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Afghan Warlord Hekmatyar Calls For Peace In Public Speech

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

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one Afghanistan's most notorious warlords, has called on the Taliban to stop fighting government troops and begin peace talks.

"I invite you to join the peace caravan and stop the pointless, meaningless and unholy war," Hekmatyar, a former prime minister, told a gathering of Afghan politicians and his supporters in Laghman Province on April 29.

"I want a free, proud, independent, and Islamic Afghanistan," Hekmatyar added, in his first public appearance in nearly two decades.

Hekmatyar, the founder and current leader of the Hezb-e Islami political party, signed a peace deal with the Afghan government in September

In the deal, Hekmatyar's fighters vowed to lay down their weapons in exchange for a prisoner release.

He also praised Afghan security forces during his speech and said fighting against them and the country's government is "senseless and illegitimate."

The UN Security Council ended sanctions against Hekmatyar in February, clearing the way for him to return to Afghanistan after being in exile for nearly 20 years.

The government's deal with Hekmatyar was criticized by many Afghans and human rights groups as being too lenient for someone accused of violence and widespread abuses -- he has been dubbed the "Butcher of Kabul" for fighting that led to thousands of civilian deaths in the Afghan capital in the early 1990s.

The United States had designated Hekmatyar a "global terrorist" after he declared jihad on foreign forces fighting Islamists in Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa

Pentagon Says U.S. Soldiers May Have Been Killed In Afghanistan By 'Friendly Fire'

Afghan security personnel stand guard at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Jalalabad in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.

The U.S. military says the two U.S. Army soldiers killed during a raid on a compound held by fighters linked to the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Afghanistan may have been the victims of so-called friendly fire.

Navy Captain Jeff Davis, the Pentagon spokesman, said on April 28 that the U.S. military is investigating the deaths to see whether the soldiers were accidentally hit by ground fire from other U.S. troops or from Afghan government forces.

Davis said Abdul Hasib, the leader of Islamic State (IS) militants in Afghanistan, was the target of the April 26 raid in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

U.S. officials suspect the militant leader was killed but have not yet been able to confirm it.

Davis said about 50 U.S. Army Rangers and 40 Afghan commandos took part in the assault on a compound held by a group called ISIS Khorasan, an IS affiliate that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said the battle lasted about three hours and that an estimated 35 militants were killed.

The Pentagon identified the dead U.S. soldiers as Sergeant Joshua Rodgers, 22, and Sergeant Cameron Thomas, 23. It confirmed that a third U.S. soldier was wounded in the operation.

U.S. forces have been battling IS-linked militants in Nangarhar Province, where the extremist group has established a presence for its battle against Afghan government forces.

Nangarhar is the province where, on April 13, the U.S. military said 94 militants were killed after it dropped its most powerful nonnuclear weapon ever used in combat on what it said was a major militant command center.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Afghan Taliban Launch Spring Offensive Against U.S., Afghan Forces

Members of the Afghan security services take positions during an operation in an area retaken from the Taliban, in Nawa district of Helmand Province, on April 18.

Afghanistan's Taliban announced the start of their spring offensive on April 28, promising to target military assaults on U.S.-led coalition and Afghan security forces.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in an e-mailed statement boasted that the militant group now controls more than half of the country, citing a U.S. report in February that said the Afghan government controls only 52 percent of Afghanistan's 407 districts.

This year's offensive was named "Operation Mansouri" after the Taliban leader killed last year in a U.S. drone strike.

"Mansouri operations will differ from previous ones in nature and will be conducted with a twin-tracked political and military approach," said Mujahid, explaining that the Taliban will begin building institutions in areas under their control, establishing what he called "social justice and development" mechanisms.

He didn't say whether this means the militants will apply their brand of justice, which when they ruled Afghanistan included public executions and chopping off the hands of convicted thieves.

Apparently foreshadowing the spring offensive, a Taliban attack earlier this week on an army base in northern Afghanistan was among the most devastating ever in the country, killing more than 140 Afghan soldiers.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Two U.S. Soldiers Killed During Battle Against IS Militants In Afghanistan

On April 24, Afghan Special Forces inspect inside a cave, which was used by suspected Islamic State militants at the site where a MOAB, or ''mother of all bombs'', struck the a cave complex in Achin district of the eastern province of Nangarhar.

