sharply contradicted the accounts by the U.S. military. Instead, they painted the picture of a family that had worked for Americans and were trying to gain visas to the U.S., fearing for their lives under the Taliban. Zemerai was the family’s breadwinner had looked after his three brothers, including Emal, and their children. Read: Trump aides aim to build GOP opposition to Afghan refugees “Now I am then one who is responsible for all my family and I am jobless,” said Emal Ahmadi. The situation “is not good,” said Ahmadi of life under the Taliban. International aid groups and the United Nations have warned of a looming humanitarian crisis that could drive most Afghans below the poverty level. McKenzie said the decision to strike a white Toyota Corolla sedan, after having tracked it for about eight hours, was made in an “earnest belief” — based on a standard of “reasonable certainty” — that it posed an imminent threat to American forces at the Kabul airport. The car was believed to have been carrying explosives in its trunk, he said. But Ahmadi wondered how the family’s home could have been mistaken for an Islamic State hideout. “The U.S.A. can see from everywhere,” he said of U.S. drone capabilities. “They can see that there were innocent children near the car and in the car. Whoever did this should be punished.” “It isn’t right,” he added.
As the U.S. rushes to evacuate Americans and allies from the chaos of Afghanistan, a growing number of Republicans are questioning why the U.S. should take in Afghan citizens who worked side by side with Americans, further exacerbating divides within the party heading into next year’s midterm elections. Little more than a week ago, as the Taliban’s stunning takeover of Afghanistan still was snapping into focus, former President Donald Trump issued a statement saying “civilians and others who have been good to our Country ... should be allowed to seek refuge.” But in more recent days, he has turned to warning of the alleged dangers posed by those desperately trying to flee their country before an end-of-month deadline. “How many terrorists will Joe Biden bring to America?” he asked. As Republicans level blistering criticism at Biden during his first major foreign policy crisis, some are turning to the nativist, anti-immigrant rhetoric perfected by Trump during his four years in office. It’s causing dismay among others in the party who think the U.S. should look out for those who helped the Americans over the last two decades. “I think these false narratives that these are a bunch of terrorists are just — they’re completely baseless in reality,” said Olivia Troye, a former White House homeland security adviser who currently serves as director of the Republican Accountability Project. “There’s no basis for this at all in terms of the intelligence and national security world.”Neil Newhouse, a veteran Republican pollster, said the rhetoric reflects “a general, overall increase” in concern in the country over the risk of terrorist threats after Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban — not just in the short term from those who may not have been properly vetted, but a year or two down the road. READ: Afghan refugees tell UN: 'We need peace, land to go home' Neil Newhouse, a veteran Republican pollster, said the rhetoric reflects “a general, overall increase” in concern in the country over the risk of terrorist threats after Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban — not just in the short term from those who may not have been properly vetted, but a year or two down the road. “There’s just a sense that we are less safe as a country as a result of this,” he said. The Biden administration has stressed that every person cleared to come to the U.S. is being thoroughly vetted by officials working around the clock. But the refugees have become an emerging flash point, with Trump and his followers loudly demanding that Americans be prioritized for evacuation and warning of the potential dangers posed by Afghans being rescued in one of the world’s largest-ever civilian airlift operations. That talk intensified Thursday after a suicide bombing ripped through the crowd at the Kabul airport, killing 13 U.S. service members and well over 150 Afghans. “How many American military personnel have to die to evacuate unvetted refugees?” tweeted Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont. “Get American citizens out and bring our troops home.” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Friday toured the Doña Ana Range complex at Fort Bliss, where many refugees will be housed, and later tweeted the U.S. “should rescue Afghans who’ve assisted the US military, but they should go to a neutral & safe third country.”