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UN Drops Sanctions Against Notorious Afghan Warlord

FILE: Supporters of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hizb-i-Islami, attend a meeting in Herat.

The UN Security Council has lifted sanctions on notorious former Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, potentially paving his way to return to Afghanistan.

The move, announced on February 3, was requested by the Afghan government as part of a peace deal with Hekmatyar and his militant group, Hezb-e Islami, in September.

In removing Hekmatyar from the list of people sanctioned for their ties to militant groups, the UN unfroze his assets and dropped a travel ban and arms embargo against him.

Amin Karim, Hekmatyar’s chief negotiator, was quoted by the Associated Press in January as saying that he would return to Kabul in "a matter of weeks, not months."

The Afghan government’s peace deal with Hekmatyar was criticized by some Afghans and human rights defenders.

Rights activists have expressed concerns about long-standing accusations of human rights abuses against Hekmatyar, saying he was responsible for some of the worst atrocities committed during the civil war in the 1990s.

Hezb-e Islami has also carried out deadly attacks against U.S. and Afghan forces since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Kabul hopes a deal with Hezb-e Islami can convince the Taliban to end its insurgency and join the political process.

Based on reporting by Reuters, tolonews.com, and AP

Police: Taliban Kill Eight Afghan Security Forces

FILE: Afghan security forces on a patrol in Faryab Province.

At least eight Afghan security force members have been killed by the Taliban in the northwestern province of Faryab, a police spokesman said on February 3.

Spokesman Abdul Karim Youresh said the attackers killed four police officers and four members of a local defense force aiding police at a checkpoint in the Almar district during the night.

All of the victims belonged to one family.

Youresh said the Taliban carried out the attack with the help of one of the men posted at the security station. He said that the man was associated with the Taliban but had recently pretended to have left the militant group.

He said the man, a relative of the commander in charge of the station, had been allowed to join the security force after tribal elders gave guarantees on his behalf.

Meanwhile, Gul Agha Roohani, chief of police in eastern Nangarhar Province, said that 12 suspected Islamic State militants were killed when they attacked security posts in the district of Kot early on February 3. Roohani said one police officer was also killed.

Separately, provincial Governor Mohammad Alias Wahdat said an unknown gunman fatally shot a cleric and his wife in eastern Paktyka Province on February 2 in the Yusof Khail district.

Police said there were no immediate claims of responsibility.

Based on reporting by dpa and AP

U.S., Australia In Spat Over Refugees From Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan

U.S. President Donald Trump attends the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on February 2.

U.S. President Donald Trump has plunged the United States into a dispute with Australia over the fate of 1,300 refugees primarily from Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

The refugees are among thousands of migrants who, fleeing conflict or poverty, are being held in camps on the Pacific islands of Nairu and Papua New Guinea, where Australia is paying to detain them rather than admit them into the country.

Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, agreed to consider taking in about 1,300 migrants -- most of them from Iran, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, and Sudan -- in exchange for Australia taking in Latin American refugees, officials said.

But Trump denounced that as a "dumb deal" this week and said he was reviewing it. He made headlines when word leaked of a contentious phone call over the weekend with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during which the two discussed the matter.

The Washington Post reported on February 2 that Trump called the agreement the "worst deal ever" and accused Turnbull of seeking to export the "next Boston bombers."

Trump has suggested since then that he is still mulling whether to honor the deal, but Turnbull insists that Trump agreed to it out of respect for the strong ties between the countries.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Afghan Government Control Shrank, Troop Deaths Soared Last Year: Report

Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers fire a mortar round at Taliban positions during a battle with Taliban in Kunduz Province on October 8, 2016.

Afghan forces have continued to lose ground to insurgents throughout the country since taking over security responsibilities from NATO at the end of 2014, a report by a U.S. watchdog said on February 1.

As of mid-November, the government controlled or influenced 57.2 percent of Afghanistan's 407 districts, a 6.2 percent decrease from August and a 15 percent reduction from a year earlier, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in the report.

At present, almost one-third of the Afghan population or 9.2 million people "live in areas that are contested," it said, and about 2.5 million people live under the control or influence of the insurgency, down from 2.9 million three months ago.

It was unclear why the population directly controlled by the Taliban shrank. One factor could be larger than expected internal displacement caused by the conflict.

The United Nations estimates that nearly 640,000 Afghans had to flee their homes in 2016.

