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One Soldier Killed As Taliban Attacks Army Base In Eastern Afghanistan

FILE: Aftermath of an insurgent attack in Khost, July 2015.

An Afghan official says a suicide car bombing near an army base in eastern Afghanistan has killed one soldier and wounded several others.

Akbar Zadran, a district chief in the eastern province of Khost, said that the Taliban detonated an explosives-laden vehicle in front of the military base in Sabari district on March 17.

Zadran said the blast triggered an hourlong gunbattle with four Taliban fighters, who were all killed.

He said the blast was so powerful that it damaged nearby houses and a school.

In a statement, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Last week, Taliban fighters attacked an air base in Khost, located along the volatile border with Pakistan. All three militants were killed in a shootout with security forces.

The March 17 attack comes a week ahead of the launch of the Taliban's annual spring offensive.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

Al-Qaeda Member Convicted In U.S. Court For 2003 Attack In Afghanistan

FILE: Afghan fighters outside one of the entrances to caves where Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden was reportedly hiding along hundreds of Arab Al-Qaeda fighters in the mountains of Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan in 2001.

A man born in Saudi Arabia has been convicted in a U.S. federal court on charges he participated in a 2003 attack in Afghanistan that killed two U.S. servicemen.

A jury in Brooklyn, New York, deliberated for just two hours on March 16 before reaching the guilty verdict against admitted Al-Qaeda fighter Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Harun.

Harun, who was not in court and watched the trial from his jail cell, was extradited from Italy in October 2012.

He has insisted he is a "warrior" who should face a military tribunal rather than a criminal court.

Harun, who holds Niger citizenship, traveled to Afghanistan to join Al-Qaeda weeks before the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, prosecutors said.

They said he took part in an assault on U.S. troops in 2003 that killed Army Private 1st Class Jerod Dennis, 19, and Air Force Airman 1st Class Raymond Losano, 24.

A Koran recovered at the site had Harun's fingerprints, prosecutors said.

He also was convicted of later plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

EU Registers 1.2 Million Asylum Seekers In 2016, Down Slightly From 2015

Refugees from Afghanistan arrive in an overloaded rubber dinghy at the coast near Mytilini, Lesbos island, Greece, after crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey. (file photo)

More than 1.2 million first-time asylum seekers were registered in EU member states in 2016, the European Union says.

In a report issued on March 16, statistical agency Eurostat said the majority of asylum seekers were from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The total for 2016 was down by about 50,000 from 2015.

Still, the figure was higher than the 562,700 registered aslyum seekers in 2014.

Eurostat said 334,800 first-time asylum seekers came from Syria, 183,000 from Afghanistan, and 127,000 from Iraq.

About 60 percent (722,300) were registered in Germany.

The report covers persons who submitted applications for international protection for the first time in the EU.

The number of applications rose dramatically in the wake of the Syrian civil war.

That conflict, which began in March 2011, has killed an estimated 300,000 people and displaced millions more, creating one of the largest migrant crises in Europe since World War II.

The EU has agreements in place with Turkey to help limit the number of refugees and migrants from beginning the journey to Europe.

However, Istanbul has threatened to cancel the deal after becoming embroiled in an angry diplomatic dispute with several European countries.

U.S. Senators Propose 2,500 More Special Visas For Afghan Workers

U.S. Senator John McCain speaks on the first day of the 53rd Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich on February 17.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on March 15 proposed providing another 2,500 visas to Afghans who worked for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, often at the risk of their own lives.

“We simply cannot win this war without the assistance of the Afghan people who put their lives on the line to help American troops and diplomats serving in harm’s way," said Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman John McCain, who co-authored the bill with three other senators.

McCain said Congress has failed to provide enough special visas in 15 years of war, and "because of our failure, the lives of thousands of Afghans are in imminent danger from the Taliban."

Also sponsoring the bill were Democratic Senators Jeann Shaheen and Jack Reed, and Republican Senator Thom Tillis.

"We have a moral obligation to protect the thousands of Afghans who put themselves and their families at risk to help our soldiers and diplomats," said Shaheen. "To abandon them now would be a stain on our nation’s honor."

With reporting by AP

Afghanistan Arrests 24 Over Deadly Kabul Hospital Attack

Security forces guard the area as smoke billows from the Sardar Daud Khan's Hospital, also known as Kabul Military Hospital, during an attack by suspected militants in Kabul on March 8.