“They should NOT come to US w/o a FULL security vetting,” he said. That followed a call Wednesday by Kentucky Rep. James Comer, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform committee, for the administration to brief lawmakers on their efforts to vet Afghan refugees and prevent terrorists from entering the country. “In the chaotic situation left in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, we are particularly concerned that terrorists and others who wish to harm the United States may seek to infiltrate the country disguised as those who provided assistance to coalition forces in Afghanistan,” he wrote in letters to the secretaries of state and homeland security. Still others, including Republican governors and members of Congress, have taken a different stance, welcoming refugees to their states and working furiously to help those trying to flee. On Capitol Hill, the effort to help Afghan friends and family of constituents is the rare undertaking that is consuming legislative offices of members of both parties. The U.S. has evacuated more than 100,000 people from Afghanistan since the airlift began Aug. 14, including more than 5,100 American citizens. While the administration’s explicitly stated priority is to evacuate Americans, the numbers reflect the demographics of those trying to flee. U.S. officials believe about 500 American citizens who want to leave Afghanistan remain in the country; others are believed to want to stay. And many of the Afghans, including those who served as American interpreters and fixers and in other support capacities, are desperate to escape, fearing they will be prime targets for retribution by the Taliban once the U.S. leaves. READ: Over 464,000 undocumented Afghan refugees return home in 2019 But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from accusing the Biden administration of failing to put Americans first. “We’re actually prioritizing Afghan refugees more than we’re prioritizing our own citizens,” said Republican J.D. Vance, who is running for Senate in Ohio and has made repeat television appearances blasting the administration’s approach. On Fox Business Network, he claimed, without evidence, that the U.S. has “no knowledge” of 90% of the people being evacuated and said some have shown up on wide-ranging terror databases. “They put Americans last in every single way, but Americans pay for it all,” echoed Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has shot to prominence with incendiary statements. Trump and his former policy adviser Stephen Miller, along with conservative commentators like Tucker Carlson, have taken things even further, using the same anti-immigrant language that was the hallmark of Trump’s 2015 speech announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination. “You can be sure the Taliban, who are now in complete control, didn’t allow the best and brightest to board these evacuation flights,” Trump said. “Instead, we can only imagine how many thousands of terrorists have been airlifted out of Afghanistan and into neighborhoods around the world.” Carlson has warned about Afghans invading America. The rhetoric underscores the transformation of a party once led by neoconservatives who championed interventionist nation-building policies and invaded Afghanistan — followed by Iraq — nearly 20 years ago. But not Republicans all are on board. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., whose office has been working around the clock to rescue the “countless” Afghans he says deserve evacuation, chastised those in his party invoking “terrorist” rhetoric. “I would say that they need to do their homework,” he said. “When you talk to the people that we’ve spoken with, when you look at their service record ... when you recognize that they sleep in the same tents, they carry arms together, they’ve been in live firefights, how dare anyone question whether or not they deserve to come to this country or to a safe third country?” “We’re not talking about just walking down the street and picking and choosing people,” Tillis added. “We know these people. We know who their children are. We know what their service record was. And quite honestly, somebody taking that position, each and every time they do, is insulting a service member who considers these people like brothers and sisters.” Many of the Afghans seeking to come to the U.S. are doing so under the Special Immigrant Visa program designed specifically for individuals who worked with U.S. forces. Adam Bates, policy counsel at the International Refugee Assistance Project, said that, due to their work, those individuals were extensively vetted by U.S. authorities before applying to the program — and are again extensively vetted “by a wide array of federal agencies” before the visas are granted. Troye, who has spent significant time on the ground in Afghanistan over the years, said Americans became extremely close to the Afghans with whom they served. “These people became like family to many of us,” she said. “It’s really shameful to see some of these Republicans speaking in this way about people who really risked their lives to help us, who were really our allies on the ground.”