Meanwhile, the report found that the death rate among Afghan forces soared by 35 percent last year, prompting it to conclude that the Afghan government and security forces need continued support and cannot survive without donor assistance.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

Afghan National Army Looks To Recruit More Women

FILE: Afghan female soldiers march in the western city of Herat in April 2014.

Afghanistan's Defense Ministry says it wants to raise the number of women serving in the Afghan National Army to a level where women comprise 10 percent of the force.

Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh said on January 27 that the government had set several measures, including a special salary scale for female recruits, to encourage more women to join up.

"At this stage, we have 1,575 Afghan women in our army ranks, it is a mere 3 to 4 percent -- which is nothing," Radmanesh said. "We are aiming to raise this percentage to 10 percent."

Radmanesh said there currently were about 400 Afghan women recruits training at Defense Ministry facilities.

Women serving in the military is a controversial topic in conservative Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by AFP and Tolonews.com

Turkmenistan, Tajikistan At Odds Over Railway Remark

Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry said that Turkmenistan and Tajikistan were involved in a project to build a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway line, and that Turkmenistan completed the first phase of construction in November.

Turkmenistan has expressed concern after a Tajik official reportedly spoke of plans to potentially open a railway line to Russia that would bypass Turkmen territory.

In a statement issued on January 25, Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry said that the reported statement by a deputy chief of the Tajik Railways company, Usmon Kalandarov, was "unethical."

Media reports in Tajikistan quoted Kalandarov as saying publicly on January 24 that Tajikistan was discussing the possibility of opening a new railway line linking Tajikistan with Russia via Uzbekistan, bypassing Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that such remarks were not conducive to the further development of bilateral and regional ties, and suggesting that Tajikistan disavow the comment.

It said that Turkmenistan and Tajikistan were involved in a project to build a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway line, and that Turkmenistan completed the first phase of construction in November.

The statement expressed the readiness of Turkmenistan to continue cooperation with Tajikistan and its hope that Tajikistan will "look into unacceptance of the unfriendly statement by Tajik officials."

Snow, Cold Snap Leave 27 Children Dead In Northern Afghanistan

FILE: Survivors of an avalanche run to get relief goods distributed by an Afghan army helicopter in the Paryan district of Panjshir province.

Heavy snowfall and freezing weather has killed 27 children in a remote district of northern Afghanistan, an official says.

Fifty centimeters of snow blocked roads in Darzaab in northern Jawzjan Province as temperatures plunged to minus 10 degrees Celsius, district Governor Rahmatullah Hashar said on January 26.

Hashar said the deaths occurred over the past two or three days, adding that all of the children were under the age of 5.

The fact that access for villagers has been cut off means the toll could rise, he also said.

However, the provincial governor's spokesman, Reza Ghafoori, said aid would be delivered.

Each winter, heavy snowfall, subzero temperatures, and avalanches kill scores of people in Afghanistan, where poor infrastructure makes it difficult for rescuers to reach isolated areas.

Based on reporting by AFP and Pajhwok

Afghan Attorney General Orders Arrest Of Nine Employees Of Vice President

Abdul Rahid Dostum

Afghanistan's attorney general has ordered the arrest of nine employees of Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum in connection with allegations of kidnapping and torturing one of Dostum's political rivals.

Dostum, a powerful ethnic Uzbek militia commander in northern Afghanistan, has denied the allegations.

But the spokesman for the attorney general, Jamshid Rasouli, said on January 24 that arrests were ordered after Dostum’s employees failed to present themselves for questioning in an investigation.

The majority of the nine employees are Dostum's personal guards.

Dostum faces allegations of ordering his men to detain Ahmad Ischi, a former political ally from Dostum’s Junbesh-i Milli-Yi Islami party.

Ischi says he was kidnapped on November 25 by Dostum’s men in the vice president's native Jowzjan Province.

He says he was assaulted by Dostum himself, and then taken to one of Dostum's properties where Dostum's men severely beat him, sexually assaulted him with a Kalashnikov rifle, and threatened him for several days while he was held against his will.

Dostum's chief of staff, Enayatullah Babur Farhamand, told RFE/RL that Ischi "was under investigation for providing support to militants."

But Ischi's family alleged that he was beaten and kidnapped over a personal feud between the two former allies.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Afghan Official Reports Iranian, Pakistani Aid To Taliban In Helmand

Afghan soldiers shown sorting ammunition during an operation against Taliban militants in Soor Guder district of Helmand in November 2016.