Two U.S. soldiers have been killed in fighting against an affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar, the U.S. military says.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis on April 27 said the soldiers were killed during an operation on April 26 against ISIS Khorasan, an IS affiliate that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

U.S. forces have been battling IS-linked militants in Nangarhar Province, where they have established themselves to battle against Afghan government forces.

On April 13, the U.S. military dropped its most powerful nonnuclear weapon ever used in combat, killing, it said, 94 fighters in what was suspected to be a major militant command center in Nangarhar Province.

CNN cited a U.S. official as saying the two soldiers killed on April 26 were members of the U.S. Special Forces and that another soldier had been wounded during the fighting in Nangarhar's southern district of Achin.

The Pentagon said the soldiers were killed during a raid carried out jointly with Afghan government forces.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

U.S. Charges Russia Is Supplying Afghan Taliban 'Groundless,' Lavrov Says

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrive for bilateral talks at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow on April 12.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on April 25 that a U.S. allegation Moscow is supplying arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan was unsubstantiated.

On April 24, a senior U.S. military official in Kabul, briefing journalists on condition of anonymity, said Russia was giving machine guns and other medium-weight weapons to the Taliban for use in the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, and Uruzgan.

"These are unprofessional and groundless remarks,"Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow. U.S. intelligence officials "know very well that these claims are false," he said. "No one has provided a single fact" to confirm such charges.

Lavrov said Russia's stance is that the Taliban should take part in peace negotiations in Afghanistan.

"We are in favor of only one simple thing - we want the Taliban to join the national dialogue on the basis of the criteria endorsed by the UN Security Council at the Afghan government's request," he said.

But for this to happen, theTaliban must "stop violence, break with terrorism, and respect the constitution," he said.

There's not much hope for reconciliation in Afghanistan without dialogue between the government and theTaliban, he said.

Based on reporting by Reuters, dpa, Interfax, and TASS

U.S. Defense Chief Visits Afghanistan Amid Military Shake-Up

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, right, and U.S. Army General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, arrive to meet with an Afghan defense delegation at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul on April 24.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has arrived in Afghanistan, making an unannounced visit to assess the needs in the war against Taliban and other militants.

Mattis, who is the first member of President Donald Trump's cabinet to visit Afghanistan, was expected to meet Afghan officials and U.S. troops while in Kabul.

His arrival coincided with an announcement that the Afghan defense minister and army chief of staff had resigned in the wake of a Taliban attack on an army base on April 21 that killed scores of soldiers.

Afghanistan is the sixth stop on a weeklong tour Mattis said was intended to bolster relations with allies and partners. He also visited Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, and the small East African country of Djibouti.

General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Kabul, recently told Congress that he needed a few thousand more troops to keep Afghan security forces on track to eventually handling the Taliban insurgency on their own.

Mattis was due to meet top officials including President Ashraf Ghani less than two weeks after the U.S. military dropped its most powerful nonnuclear bomb, the MOAB, on Islamic State hideouts in eastern Afghanistan.

Mattis, who served in Afghanistan, has said he is compiling an assessment for Trump on Afghanistan's long-running conflict. He is the second senior U.S. security official to visit Afghanistan this month, after national security adviser General H.R. McMaster.

Around the time Mattis arrived, Ghani's office announced that he had accepted the resignations of Defense Minister Abdullah Habibi and the army chief of staff.

Their departure followed one of the deadliest Taliban attacks targeting the Afghan security forces, an assault on an army base in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.

The Defense Ministry said that more than 100 military personnel were killed or injured in the attack, but officials in Kabul told RFE/RL that more than 130 had been killed. Some officials put the toll even higher.

Ghani's office also said he had replaced the commanders of four army corps in response to the attack.

Trump's administration is seeking to build its strategy for the Afghan conflict -- the longest war in U.S. history.

Taliban militants hold large amounts of territory more than 15 years after being driven from power by a U.S.-led invasion following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States.