Around 1 million Afghan children are projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition over this year and could die without treatment, the UN warned Monday. Almost 10 million children across Afghanistan need humanitarian assistance to survive, Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore said. She added that an estimated 4.2 million children in Afghanistan are out of school, including more than 2.2 million girls. Approximately 435,000 children and women in the war-torn country, where the Taliban have taken power, are internally displaced, the UN agency said. READ: When the music stops: Afghan ‘happy place’ falls silent This is the grim reality facing Afghan children, and it remains so regardless of ongoing political developments and changes in government, Henrietta said. "We anticipate that the humanitarian needs of children and women will increase over the coming months amid a severe drought and consequent water scarcity, the devastating socioeconomic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the onset of winter." Urging the Taliban and other parties to ensure safety, the UN agency – responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide – called for a "timely and unfettered access to reach children in need wherever they are." Although many people fear retribution and are scrambling to flee the country, the Taliban have assured the security of foreign missions, international organisations, and aid agencies. "I would like to assure you that we will not allow anybody to do anything against you," spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in the group's first press conference since taking control of Afghanistan on August 15. READ: Afghan woman gives birth on US evacuation flight The group promised that it would respect women's rights "within the framework of Islamic law." "They are going to be working with us, shoulder-to-shoulder with us. The international community, if they have concerns, we would like to assure them that there's not going to be any discrimination against women, but, of course, within the frameworks that we have," he said.
A top World Health Organisation official says the agency only has "a few days left of supplies" for Afghanistan and wants help to ferry in 10 or 12 planeloads of equipment and medicine for its beleaguered people. Dr Rick Brennan heads the WHO's Eastern Mediterranean Region that includes Afghanistan. He said from Cairo that the UN health agency is negotiating with the US and other countries to help efforts to replenish strained stockpiles. "We estimate we've only got a few days left of supplies," Brennan said, alluding to a distribution centre in Dubai that has what is needed. "We have 500 metric tonnes ready to go, but we haven't got any way of getting them into the country right now." READ: When the music stops: Afghan ‘happy place’ falls silent The US and other authorities have encouraged the WHO and partners to look to other Afghan airports than Kabul's, which is facing a crush of thousands of people trying to get out of Afghanistan after a Taliban takeover, Rick said. He said those authorities "have suggested that it'll be too difficult a logistics exercise and security exercise to bring supplies into Kabul," where teams would be required to unload planes and allow trucks to carry out the supplies – which could complicate the evacuations. Needed supplies include emergency kits and essential medicines for the treatment of chronic diseases, like diabetes, the WHO said. READ: Afghan woman gives birth on US evacuation flight "We're cautiously optimistic that we might need to get something done in the coming days," Rick said, before adding: "We need a consistent humanitarian air bridge into the country ASAP."
Bangladesh has rejected a request from the United States to give temporary shelter to some people from Afghanistan, saying Bangladesh is already in a big problem by giving shelter to over 1.1 million Rohingyas. “Yes, we’ve received a request from the US. We thanked them but rejected the request,” Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told UNB over phone. Asked from which level the request came from the US, the Foreign Minister said it came from diplomatic channels both from Washington and in Dhaka. Also read: Bangladesh to welcome new Afghan govt if it’s of people: FM Dr Momen said the US is a friendly country to Bangladesh and conveyed the message to them that Bangladesh is already facing many problems by giving shelter to the Rohingyas. “Don’t put us into further trouble,” he said, mentioning what Bangladesh conveyed to the US side after receiving the request.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen on Monday said Bangladesh will welcome the new government in Afghanistan if it is supported by its people. “We believe in people’s government. We believe in a government which is liked by its people. We believe in democratic government,” he told reporters, adding that Bangladesh’s door will surely remain open if the Taliban government becomes a government supported by its people. The Foreign Minister said Bangladesh believes in friendship to all countries, and Bangladesh will extend support if any government seeks support from Bangladesh. Also read: Bangladesh observing fast evolving situation in Afghanistan: MoFA He said Afghanistan is a friendly country to Bangladesh and is a member State of Saarc. “Bangladesh wants their (Afghanistan) development.” Responding to a question, Dr Momen said there were some terrorists in Bangladesh who were trained in Afghanistan. “We’ve uprooted them and there’s no scope to see their reemergence here.”