The governor of Afghanistan's volatile Helmand Province said Iranian and Pakistanis have recently met with Taliban insurgents involved in fighting Afghan forces.

Governor Hayatullah Hayat told Radio Free Afghanistan on January 22 that "Iranian interference [in Afghan affairs] has increased" recently, noting the meeting with Taliban fighters in Helmand's Garmsir district that he said also involved Pakistanis.

He said the Afghan intelligence agency has confirmed the meeting and he has ordered a further investigation into foreign interference in Helmand.

Hayat said rockets with Iranian markings were also found after a Taliban attack on the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

He added that the Pakistani military is also involved in "mobilizing insurgents" in Helmand.

Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of aiding insurgents fighting Afghan forces, charges that Pakistan has denied.

With reporting by Tolo News

Head Of Afghan High Peace Council Dies In Kabul From Illness At Age 84

The late head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council Pir Saye Ahmed Gailani (file photo)

The head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council -- a government panel tasked with negotiating an end to the country's conflict with the Taliban – has died at the age of 84.

Abdul Khabir Ochqun, the deputy head of the council, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that Council Chief Pir Saye Ahmed Gailani died at a hospital in Kabul at 7:45 p.m. local time in Kabul on January 21 as a result of an illness.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is expected to appoint Gailani's replacement. However it was not immediately clear who Gailani's successor would be.

Gailani rose to prominence during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s as a resistance leader and the founder of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan -- one of seven U.S.-backed groups that fought against the Soviet invaders.

Gailani had been a strong proponent of peace talks between the government in Kabul and Taliban militants.

The previous head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated by a suicide bomber in 2011.

With reporting by AP

Afghanistan's Abdullah Welcomes Trump's Commitment To Troops

Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah met with General Joseph Votel, U.S. commander, in Kabul on Jan 18.

Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah has expressed hope that the United States would continue its support for the Afghan government after U.S. President Donald Trump publicly spoke with U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan after his inauguration.

"I want to congratulate the U.S. president on behalf of myself, the Afghan government, and the people of Afghanistan," Abdullah said on January 21 at an event aimed at raising $550 million in humanitarian international aid for his country.

Trump spoke by video link with American troops stationed at a base north of Kabul, while attending a post-inauguration ball in Washington on January 20.

"I'm with you all the way... we're going to do it together," he told the troops. "The courage that you show is incredible."

It is unclear whether Trump will continue the billions of dollars a year that the United States provides to Afghanistan in military and development aid.

The new U.S. president has also not commented on the future of some 9,000 American troops deployed in Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Afghan All-Girl Orchestra Performs Before World Leaders At Davos Summit

Nineteen-year-old Afghan Negina Khpalwak, right, stands alongside Afghan musicologist Ahmad Sarmast as she conducts her musicians during a rehearsal at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music of Kabul.

Afghanistan's first all-girl orchestra performed a concert in front of world leaders at the closing of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 20.

The group of 30 musicians aged 13 to 20, known as Zohra, performed parts of Beethoven's 9th symphony as well as popular Afghan pieces like Watan Jan (meaning dear homeland).

After playing at the Davos summit attended by world leaders and corporate titans, the group will perform in Zurich, Geneva, Berlin, and Weimar in Germany.

Zohra was the idea of a young female student at Afghanistan's only music academy. She approached the school's director Ahmad Naser Sarmast and suggested it.

Starting an all-girl band is not easy in Afghanistan, where conservative religious groups frown upon girls playing music in public. The Taliban banned music when it ruled from 1996 to 2001.

However, Sarmast said he believes in women's rights and helped bring the group he called a "beacon of hope" together.

Sarmast and the musicians have had to endure death threats and other harassment for breaking religious taboos but he credited "positive changes that have accumulated in the last 13 years" under U.S. and NATO occupation for making the breakthrough possible.

Based on reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters

Blast At Afghan Buzkashi Match Kills Anti-Taliban Militia Leader, Two Others

FILE: Bbuzkashi – a popular, traditional equestrian sport in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

An explosion in northern Afghanistan has killed at least three people outside a game of buzkashi – a popular, traditional equestrian sport in Afghanistan and Central Asia that is similar to polo but uses a goat or calf carcass instead of a ball.

The explosion was to the east of Mazar-e Shariff, in the Khulm District of Balkh Province, as spectators were leaving the buzkashi match.

Balkh Deputy Police Chief Abdul Razaq Qaderi said that the blast was caused by an improvised explosive device, which had been planted outside of the venue.