General Nicholson recently told a congressional hearing that he needed several thousand more international troops in order to break a stalemate in the war against the Taliban.

U.S. officials say that Nicholson's request was advancing through the chain of command.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, AP, and AFP

Massive Bomb In Afghanistan Killed Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, Pakistanis

A village near the aftermath of the "mother of all bombs" on April 16.

The massive U.S. bomb dropped on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan last week killed militant fighters from Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, India, and other countries, an Afghan official said.

"Most militants killed in the attack were from Pakistan, India, the Philippines, and Bangladesh," Mohammad Radmanish, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said on April 18.

The GBU-43 bomb, nicknamed MOAB for "massive ordnance air blast" or "mother of all bombs," killed 96 Islamic State militants, including four key IS leaders on April 13, the Pentagon and Afghan officials have said.

They said it also destroyed a 300-meter-long cave system, along with large amounts of light and heavy weapons and munition.

Based on reporting by dpa and Radio Azadi

Russia Hosts Afghanistan Meeting Boycotted By Washington

FILE: Russian President Vladimir Putin with President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan in July 2015.

Russia opened meetings with top diplomats from Afghanistan, China, and several Central Asian countries in talks that are aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan but are being boycotted by the United States.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement April 14 that India, Iran, and Pakistan were also attending the Moscow talks. The statement urged the Taliban to stop fighting and engage in a direct dialogue with the Afghan government.

Russia had invited Washington to join the consultations but it refused, saying the goal was unclear.

The purpose "seemed to be a unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region," acting U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on the eve of the talks.

"We do generally support regional efforts that work with the Afghan government to build support for a peaceful outcome in Afghanistan, and I think we -- going forward, we do plan to work with Russia and other key regional stakeholders to enhance dialogue on Afghanistan," Toner said.

Moscow hosted similar consultations in December between diplomats from Russia, Pakistan, and China to discuss the start of a national reconciliation process. The format was expanded in mid-February to involve Afghanistan, Iran, and India.

With reporting by TASS and AP

Washington To Skip Meeting On Afghanistan Hosted By Russia

Russia hosted a debate on the situation in Afghanistan in March.

Washington is planning to skip a conference on reconciliation in Afghanistan that Russia is hosting on April 14, acting U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

"We don't plan to participate in these regional talks," Toner said on April 13. "It was unclear what the purpose was" of the talks, he said, adding that it "seemed to be a unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region."

"We do generally support regional efforts that work with the Afghan government to build support for a peaceful outcome in Afghanistan, and I think we - going forward, we do plan to work with Russia and other key regional stakeholders to enhance dialogue on Afghanistan," he said.

Moscow invited 12 states to take part in consultations devoted to the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan and the start of direct talks between the country's government and the Taliban.

In December, Moscow hosted consultations between diplomats from Russia, Pakistan, and China to discuss the start of a national reconciliation process in Afghanistan. The format was expanded in mid-February to involve Afghanistan, Iran, and India.

Based on reporting by BuzzFeedNews and TASS

Four Afghan Children Killed Playing With Mortar In Kunduz Province

An Afghan child wounded after playing with mortar in 2015

Four children were killed when they played with a mortar in Afghanistan's northeastern Kunduz province, police said on April 11.

Seven other children were wounded, said police spokesman Mafuz Akbari. The explosion took place in Qasaban village of Chahardarah district on April 10. Chahardarah is a Taliban stronghold in Kunduz.

Decades of war in Afghanistan has left vast stretches of land dotted with mines, improvised explosive devices and unexploded munitions, say experts from the government's mine action coordination center.

In 2016, the United Nations documented "the highest number of civilian casualties caused by the detonation of explosive remnants of war since the mission began recording civilian casualties in 2009."

Most of the victims were children. Last year, 217 people were killed and 507 injured in such incidents, according to the UN report. That was an increase of 66 percent over 2015.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Insurgents Kill 13 Afghan Troops In Separate Attacks

The attacks come amid Afghanistan's spring fighting season, when warmer weather brings increased operations by both militants and government forces.

Insurgents have killed at least 13 Afghan security forces in separate attacks, Afghan officials have said.