An Afghan official says authorities have arrested 24 people, including an army general, on charges of neglecting their duties over a recent attack on the country's largest military hospital.

General Helaludin Helal, the deputy defense minister, spoke on March 15, revealing the findings of a preliminary investigation into the March 8 attack on the Sardar Mohammad Khan hospital in Kabul.

The Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, in which gunman dressed as health workers shot doctors, patients, and visitors at the 400-bed hospital.

Helal said the 24 people arrested were under investigation for dereliction of duty in failing to prevent the attack.

But he denied that "insiders" were involved in the assault.

Afghan and Western media reports have quoted survivors and security sources as saying interns working at the hospital helped carry out the attack.

The same sources have claimed that the death toll of the attack was around 100.

Helal raised the Defense Ministry's death toll in the attack from 30 to 50. The Health Ministry said last week that 49 people were killed.

Australian Aid Worker Kidnapped In Afghanistan Released

Kidnapping are common in Afghanistan, where wealthy Afghans and foreigners are targeted by criminal gangs and militant groups. 

An Australian aid worker kidnapped in Afghanistan last year has been released, according to an Afghan official and the Australian government.

The woman, whose identity has not been revealed, was kidnapped in Kabul in November.

Mohammad Salim Almas, the head of criminal investigations in Kabul, said the woman was handed over to the Australian Embassy late on March 14.

The Australian department of foreign affairs confirmed her release in a statement on March 15.

Kidnapping are common in Afghanistan, where wealthy Afghans and foreigners are targeted by criminal gangs and militant groups.

Several Australian aid workers have been kidnapped in recent months.

In August, an Australian aid worker, Katherine Jane Wilson, was rescued by Afghan special forces. She was kidnapped in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Timothy Weekes, an Australian professor at the American University of Afghanistan, remains a hostage after he was captured last August along with an American colleague. They both appeared in a Taliban video in January.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

Attack On Bus In Kabul Kills Employee Of Afghan Telecom Company

Afghan officials investigate at the site of a bomb blast in Kabul on March 13.

An explosion in the center of Kabul destroyed a bus carrying employees of one of the country's biggest telecom firms on March 13, killing at least one person and wounding at least 19, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.

Security forces surrounded the smoking remains of the Roshan Telecom bus, which appeared to be completely burned out.

Sediqqi said the blast appears to have been caused by a roadside bomb. He said three suspects related to the explosion were arrested.

The explosion, as people were leaving work in a well-to-do area of the city, came less than a week after more than 30 people were killed in an attack on the country's largest military hospital by gunmen dressed in medical uniforms.

Officials are still investigating that assault, which was claimed by the Islamic State militant group.

The two attacks underline the broad security threat in Afghanistan, where IS has recently established a foothold and the Taliban have stepped up their insurgency against the Western-backed government.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Afghan Officials: Dozens Of Taliban Militants Killed In Latest Military Operation

FILE: Afghan Local Police (ALP) take positions during an operation against Taliban militants in Sangin district of restive Helmand Province on January 31.

At least 31 Taliban militants, including a local commander, have been killed and nine others injured in a military operation carried by security forces in southern Afghanistan, government officials said.

The operation took place in the province of Helmand during the past 24 hours, the provincial government's media office said in a statement on March 12.

The statement said that the ground troops backed by the Afghan air forces cleared several areas near the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Air strikes targeted militants in Nad-e-Ali and Garamser districts, it added.

Local Taliban leader Mullah Ewaz was among those killed by air strikes in Garamser's Hussainabad area, the statement said.

The operation came at the start of Afghanistan's spring fighting season, when warmer weather brings increased operations by both militants and government forces.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said on March 11 that security forces had killed 51 armed militants in operations across Afghanistan during the previous 24 hours.

Based on reporting by and

Gunmen Attack Base In Southeastern Afghanistan Near Pakistan's Border

FILE: Afghan men watch the aftermath of a suicide car bomb attack on a military base in Khost.

Officials in Afghanistan’ southeastern province of Khost say three gunmen have attacked a military base.

Khost’s provincial police spokesman, Faizullah Ghairat, said on March 11 that the attack was on a base close to the border with Pakistan.

Ghairat said one militant was killed, while the other two were still holding out late on March 11.

There was no immediate comment about the attack from the headquarters of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Kabul.

The attack came at the start of Afghanistan’s spring fighting season, when warmer weather brings increased operations by both militants and government forces.

Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said on March 11 that security forces had killed 51 armed militants in operations across Afghanistan during the previous 24 hours.

With reporting by Reuters

Eight Afghan Police Killed In Insider Attack, Officials Say

Bystanders look on as security force personnel inspect wreckage of vehicles at the site of a roadside rickshaw bomb explosion that targeted a senior local police vehicle in Behsood District of Nangarhar province on February 28.

At least eight members of the Afghan security forces were killed by two of their colleagues in the southern Zabul province late on March 10, Afghan officials say.

Gul Islam Seyal, spokesman for the provincial governor, said on March 11 that both attackers fled the area in a police vehicle after killing their colleagues in the Shinkai district.

He said the two attackers also took all the weapons and ammunition from the checkpoint.

Seyal said an investigation is under way to find out if the two have links to insurgent groups.

Haji Asadullah Kakar, a Zabul provincial council member, said the attackers had joined the Taliban. Kakar said that it appeared the attackers already had connections with the militant group.

Insider attacks are not unusual in Afghanistan.

In a similar incident last month, 11 police officers were shot and killed by another policeman from the same checkpoint in neighboring Helmand province.

Separately on March 11, in eastern Khost province, a suspected suicide bomber was shot and killed by security guards near the entrance to an airport, said General Faizullah Ghyrat, provincial police chief in Khost.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

U.S. Senator Vows To Revive Lapsed Visa Program For Afghan Asylum-Seekers

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (file photo)

A U.S. senator is vowing to revive a lapsed special-visa program for Afghan interpreters and others who served U.S. forces in the country, often risking their lives.

The U.S. State Department said on March 9 that it is running out of special-visa slots and stopped scheduling interviews on March 1.

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen said allowing the program to lapse sends a message to allies in Afghanistan that they have been "abandoned." She pledged to immediately introduce legislation to provide more visas.

"It's both a moral and practical imperative that Congress right this wrong immediately," Shaheen said.

She estimated that more than 10,000 applicants are still waiting for visas.

Shaheen and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain led an unsuccessful effort last year to pass legislation extending the special visas to another 4,000 Afghans who assisted U.S. forces.

The National Defense Authorization Act passed late last year instead added 1,500 visas while making it more difficult to qualify.

The Afghan visa announcement came within days of President Donald Trump issuing a new executive order to temporarily ban refugees and some travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries. But Afghanistan was not one of the six.

With reporting by Reuters

Top U.S. General Says More U.S. Ground Troops Needed In Afghanistan

Afghan Army officers discuss lessons learned alongside Marines and Navy personnel while participating in combat-scenario training exercises.

The head of the U.S. military's Central Command says more U.S. troops will be needed on the ground in Afghanistan in the fight against the Taliban and other forces.

General Joseph Votel told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on March 9 that he thinks "it will involve additional forces to ensure that we can make the advise-and-assist mission more effective."

Votel told the Senate panel he was working on a new strategy aimed at breaking what he described as a "stalemate" in Afghanistan against the Taliban.

Votel's comments echo similar remarks he made on February 24 about the situation in Syria, when he indicated further U.S. troops would be needed in the battle to fight so-called Islamic State (IS) militants there.

On March 9, the Pentagon said it was deploying a “temporary force” of 400 additional U.S. ground troops to Syria in order to help defeat IS in Raqqa, the militants' self-proclaimed capital.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Pakistan Closes Border With Afghanistan After Temporary Opening

Afghan citizens wait to cross into their home country at the border post in Torkham on March 7.

Pakistan closed its two main border crossings with Afghanistan on March 9 after thousands of people rushed to cross the border during a two-day reopening.

Islamabad closed its Torkham and Chaman crossings on February 16 after a series of suicide attacks in Pakistan that killed dozens of children, soldiers, and police officers.

Pakistan’s government claims that the attacks were carried out by militants who were crossing into the country from Afghanistan.

The Associated Press news agency quoted border management officials Fayyaz Khan and Irfan Toor as saying that the two crossings, major trade and commerce points between the countries, would be shut indefinitely.

With reporting by AP, Dunya News, and Reuters

More Than 20,000 Cross Into Afghanistan During Two-Day Pakistan Border Reopening

People wait to cross the border into Afghanistan from Pakistan at the Torkham border post in Pakistan's Khyber Agency on March 7.