He said the target appeared to be a local anti-Taliban militia leader who was killed along with his bodyguard and a civilian.

Four other people were wounded by the explosion.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

With reporting by AFP

Afghan Group Says 2016 Was Deadliest For Journalists On Record

Afghan people and relatives attend a funeral ceremony of Afghan interpreter Zabihullah Tamanna, in Kabul on June 7, 2016.

Last year was the deadliest year on record for Afghan media, with 13 journalists killed, the Afghanistan Journalist Safety Committee said in a report on January 18.

The press group documented at least 101 incidents of killings, assault, intimidation, abuse, and other physical attacks, a 38 percent increase over numbers recorded in 2015.

Although the Taliban was blamed for 10 of the 13 deaths, half of the overall increase in violence toward journalists was attributed to the Afghan government.

"This is an ugly, worrying, and serious trend, and if certain actions are not taken, 2017 could be worse," said committee head Najib Sharifi.

A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said acts of intimidation were by individuals, not by the government, and the president is committed to a free press.

"There are no journalists in jail in the whole country and the attorney general's office has prosecuted those government officials who have threatened or acted against journalists," he said.

The Taliban's "drastic increase" in attacks on journalists started in late 2015 with the issuance of death threats against journalists perceived as being too critical, the report said.

That was followed by a deadly attack on Tolo, one of Afghanistan's largest television stations.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa

EU Urges Afghan Government To Tackle Violence Against Journalists

FILE: A journalists protest in northern Afghanistan.

The European Union is urging all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to "do their utmost" to protect press reporters,after a media watchdog said 2016 was the country's "bloodiest year for journalists and media" in history.

"Freedom of the Media is key to any democracy -- critical media holds government and administration accountable, ensures transparency in society and gives ordinary Afghan citizens a voice," the EU special representative to Afghanistan, Franz-Michael Mellbin, said in a January 19 statement.

The comments come a day after the Afghan Journalists' Safety Committee released a report saying at least 13 journalists were killed in 2016 and that the Taliban were behind no fewer than 10 of the deaths.

Overall, the committee recorded 101 cases involving killing, assault, intimidation, abuse, and wounding of journalists in 2016, a 38 percent increase on the previous year.

"A shift in the conduct of Taliban vis-a-vis journalists and media is the main driver of the increase in the level of threats and deadly violence against journalists," it said.

But it added that "the government and security forces are responsible for most of the incidents involving beating of journalists."

"It is alarming that the government continues to be responsible for so many cases," Mellbin said.

U.S. Confirms 10 More Guantanamo Prisoners Sent To Oman

A former Yemeni inmate, released from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, is welcomed by his family upon his arrival in Riyadh on January 5.

The United States on January 17 confirmed that 10 prisoners had been released from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transferred to Oman.

Oman's Foreign Ministry said on January 16 that it had accepted the prisoners at U.S. President Barrack Obama's request and that they had already arrived in the sultanate on the Arabian Peninsula. It did not name them.

"In consideration of their humanitarian situation, 10 persons have been released from detention and arrived in the sultanate today for a temporary residence," Oman said.

Released Guantanamo prisoners often undergo a reeducation program upon transfer from the military prison.

Two of the men are from Afghanistan, while the others were from Yemen, U.S. authorities said. The Pentagon did not release the prisoners directly to Yemen because of the ongoing civil war in that country.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged on January 17 for the first time that Obama's goal to close the prison during his administration would not be met before he left office on January 20.

The release of the 10 prisoners leaves 45 at the prison, U.S. authorities said.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Afghan Religious Teachers Taken Hostage By IS Militants

At least 13 teachers at a religious school have been abducted in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.

Afghan officials say Islamic State (IS) militants took the lecturers hostage at a madrasah in the Haska Mina district on January 15.

"The teachers were busy with exams at the madrasah when [the Islamic State] militants kidnapped 13 of them and took them to an unknown place," Ataullah Khugyani, a spokesman for the Nangarhar governor, told RFE/RL.

"We have already taken comprehensive efforts to free the teachers of religion and assure their safe return to their families," he said.

Khugyani said that for security reasons and the safety of the abducted teachers he could not provide details about how the government was working to free the hostages.

Pakistani Military Chief Tells Afghan President Terrorist 'Safe Havens' Eliminated

Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on January 5.

Pakistani military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that his troops have destroyed "all safe havens" for terrorists in Pakistan.