Munir Ahmad Farhad, spokesman for the governor of the northern Balkh Province, said on April 9 that a roadside bomb killed nine Afghan troops and wounded several more late on April 8 in the Chimtal district during an operation against the Taliban.

He said five insurgents were killed and dozens wounded.

In a separate incident also on April 8, militants with the extremist group Islamic State (IS) attacked the Darzab district headquarters in the neighboring Jowzjan Province, a spokesman for the provincial governor said.

Four Afghan reinforcements, including a unit commander, were killed in an ambush as they raced to the scene of the clashes, he said.

The attacks come amid Afghanistan's spring fighting season, when warmer weather brings increased operations by both militants and government forces.

Afghan forces have struggled to combat the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in 2014.

The U.S. military said earlier a U.S. soldier was killed in Afghanistan while conducting a mission against an affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

The soldier was a member of U.S. Special Operations Forces helping Afghan forces battle IS militants in Nangarhar Province, the U.S. said.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

U.S. Says Soldier Killed In Mission Against IS-Linked Group In Afghanistan

The U.S. military says a soldier was killed in Afghanistan while conducting a mission against an affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

A spokesman, U.S. Navy Captain Bill Salvin, wrote on Twitter on April 8 that the soldier was killed in an operation in Nangarhar Province against "ISIS-Khorasan," a provincial IS affiliate that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Salvin told Reuters news agency the soldier was a member of the U.S. Special Forces. Further information was not immediately available.

The offshoot of the mostly Sunni militant group has been blamed for carrying out several attacks on minority Shi'ite Muslims.

The IS affiliate is mainly based in Nangarhar and neighboring Kunar Province, U.S. officials said.

U.S. officials have said they believe the group has only 700 fighters, although Afghan officials put the number at about 1,500.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

Taliban Set Out Spring Offensive Battle Strategy In Afghanistan

Afghan security officials patrol in an area during an operation against Taliban militants in Nad Ali district of Helmand Province on March 11.

Taliban forces in Afghanistan plan to extend their control of provinces in which they already have a heavy presence in the upcoming spring offensive, a spokesman told dpa news agency in an interview.

Zabihullah Mujahid said on April 3 that the militants will press their advantage during the campaign in the provinces of Helmand and Oruzgan in the south, Farah and Faryab in the west, and Sar-e Pul and Kunduz in the north.

U.S. military officials say the Western-backed government in Kabul controls less than 60 percent of the country.

Mujahid said the Taliban will form provincial commands instead of having units operating across several provinces as part of a new strategy.

He said the Taliban will focus on capturing provincial capitals.

Meanwhile, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told dpa that Afghan forces will focus on pushing insurgents out of their strongholds.

Part of that effort will include increasing the strength of the army’s elite special forces. He said the force should be doubled in size by 2020.

Top U.S. military commanders have said the war against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan has ground to a stalemate.

Some 8,400 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan since most NATO forces withdrew in 2014, leaving security mainly to Afghan forces.

Based on reporting by dpa

Hazara Protesters Rally During Afghan President's Visit To Australia

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (R) poses with the visiting A fghan President Ashraf Ghani in Canberra on April 3, 2017.

Hundreds of protesters staged a rally in the Australian capital as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani arrived for an official visit.

The mainly Hazara demonstrators gathered in Canberra on April 3, calling for Ghani to end what they said was discrimination against the ethnic minority in Afghanistan and repatriation of asylum seekers rejected by Australia.

Ghani’s four-day visit is the first trip by an Afghan president to Australia.

The protesters, carrying banners and flags, gathered outside Government House, where Ghani met with Governor General Peter Cosgrove.

In 2011, Canberra and Kabul signed a controversial deal to send failed Afghan asylum seekers back.

Hazaras have accused Ghani's government of discriminating against the community, with several large demonstrations held in Kabul last year.

On his first day in Australia on April 3, Ghani signed with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull an aid deal worth $240 million over four years.

The two countries also pledged to cooperate on infrastructure, education, and employment of women and girls, agriculture and water management, training of Afghan civil servants, and anticorruption initiatives.

