Accessibility links

Breaking News


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

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

Save The Children Says 400,000 Afghans Will Drop Out Of School This Year

More than 400,000 children in Afghanistan will likely drop out of school during the current school year

An international advocacy group says more than 400,000 children in Afghanistan will likely drop out of school during the current school year because of growing instability and an influx of forced refugee returns from neighboring Pakistan.

U.S.-based Save the Children on March 23 said one-third of all Afghan children – some 3.7 million – are unable to go to school -- making them susceptible to recruitment by armed groups, trafficking, child labor, early marriage, and other forms of exploitation.

It said the crisis is made worse by the forced return from Pakistan of more than 610,000 Afghan refugees during 2016 and up to 1 million this year, which threatens to overwhelm educational facilities.

The report, issued on the traditional first day of school in Afghanistan, estimates that 1,100 children a day will drop out of school this year.

"Today should be a happy day in Afghanistan as children go back to class for the first time after a long winter," said Ana Locsin, Save the Children's country director in Afghanistan.

"Instead, it is a day cloaked in tragedy for the millions who can’t access education and are struggling to survive," Locsin said.

Top NATO General Says Russia ‘Perhaps’ Supplying Taliban In Afghanistan

U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti

NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe has said that Russia may be helping to supply Taliban militants that are fighting Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government.

U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on March 23 that he has seen evidence of increasing Russian efforts to influence the Taliban "and perhaps even to supply" the militant group.

Scaparrotti, a four-star general who previously served as the director of the Joint Staff and the commander of U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan, did not specify what types of supplies he thought Russia might be providing the Taliban.

Russian officials have denied providing aid to Taliban fighters.

Taliban officials have told Reuters they have had significant contacts with Moscow since at least 2007 but said Russian involvement did not extend beyond "moral and political support."

U.S.-led forces have been battling the Taliban since driving them and their Al-Qaeda allies out of power following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

Rapper Wins Afghan Star Competition With Songs About Living Amid War

Afghan singer Zulala Hashemi, center, performs alongside competitors Sayed Jamal Mubarez, left, and Babak Mohammadi, right, during the TV music competition Afghan Star in Kabul on March 9

Sayed Jamal Mubarez, a rapper from northern Afghanistan who makes a living as a barber, won the Afghan Star competition on March 21.

The singing talent show similar to American Idol has been running for 12 years on Tolo TV, offering viewers some relief from daily news of insurgents and suicide bombs.

Mubarez, 23, from Afghanistan's Hazara ethnic minority, won viewers over with lyrics capturing both the hope and despair of young people living through war.

Mubarez faced off against the only female competitor to ever make it to the finale of the show, Zulala Hashemi, from the conservative eastern Kunar province.

"I am so happy... I would have been happy if Zulala had won it because in Afghanistan women are living in a restricted situation," Mubarez said.

Mubarez said he discovered rap in Iran and practices while cutting hair. He is the sole breadwinner for his family in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Over 10,000 contestants participated in the talent show, which was held in a fortified compound after the Taliban last year killed seven Tolo employees in a suicide attack.

The Taliban once banned music in Afghanistan and many there still disapprove of Western-style popular culture.

Based on reporting by dpa and Reuters

Pakistan Reopens Border Crossings With Afghanistan In 'Goodwill Gesture'

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

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the two main border crossings with Afghanistan to be reopened on March 20, calling it a "goodwill gesture."

The border closures on February 16 had left hundreds of thousands of people stranded at the two major crossings of Torkham and Chaman.

Pakistan shut the Torkham crossing between Peshawar to Jalalabad and Chaman crossing between Quetta and Kandahar after more than 130 people were killed in a series of attacks by militants that Islamabad said resided in Afghanistan. Afghanistan denies harboring them.

The closures hit travelers and cross-border trade heavily, stranding thousands of vehicles on both sides of the border.

Haji Aslam, head of the Transit Union, representing drivers on both sides of the border, said some 4,000 trucks had been held up on the Afghan side of the border and 6,000 on the Pakistan side, where tons of fresh produce meant for export has rotted and been thrown away.

Sharif's decision to reopen the border came days after top diplomats from Pakistan and Afghanistan met in London for talks to address each other's concerns about alleged terrorist hideouts in the border regions.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters

Three U.S. Troops Wounded In Insider Attack By Afghan Soldier

FILE: Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and US NATO soldiers attend the opening ceremony of National Directorate of Security (NDS) compound funded by Washington in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand province in April 2014.

The NATO-led mission in Afghanistan says three U.S. troops were wounded in a March 19 attack by an Afghan soldier, the first known insider attack on coalition personnel in the country this year.

"Three U.S. soldiers were wounded this afternoon when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them at a base in Helmand Province. Coalition security forces on the base killed the soldier to end the attack," a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan was quoted by AFP as saying.

The NATO-led mission, known as Resolute Support, said on Twitter that the U.S. soldiers were receiving medical care.

The number of insider attacks by Afghan soldiers on international forces have declined in recent years, with a majority of foreign combat troops having withdrawn from the country in late 2014.

Some 13,000 soldiers under NATO leadership remain in the country, however, for a training and assistance mission aimed at helping Afghan forces combat Taliban insurgents.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

Afghan Officials: At Least 10 Taliban Militants Killed In Air Strike

FILE: The aftermath on U.S. airstrikes against Taliban and Al-Qaeda in late 2001.

At least 10 Taliban militants have been killed and two others injured in an air strike in the eastern province of Paktia, Afghan officials said on March 19.

The air strike took place in the village of Narai Kandaw in Dandpatan district, where a group of Taliban militants gathered in a house in the afternoon on March 18, provincial Governor Zalmai Wesa said.

Wesa said there were no civilian casualties in the attack.

The air strike comes amid Afghanistan’s spring fighting season, when warmer weather brings increased operations by both militants and government forces.

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

With reporting by

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

Load more