Bajwa also told Ghani in a telephone call on January 15 that the two countries must cooperate on security issues to deter cross-border infiltration of militant groups.

Pakistani Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said Bajwa also conveyed to Ghani his condolences for a recent string of deadly bombings in Afghanistan that killed more than 50 people and wounded dozens of others.

Afghan officials have accused Pakistan's military and ISI intelligence agency of aiding Taliban insurgents and other militants operating in Afghanistan and of providing sanctuary to them in Pakistan.

Pakistan denies the charges.

Ghafoor said that Bajwa told Ghani that elements that oppose regional peace are "strengthened by the blame game."

"[General Bajwa] emphasized that Pakistan has come a long way in its fight against terrorism...and has eliminated all safe havens in the process," Ghafoor added.

Ghafoor also said Bajwa had reiterated a call by Islamabad to install a "robust" border security system to prevent terrorists to cross and operate on both sides of the two countries' nearly 2,600-kilometer border.

With reporting by VOA and Dawn.com

Abducted Red Cross Staffer Freed In Afghanistan

FILE: Afghan patients wait on a benches at the Internatinal Committee of Red Cross ( ICRC) hospital for war victims in Herat Province in August 2014.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says a Spanish staff member who was abducted in northern Afghanistan last month has been released.

Juan Carlos was kidnapped on December 19 when workers from the group were traveling between Mazar-e Sharif and Kunduz.

The ICRC's head of delegation in Afghanistan, Monica Zanarelli, said on January 15 that Carlos is now back with its team in Kunduz.

"We are relieved and grateful that Juan Carlos is now back with us, safe and sound," Zanarelli said in a statement.

"His abduction was a terrible ordeal for him, as well as for his family, friends, and colleagues,” the statement added.

The ICRC did not identify the abductors or their motives.

The kidnapping of foreign nationals has been on the rise in Afghanistan.

In August, gunmen kidnapped two professors of the American University of Afghanistan in the capital, Kabul.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa

Roadside Bomb Kills Seven Civilians In Eastern Afghanistan

FILE: Afghan security officials inspect the scene of a suicide bomb attack in Surkh Rod district of Nangarhar Province.

Afghan officials say at least seven civilians, including a woman and three children, were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan on January 15.

The villagers were traveling from Pacheer Agam district to a nearby village in Nangarhar Province, district Governor Hijratullah Rahmani told the AFP news agency.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which the Interior Ministry blamed on "enemies of peace and stability," a term Afghan officials use to refer to Taliban militants.

The Taliban has a strong presence in Nangarhar, a volatile province that borders Pakistan.

The Islamic State (IS) extremist group has also gained a foothold in eastern Afghanistan in recent years.

Earlier, Afghan officials said that IS fighters had been driven out of Pacheer Agam in an operation by security forces.

In a separate development in Nangarhar, officials said IS militants abducted 13 lecturers of the Haska Mina religious school on January 15.

Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor, said "the teachers were taking exams from students in Shpoly area, when they were abducted."

Provincial government said in a statement that security forces have begun an operation to release the lecturers.

Based on reporting by AFP and pajhwok.com

Tajikistan Protests Remarks By Afghan Ambassador To Russia

Tajik Deputy Foreign Minister Nizomiddin Zohidi meets with Afghan Ambassador to Tajikistan Zalmai Yunusi on January 9.

DUSHANBE -- The Tajik Foreign Ministry says that it summoned the Afghan ambassador in Dushanbe late in December and lodged a diplomatic protest over remarks made by the Afghan ambassador to Russia.

The ministry said on January 12 that a protest note was handed to the Afghan ambassador in Dushanbe, Zalmai Yunusi, on December 31.

The ministry's statement comes several days after an interview with the Afghan ambassador to Russia, Abdul Qayum Kochi, circulated on YouTube.

In the interview, Kochi suggested that Tajiks and Russians were behind illegal drug production in Afghanistan, which borders the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan.

Kochi also called Tajikistan "a small country" where "people are not allowed to use their own language."

In its January 12 statement, the Foreign Ministry said that Kabul had responded to the protest by saying that Kochi's words reflected his personal opinion and had nothing to do with Kabul's official views.

Afghan Taliban Releases Video Of U.S., Australian Captives

Afghan security officials secure the road leading to the American University of Afghanistan after a Taliban attack on the university in Kabul in August.

The Afghan Taliban has released a video showing an American and an Australian who were kidnapped in August.