Pakistan's border police say more than 20,000 Afghans and Pakistanis have crossed into Afghanistan since March 7 since Pakistani authorities temporarily reopened two main crossings that were closed after a series of militant attacks.

The figures on the number of people making the crossing during the temporary reopening was announced on March 8 by Faiz Khan, a Pakistani official at the Torkham crossing into eastern Afghanistan.

Khan said thousands more people were waiting late on March 8 at Torkham and the Chaman crossing into Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar -- hoping to cross into Afghanistan before the two-day opening was set to end.

Islamabad closed its Torkham and Chaman crossings on February 16 after a series of suicide attacks in Pakistan that killed dozens of children, soldiers, and police officers.

Islamabad claimed that the attacks were carried out by militants who were crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters

Journalism Watchdog Opens Center For Women Journalists In Afghanistan

An Afghan female journalist works in the studio of Shahrzad, a women's radio station, in Herat.

Reporters Without Borders has launched a center to protect women journalists in Afghanistan, the second-most dangerous country for female reporters after Syria.

The center will lobby for better working conditions and rights for women reporters, including combating discrimination in the workplace. It will also work to change perceptions that journalism is no job for a woman.

"We want to support women journalists both in war zones and within the news organizations for which they work, to defend both their rights and their physical safety," the center's president, Farideh Nikzad, said.

The biggest challenges are security and sexual abuse in the workplace, Nikzad said.

"By protecting women journalists, we are defending media freedom in Afghanistan," the group's secretary-general, Christophe Deloire, said.

The country currently has some 300 to 400 women journalists, mainly in the big cities.

They find themselves caught between Taliban militants on the one hand and their own families on the other, who often do not consider the job to be a suitable profession for a woman.

Four women journalists have been killed by relatives since 2002 for this reason, while 13 women media workers have been killed by outside forces since 2001, the center said.

With reporting by AFP

At Least Two Dead In Attack On Kabul Military Hospital

Afghan policeman arrive at the site of a blast and gunfire in Kabul on March 8.

At least two people have been killed after gunmen attacked a military hospital close to the U.S. Embassy in the Afghan capital and engaged security forces inside the building, officials and witnesses say.

General Dawlat Waziri, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said an unknown number of gunmen entered the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital on March 8 after an explosion and gunfire.

The 400-bed military hospital is located near two civilian hospitals in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul.

It is also located across the road from the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy.

"The attackers are in the second and third floors of the hospital, and right now a gunbattle is under way," Waziri said.

"So far two dead bodies and nine wounded people have been transported at the neighboring Wazir Mohammad Akbar Khan hospital," Qamaruddin Sediqi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health, said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack during a speech on the occasion of the International Women's Day, calling it "an attack on all Afghan people and all Afghan women."

No insurgent group immediately claimed responsibility for the ongoing assault, which comes as the Taliban ramp up attacks even before the start of their annual spring offensive.

The area around the hospital, near a busy traffic intersection, was blocked off by security forces. Afghan helicopters circled over the area.

The NATO-led Resolute Support mission said it was ready to assist Afghan security services.

The attack comes just a week after dozens were killed and wounded in a series of Taliban attacks on a police building and an intelligence service compound in Kabul.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

Afghan 'Special Immigrant' Family Released After 5-Day Detention In U.S.

Demonstrators against the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles on February 4.

An Afghan family of five detained in Los Angeles last week after traveling to the United States on "special immigrant" visas was released on March 6, government officials said.

Lawyers for the family said that it was still not clear why the father, mother, and their three sons were taken into custody at Los Angeles International Airport on March 2, interrogated, and held for some 40 hours.

But attorney Robert Blume portrayed the detention as a mistake by U.S. immigration authorities, saying: "The government swung and missed on this one. They just got it wrong."

The family on arriving in Los Angeles was scheduled to board a connecting flight to the state of Washington where they planned to resettle. Instead, they were detained by agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The International Refugee Assistance Project said in its court filing to seek the family's release that the couple and their children were granted "special immigrant visas" in return for work the father had performed for the U.S. government in Afghanistan that put the family's lives at risk.

In order to qualify for that program, applicants go through a difficult and lengthy vetting process that often takes more than five years and requires letters of recommendation from senior U.S. military officers or U.S. government officials in Afghanistan.

During the weekend, a federal judge had issued a temporary order blocking federal authorities from deporting the family back to Afghanistan or removing them from California.

The federal judge's order also had called for a March 6 hearing on their case.