Based on reporting by AP, ABC Australia, The Guardian

At Least Nine Killed In Afghanistan After Army Detonates Found Explosives

Taliban militants are in control of much of Helmand Province, in southern Afghanistan, with only Lashkar Gah remaining under Afghan government control.

Afghan officials say at least nine civilians from a single family were killed after an army unit detonated a cache of explosives and ammunition found in southern Helmand Province.

Omar Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor, said soldiers were attempting to destroy the ordinance they had found when the explosion occurred.

Rasoul Zazia, spokesman for the army in Helmand, also confirmed the operation in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the province.

Two provincial officials speaking on condition of anonymity on April 2 said nine civilians, including two children, three women, and four men from a single family, were killed when the explosion caused the roof of their house to collapse.

Helmand Governor Hayatullah Hayat told the dpa news agency that nine bodies had been recovered but that another was still believed to be under the collapsed building.

He said an investigation was ongoing and could not confirm if the house collapsed because of the ordinance explosion or some other reason.

Taliban militants are in control of much of Helmand Province, in southern Afghanistan, with only Lashkar Gah remaining under Afghan government control.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Afghan President Arrives In Australia To Meet With Prime Minister Turnbull

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (file photo)

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has arrived in Australia for talks expected to cover security matters and female empowerment, Australian officials said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on April 3 said the visit, the first to Australia by an Afghan president, reflected a "strong bond" between the two countries.

Ghani will also meet Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and lay a wreath at the Australian War Memorial during his visit, which is scheduled to run through April 5.

At least 41 Australia troops have been killed in Afghanistan following the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Turnbull said discussions will focus on ongoing security and ways to increase cooperation “to help Afghanistan in its efforts to become more prosperous, secure, and self-reliant."

Hundreds of protesters demonstrated against Ghani's visit, calling for his government to end discrimination against the Hazara ethnic minority.

They also said they opposed the "forced repatriations" of asylum seekers rejected by Australia.

Based on reporting by AP and AAP

Russia Accuses NATO Of 'Slander' As U.S. Denounces 'Russian Aggression'

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) told Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin that U.S. and NATO support for Ukraine remains "steadfast."

Russia has accused the United States and its allies of "slander" as the U.S. top diplomat and Pentagon chief denounced Russia’s actions in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told his counterparts at NATO on March 31 that the United States was committed to Ukraine's territorial integrity and that U.S. sanctions against Russia will remain in place "until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered our sanctions."

Western nations imposed the sanctions for Russia's illegal 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and for its support for separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.

"We do not and will not accept Russian efforts to change the borders of the territory of Ukraine," said Tillerson.

The secretary of state added that Washington "will continue to hold Russia accountable to its Minsk commitments," referring to the Minsk process to resolve the Ukraine crisis.

Tillerson was attending his first meeting of NATO foreign ministers amid worries about U.S. President Donald Trump's stated desire for closer relations with Moscow.

He told Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who was also at the meeting, that American and NATO support for Ukraine remained "steadfast" after "Russia's aggression against Ukraine."

Russia responded by accusing NATO of spreading "the myth of a 'Russian threat'" and "the slander of 'Russian aggression'" as a way to unify its members.

"The U.S. and its allies are obsessed with building up their military presence on our borders, justifying it with the need to 'restrain Russia'," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Also on March 31, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters in London that "Russian's violations of international law are now a matter of record -- from what happened with Crimea to other aspects of their behavior in mucking around inside other peoples' elections.”

Mattis was likely referring to Russia’s alleged meddling during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The U.S. secretary of defense also expressed concern over Russia's activities in Afghanistan and its interaction with the Taliban militant group.

"We have seen Russian activity vis-a-vis the Taliban," Mattis said. "I am not willing to say at this point if that is manifested into weapons and that sort of thing, but, certainly, what they are up to there in light of their other activities gives us concern."

The comments came after U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, told a U.S. Senate committee on March 23 that he had seen evidence of increasing Russian efforts to influence the Taliban "and perhaps even to supply" the militant group.

Moscow denies it provides aid to the Taliban, which is fighting the U.S.-backed government and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on March 31, Russia's ambassador to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, said Russia is in contact with the Taliban to push the group toward national reconciliation and to ensure security of Russian citizens.