The two men, identified as Kevin King and Timothy Weekes, were abducted near the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, where they worked as teachers.

In the video sent to media on January 11, Weekes said the clip was made on January 1.

Addressing U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who is due to take office on January 20, Weeks also said the Taliban had asked for prisoners held at Bagram airfield north of Kabul and at Pol-e Charkhi prison on the outskirts of the Afghan capital to be exchanged for them.

"If they are not exchanged for us, then we will be killed," he said.

In September, U.S. officials said U.S. forces had mounted a raid to try to rescue two civilian hostages but the men were not at the location targeted.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

U.S. Report Warns Afghan Forces Not Capable Of Securing Country

Afghan National Army commandos open fire on a Taliban position during a military operation in Helmand province in October 2016.

Afghanistan needs a "stable security environment to prevent it from again becoming a safe haven for Al-Qaeda or other terrorists," a U.S. report says.

The report was released on January 11 by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which gives independent oversight of U.S. reconstruction funds for the country.

It says Afghan security forces have "not yet been capable of securing all of Afghanistan and has lost territory to the insurgency."

Most NATO-led foreign combat forces pulled out of Afghanistan in 2014, leaving nearly 10,000 U.S. troops behind.

Afghan forces have since struggled to fend off the Taliban, which has gained control of more territory than any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

SIGAR described corruption as "one of the most serious threats to the U.S.-funded Afghanistan reconstruction effort."

"Powerful drug networks, mainly run by close-knit families and tribes, bankroll the insurgency and launder money," it also said.

With reporting by AP

U.A.E. Says Five Diplomats Killed In Kandahar Explosion

Kandahar province Governor Hamayoon Azizi (R) and ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Afghanistan Juma Al-Qabi, attend a ceremony in Kandahar on January 10.

The government of the United Arab Emirates says that five of its diplomats were killed in a bombing in the Afghan city of Kandahar on January 10.

Afghan officials say a total of 13 people were killed and 18 were injured in the explosion, which occurred at a guesthouse during a meeting between U.A.E. diplomats -- including the ambassador -- and senior provincial officials.

In a statement on January 11, the U.A.E. government said that the diplomats were carrying out humanitarian, educational, and development work in Afghanistan.

Authorities said the bomb was planted in a sofa and exploded when Ambassador Juma Mohammed Abdullah al-Kaabi and Kandahar Governor Hamayoon Azizi had stepped out of the room.

Both were injured, and many of the victims were burned beyond recognition.

U.A.E. President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nayyan ordered flags flown at half-staff and three days of official mourning.

The attack occurred hours after twin bomb blasts rocked an area near the Afghan parliament in Kabul, the capital, killing at least 38 people and injuring dozens of others. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

The Taliban has denied involvement in the Kandahar bombing, and authorities said it may have been a result of local rivalries.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Afghan Governor, U.A.E. Ambassador Injured In Guesthouse Blast 

Kandahar Governer Hamyoon Azizi (C) was hosting a dinner attended by the U.A.E. ambassador to Afghanistan (file photo)

Afghan officials say at least five people were killed and nine others, including the provincial governor and the Emirati ambassador, were injured in a blast at a government guesthouse in the southern province of Kandahar late on January 10.

Local government spokesman Samim Khpalwak said the blast hit the compound in the provincial capital, Kandahar, where Governor Hamayoon Azizi was hosting a dinner attended by the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Kabul, several Afghan officials, and Emirati diplomats.

The spokesman said the governor and the ambassador were injured in the blast. He said the attack occurred at 7 p.m. local time.

Khpalwak, who was also present at the gathering, told RFE/RL that explosive devices were apparently hidden in sofas.

The U.A.E. Foreign Ministry confirmed the incident, saying in a statement that the Emirati ambassador and several other diplomats were wounded in "the heinous terrorist attack on the guesthouse."

The ministry identified the wounded ambassador as Juma Mohammed Abdullah al-Kaabi. It didn't say how many U.A.E. diplomats were wounded.

Earlier in the day, the U.A.E. embassy in Kabul tweeted photos of the ambassador holding a meeting with Afghan officials and attending a ceremony to lay the foundation of an orphanage in Kandahar.

U.A.E. combat troops were deployed to Afghanistan after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban administration.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came just hours after deadly twin blasts near the parliament headquarters in the capital, Kabul.

Dozens were killed and wounded in that attack, which was claimed by the Taliban.

With reporting by tolonews.com and AP

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