U.S. immigration officials have tightened their border security checks for incoming foreign travelers since President Donald Trump on January 27 issued an executive order that temporarily barred entry into the United States of citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

But that original order -- which called for "extreme vetting" of arriving migrants -- was later blocked by U.S. federal judges.

The detention on March 2 of the Afghan family, whose name was not released, came despite the block on Trump's executive order, and despite the fact that Afghanistan was not one of the seven countries listed under the executive order.

On March 6, Trump signed a revised executive order that freezes the issuance of new visas for citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries – Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

The revised order, due to come into effect on March 16, says valid pre-existing visas would still be honored for individuals from those six countries.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Five Afghan Policemen Killed In Taliban Attack

At least five members of the Afghan security forces were killed early on March 5 when their checkpoint was attacked in northeastern Kunduz Province, an Afghan official said.

A large group of Taliban fighters attacked the post near the city of Kunduz, provincial police chief General Abdul Hamid Hamid said.

Meanwhile, 18 insurgents were killed and three injured in the Imam Sahib district of Kunduz Province, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

"The key terrorists killed in the operation were involved in planning and implementing several terror attacks in Kunduz Province," said the statement.

A district police chief was also killed when his vehicle was blow up by a bomb in northern Faryab Province. Another policeman was injured in the explosion in the evening on March 4. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

In another incident in Faryab Province, a local security forces commander was also killed when insurgents attacked a police checkpoint.

Afghan forces now face mounting pressure from a resurgent Taliban amid record casualties and mass desertions as the militants escalate attacks across the country.

Based on reporting by AP

At Least Eight Civilians, Including Children, Killed In Afghanistan

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri says an investigation is under way.

At least eight Afghan civilians, including four children, have been killed in an attack in the western Farah Province, Afghan officials says, although it was immediately unclear whether they died in a military air strike or a roadside bomb blast.

Muhammad Naser Mehri, spokesman for the provincial governor, said on March 4 the incident late on March 3 was a roadside bomb explosion that took place in the Bala Buluk district.

But family members of the victims say they were hit by an air strike.

One resident, a 30-year-old mother of four named Salima, said two of her children were killed and a third wounded in an air strike.

Dawlat Waziri, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said an investigation of the incident was under way.

"We are aware of the allegations made by the local people, right now an investigation is going on into the incident in Farah," Waziri said.

At least 22 other people were wounded in the attack, according to local hospital officials.

Farah's Bala Buluk district has been the scene of several recent clashes between Afghan security forces and armed insurgents.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Explosion, Gunfire In Afghan Capital; Taliban Claims Responsibility

Afghan policemen arrive at the site of a blast in Kabul on March 1.

A gunbattle broke out between security forces and an unknown number of attackers in Kabul, shortly after a loud blast was heard in the western part of the Afghan capital, a police official has said.

Fighting was under way near a district police headquarters located close to a military training school, said the official, who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

At least two gunmen were firing on the military school and the police headquarters in Kabul's sixth district.

A spokesman for the Taliban claimed responsibility for the ongoing violence, saying militants had attacked three targets in Kabul and caused heavy casualties. He provided no further details.

No official word on casualties was available.

The explosion was large enough to be heard on the other side of the city.

Last month, a suicide bomber killed at least 20 people outside the Supreme Court in Kabul. The extremist group Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa

Afghan Officer Shoots 11 Fellow Police In 'Insider' Attack, Officials Say

Lashkar Gah is one of the few areas in Helmand Province currently held by the government.

An Afghan police officer fatally shot 11 of his colleagues as they slept at a checkpoint in the southern province of Helmand, officials have said.

Omer Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the officer turned his rifle on fellow police in the attack late on February 27 in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital.

Zwak said the attacker seized his victims' guns and ammunition and fled the scene in a police vehicle -- presumably to join the Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack.

"Insider" attacks in which Afghan soldiers and police turn their guns on their colleagues or on international troops have been a major problem during the 15-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Afghan security forces battling a resurgent Taliban are struggling to tackle such incidents as they also face record-high casualties and mass desertions.

Lashkar Gah is one of the few areas in Helmand currently held by the government.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Putin And Rahmon Agree To Bolster Tajik-Afghan Border Security

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon attend a signing ceremony following their talks in Dushanbe on February 27.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said in the midst of a three-nation tour of Central Asia that he has agreed with Tajikistan's president to jointly bolster security along the Tajik-Afghan border.