"Many countries" maintain contacts with the Taliban, Grushko said, adding that "the consultations we hold, the work we do, we do it with the participation of Afghanistan's central government."

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, TASS, and Interfax

Russia Says Trying To Push Afghan Taliban To Join National Reconciliation

Russia's ambassador to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko

Russia says it is in contact with the Taliban in Afghanistan to push the militant group toward national reconciliation and to ensure the security of Russian citizens.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on March 31, Russia's ambassador to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, denied that Moscow is providing aid to the Taliban and said "many countries" maintain contacts with the group.

"The consultations we hold, the work we do, we do it with the participation of Afghanistan's central government," Grushko said.

Earlier, in London, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis expressed concern over Russia's interaction with the Taliban, which is fighting the U.S.-backed government and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

"I am not willing to say at this point if that is manifested into weapons and that sort of thing, but, certainly, what they are up to there in light of their other activities gives us concern," Mattis said.

The comments came after U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, said on March 23 that he had seen evidence of increasing Russian efforts to influence the Taliban "and perhaps even to supply" the militant group.

Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax

Germany Arrests Suspected Taliban Commander

Afghan security officials take positions during an operation against Taliban militants in Lashkar Gah.

German prosecutors say they have arrested a suspected former Afghan Taliban commander believed to have taken part in an attack that killed U.S. and Afghan soldiers.

The federal prosecutor's office said in a March 28 statement that the 30-year-old Afghan citizen, identified only as Abdullah P., was arrested in the southern state of Bavaria on March 23 on suspicion of membership in a terrorist organization and attempted murder.

The statement added that the suspect was believed to have joined the Taliban in 2002 and took over a command from his father in 2004.

Prosecutors say he was involved in "countless" missions against foreign and Afghan soldiers, including an attack on a military convoy that killed 16 U.S. and Afghan soldiers. It was unclear what year the attack took place.

Prosecutors said he left his combat unit in 2008 when he was threatened with death. In 2009, he fled to Pakistan and arrived as a migrant in Germany in 2011.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Afghan Defense Ministry Fires 1,400 Staff Over Corruption

Afghan army special forces

Afghanistan's Defense Ministry has dismissed nearly 1,400 of its officials over alleged corruption over the past year, a high-ranking ministry official says.

Deputy Defense Minister Hilaluddin Hilal told reporters in Kabul on March 28 that the ministry has taken significant steps to tackle widespread corruption, dismissing 1,394 officials in graft-related cases.More than 300 officials accused of corruption have been brought to justice, Hilal said.

The ministry is currently reviewing more than 1,800 allegations of corruption in the country’s defense structures, Hilal said, adding that nearly 170 cases have been referred to law-enforcement agencies.

The deputy minister said the cases include suspected abuse of office and illegal weapons sales.

Hilal's statement comes just a day after the ministry announced that a senior Afghan general was arrested on charges of corruption and misuse of power.

Major General Mohammad Moeen Faqir had been deployed to southern Helmand Province to crack down on corruption.

Afghanistan was ranked 169th of 176 countries in watchdog Transparency International's 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index, meaning that only seven countries were perceived as more corrupt.

President Ashraf Ghani has vowed to stamp out corruption in the government and the security services.

Afghan General Arrested On Corruption Charges

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, pictured speaking at the Defense Ministry in February, has promised to stamp out corruption in the government and the security services. 

A senior Afghan general has been arrested on charges of corruption and misuse of power, a government spokesman said.

Major General Mohammad Moeen Faqir was arrested by the Attorney Generals’ Anti-Corruption Justice Center, Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said in a statement on March 27. He did not provide further details.

The government deployed Faqir to crack down on corruption in the restive province of Helmand, in southern Afghanistan, in 2016.

Faqir took command of the Afghan Army’s 215th Corps after the former commander there was accused of making payments to non-existent "ghost soldiers."

At the time, a U.S. military spokesman said the Pentagon was "very, very impressed" with Faqir, saying "he is personally invested in turning around the 215th Corps."

In October, Faqir himself was replaced with no official explanation.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has promised to stamp out corruption in the government and the security services.