Putin told reporters in Dushanbe on February 27 after his talks with President Emomali Rahmon that "Tajikistan is a key country" for regional security in Central Asia.

Putin said he and Rahmon agreed to "step up joint efforts to defend the Tajik-Afghan border, using capacities of the Russian military base located in Tajikistan."

He also said Russian forces are based in Tajikistan "to provide security for both Tajikistan and the southern frontiers of the Russian Federation."

About 7,000 troops from Russia’s 201st Motor Rifle Division are stationed at three facilities in Tajikistan that are considered part of a single Russian base.

One facility is near Dushanbe, and the other facilities are in the southern cities of Kulob and Qurghon-Teppa.

Earlier on February 27, Putin met in Almaty with Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, where he praised Kazakhstan's role at recent talks in Astana aimed at finding a resolution of Syria's six-year war.

'Exemplary Ties'

Putin said Kazakhstan "has played a positive role, not only as a host and organizer of the event, but had, in fact, influenced the positive results of the Astana gathering."

Nazarbaev said that a quarter-century after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is now Kazakhstan's "No. 1 economic and political partner."

Nazarbaev said Moscow and Astana have "established exemplary ties that should be between friendly neighboring countries."

The 76-year-old Nazarbaev has been in power since before the Soviet collapse in 1991.

In late January, Nazarbaev said he would delegate some of his sweeping powers to parliament and the cabinet.

Those moves have raised questions about an eventual transition of power in the oil-rich, tightly controlled country.

Russia is vying for influence in Central Asia with China, which also borders Kazakhstan and has been increasing its regional influence in recent years.

Putin is scheduled to complete his two-day visit to Central Asia with a visit to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on February 28.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax and RIA

Senior Taliban Commander Killed In Northern Afghanistan

Kunduz in October 2016

Afghan officials and the Taliban say a senior commander of the militant group has been killed in northern Afghanistan.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on February 27 that Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund was killed in a "special operation." He gave no details.

Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said Akhund was killed along with nine other Taliban militants.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed Akhund's death in a statement, saying he was killed by a U.S. air strike in the Dashti-e-Archi district in the northern province of Kunduz.

Akhund, the commander of Taliban forces in the northern province of Kunduz, had been declared dead several times in the past only to reappear.

A U.S. military spokesman told Reuters that an American warplane had conducted an air strike in Kunduz on February 26 but said there was "no confirmation of the results."

Taliban militants have briefly seized control of the provincial capital, Kunduz City, for two consecutive years, in a major embarrassment to the Kabul government.

Akhund's death is a blow to the Taliban as the militants prepare their annual spring offensive against government forces.

With reporting by Reuters

Ten Afghan Police Officers Killed In Ambush, Officials Say

Afghan officials say 10 police officers and the wife of a police commander have been killed in an attack in the northern province of Zawzjan.

Mohammad Reza Ghafori, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the officers were ambushed on February 24 as they were coming out of a mosque in the Darzab district.

A local police commander was among the dead and his wife was also killed when she rushed to the scene, Ghafori added.

Brigadier General Rahmatullah Turkistani, the provincial police chief, said four militants were killed and six others wounded in retaliatory firing.

Ghafori blamed the attack on Islamic State (IS) militants, but the Taliban claimed responsibility.

IS-linked militants have been active in eastern Afghanistan, but have recently begun operating in the north of the country as well. The Taliban frequently target officials and security forces across Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, and Pajhwok

Thousands Protest In Kabul Against Pakistan's Cross-Border Shelling

Afghans shout slogans protesting Pakistan's last week cross-border rocket shelling, in Kabul, on February 23.

KABUL -- Thousands of activists rallied in downtown Kabul on February 23, protesting Pakistan's cross-border rocket shelling last week.

The protesters gathered around the Eidgah Mosque in the Afghan capital, chanting slogans condemning Pakistan as "an enemy of Afghanistan."

During antiterrorist operations on February 17, Pakistan's military and law enforcement agencies fired missiles, some of which landed on Afghan territory.

On February 18, Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry summoned Pakistani Ambassador Abrar Hussain to protest the shelling.

The ministry also expressed concerns over the recent arrests of more than 100 Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Islamabad's decision to shut down the border between the two nations "to prevent terrorists' cross-border activities."

Afghanistan's government also demanded that Pakistan hand over terrorists operating on its soil and close tens of training camps for suspected terrorists.

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