The Anti-Corruption Justice Center is among several new government taskforces to be established to target high-level officials accused of corruption.

Faqir's arrest came on the same day the Afghan defense and interior ministers and the head of the country's intelligence service survived a vote of confidence over the failure to tackle mounting insecurity and the Taliban insurgency.

Based on reporting by Reuters and Tolo News

Pakistan Starts Building Fence Along Afghan Border

The Pakistani-Afghan border crossing at Chaman on March 24, 2017

Pakistan says it has started building a fence along the Afghan border in areas where militants have launched cross-border attacks.

Pakistani military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said in an announcement on March 25 during a visit to the tribal regions along the border that the fence would be constructed in “high-threat zones.”

The two neighbors share a 2,400-kilometer border known as the Durand Line, which Pakistan considers to be an international border but Afghanistan has never recognized.

Najib Danish, a deputy spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said that the authorities have not observed any signs of construction but would move to prevent such a project.

The two countries frequently accuse each other of ignoring Islamic militants operating along the border.

Pakistan closed the border for more than a month recently after a series of suicide attacks.

Based on reporting by AP

U.S. Says Afghanistan Strike Killed Al-Qaeda Leader Responsible For Multiple Attacks

Flames rise from the Marriott hotel following a powerful bomb blast in Islamabad in 2008.


The U.S. military has confirmed that an air strike on March 19 in Afghanistan killed Qari Yasin, described as an Al-Qaeda leader responsible for several high-profile attacks that killed dozens of people, including two U.S. service members.

The Pentagon on March 25 said the air strike on Yasin -- a “senior terrorist figure” from Balochistan, Pakistan -- was conducted in Afghanistan’s Paktika Province, the site of many U.S.-led air strikes over recent years.

Paktia, located near the Pakistani border, is a volatile area where the Taliban has a strong presence.

Yasin had ties to the Tehrik-e Taliban militant organization and had plotted multiple terror attacks, the Pentagon said.

U.S. officials said Yasin led the September 20, 2008, bombing on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed dozens of people, including U.S. Air Force Major Rodolfo I. Rodriguez and Navy Petty Officer Matthew J. O’Bryant.

Yasin was also responsible for the 2009 attack on a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, official said.

Six Pakistani policemen and two civilians were killed in that attack.

"The death of Qari Yasin is evidence that terrorists who defame Islam and deliberately target innocent people will not escape justice," Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said.

Afghan Security Forces Kill Seven Militants In Operation

A local police chief said more than 20 militants were killed since the military sweep in Logar, southeast of the capital, Kabul, began three weeks ago.

Afghan security forces have killed seven militants in the latest military operation in Logar Province, where Taliban insurgents have a strong presence, a local police chief has said.

Esmatullah Alizai said that government forces also seized weapons from the militants during the operation in Logar's volatile Charkh district on March 24.

Alizai said more than 20 militants were killed, 10 wounded, and four others detained since the military sweep in Logar, southeast of the capital, Kabul, began three weeks ago, amid Afghanistan's spring fighting season.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, officials say security forces uncovered a plot to detonate explosives inside a mosque in the northern province of Sar-e Pol.

Provincial Governor Mohammad Zahir Wahdat said on March 25 that a man was arrested in suspicion of planting a bomb inside the Guzar Shahan mosque ahead of Friday Prayers on March 24.

With reporting by Khaama.com

U.S. Turns Down Invitation To Afghanistan Peace Conference in Russia

FILE: Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (R) speaks with Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah on the sidelines of the SCO prime ministers meeting in Bishkek, November 2016.

The United States has turned down an invitation to a multinational conference on Afghanistan that Russia plans to host on April 14, according to the AP news agency.

Citing an anonymous State Department official, AP reported on March 24 that the decision not to attend was made because Moscow did not consult Washington before extending the invitation and that the Kremlin did not disclose its objectives for the conference.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India, and several Central Asian nations are among the invitees to the Moscow conference, while officials from the Taliban have not been invited, AP said.

Russia held a six-party meeting on peace in Afghanistan in February that was attended by officials from India, China, Iran and Pakistan.

Based on reporting by AP

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