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Afghanistan Postpones Two Local Elections

Hawa Alam Nuristani, the head of the Afghanistan Independent Election Commission.

KABUL -- Afghanistan's election authorities say they have postponed two local elections that were scheduled to be held in September.

The September presidential election was due to be held simultaneously with provincial and district council elections, as well as a previously postponed parliamentary vote in Ghazni Province.

But the head of the Afghanistan Independent Election Commission (IEC), Hawa Alam Nuristani, said on May 29 that time and budget constraints and security issues were among the reasons for the decision to delay the provincial, district, and Ghazni elections.

However, the presidential election remains scheduled for September 28.

"Holding three elections together was very difficult for us," Nuristani told reporters in Kabul.

Nursitani did not announce a new date for the postponed polls.

Meanwhile, the Election Support Group of Ambassadors, which is comprised of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), NATO, and key donor countries, said in a statement that the IEC's decision to prioritize the holding of the presidential election "is essential given the very tight timeline and the practical challenges."

The presidential election has been delayed twice due to delays in registration and technical issues.

The IEC is trying to avoid a repeat of the widespread technical and logistical problems during the October parliamentary vote.

The 2014 presidential election was marred by allegations of widespread fraud.

With reporting by dpa

Afghanistan Launches Probe Into Sexual Favors Accusations

A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, pictured, said the accusations were "false and baseless."

KABUL -- Afghanistan's authorities say they have launched an investigation into allegations that some members of President Ashraf Ghani's administration have given out government posts in exchange for sexual favors.

Jamshid Rasuli, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, told reporters in Kabul on May 28 that a team had been formed to investigate the claims.

The accusations were made by General Habibullah Ahmadzai, a former senior adviser to Ghani, in a TV interview last week.

Ahmadzai, who did not provide any evidence, said "circles" inside the Afghan presidential palace were asking women for sexual favors -- offering coveted government jobs in return.

The allegations have prompted condemnation in Kabul and Afghans have taken to social media to demand a probe.

Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesman for Ghani, said that the accusations were "false and baseless."

And Nargis Nehan, the acting minister of mines and petroleum, tweeted on May 25: "I can say with confidence that these allegations are baseless."

In an interview with Khurshid TV on May 23, Ahmadzai said that "people were working systematically to promote adultery in the [presidential] palace."

Rasuli said investigators had asked Ahmadzai to deliver any evidence he may have to support his claims by May 30.

With reporting by AFP

Gunmen Kill Seven Family Members In Afghanistan

Police believe the killings were related to a land dispute. 

Afghan police say gunmen have shot dead seven members of one family in the capital, Kabul.

Kabul police spokesman Ferdous Faramurz said the incident occurred in a neighborhood in western Kabul in the early hours of May 27.

Faramurz said three women and two children were among the dead, while two family members were wounded in the incident.

Faramurz said police believe the killings were related to a land dispute.

"Police findings indicate that it was due to family hostilities," he said. "The family had filed a lawsuit."

Faramurz said police had not yet made any arrests but had launched an investigation.

Land disputes are common in Afghanistan, where 40 years of war has forced millions of people to leave their homes across the country.

When they return, they often find their property and land occupied by or sold to other families.

Powerful politicians and former warlords have also forcibly seized land.

With reporting by dpa

Kabul Minibus Bombing Wounds 10

The bus was bringing employees of the Ministry of Religious Affairs to work when the explosion took place.

KABUL -- Ten people were wounded when a sticky bomb attached to a minibus carrying government workers detonated in the Afghan capital, Kabul, officials say.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said that the vehicle was bringing employees of the Ministry of Religious Affairs to work when the explosion took place on the morning of May 27.

One of those wounded was said to be in critical condition.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the incident, but both the Taliban and Islamic State militants regularly stage attacks in Kabul.

Last week, three people, including a senior cleric, were killed and at least 20 wounded in an explosion during prayers at a mosque in Kabul.

With reporting by AP

Two Afghan Teenagers Sentenced For Killing 6-Year-Old Girl

The young men convicted of killing Mahsa in the Supreme Court before the verdict was read on May 26.

A court in Afghanistan has sentenced two teenagers to 30 years in prison for the kidnapping and killing of a young girl.

The brutal killing prompted national outrage and widespread demands for justice in Afghanistan, where crimes against children are common and often go unpunished.

Six-year-old Mahsa Ahmadi was kidnapped and killed in Kabul in March after her parents were unbale to pay a ransom of $300,000.

Kabul police arrested the two teenagers in a raid and released a video clip showing the pair apparently confessing to the crime.

The two teenagers said in the video that they had picked up the child on a motorcycle, took her to a rented room and, when the ransom failed to arrive, they killed her.

In a televised court hearing in Kabul on May 26, a judge sentenced the two teenagers to 30 years each in prison.

Their ages were not released, but the judge said they were under 18.

Mahsa's father, Mortaza Ahmadi, said the sentence was too lenient, adding that they should be hanged.

Afghan Supreme Court judge reads the decision in the case on May 26.
Afghan Supreme Court judge reads the decision in the case on May 26.

The judge said since they were minors they could not be executed. They have the right to appeal the sentence.

Enraged Afghans have used social media to demand severe punishment for the killing.

Crime, including kidnapping for ransom, has increased in Kabul in recent years. The capital has also been the frequent target of Taliban and Islamic State (IS) attacks.

On May 11, female journalist Mena Mangal was shot dead in broad daylight on a busy street in a Kabul neighborhood.

Police said the killing of Mangal, a 27-year-old political adviser and women's rights advocate, was likely tied to a domestic dispute.

Mangal's brazen killing was just the latest in a number of slayings of Afghan women in public positions over the past 18 years, including politicians, rights activists, policewomen, and teachers.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Afghan Police Arrest Dozens For Celebratory Gunfire Following Cricket Victory

FILE: Afghan authorities detained dozens of people for celebrating their national cricket team's victory over Pakistan on May 24

Afghan police have arrested more than 40 people in the capital, Kabul, for celebratory gunfire that followed the Afghan national cricket team’s victory over Pakistan in a warm-up match for the Cricket World Cup on May 24.

“We arrested 43 people in different districts of Kabul who were firing into the air and disrupting the city’s calm last night. We also seized their guns,” Basir Mujahid, a Kabul police spokesman, told RFE/RL on May 25.

Basir said at least two people were “lightly wounded” from stray bullets in Kabul, which began just after the cricket team’s victory at around 9:30 p.m. local time.

Three people were taken to the hospital overnight with gunshot wounds sustained during similar celebrations in the eastern city of Jalalabad, local authorities said on May 25.

Celebratory gunfire is common in Afghanistan to mark sporting successes or other events.

The cricket match between Afghanistan and Pakistan took place in Bristol in the United Kingdom.

Lifted by a controlled 74 not out by Hashmatullah Shahidi and a quick-fire 49 from Hazratullah Zazai, the Afghan team chased down Pakistan's total of 262 to win by three wickets in a timely boost before the World Cup starts on May 30.

As the match concluded, thousands of funs rushed into the streets in Kabul, Jalalabad, and elsewhere to celebrate the victory.

Cricket is one of the most popular sports in Afghanistan.

With reporting by and Reuters

Flooding Kills At Least 24 In Afghanistan

The Kabul River after heavy rains in Kabul last month.

Heavy rains in many parts of Afghanistan have triggered flooding, killing at least 24 people and injuring 11 others in the past 48 hours, officials said on May 25.

According to the Ministry for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Affairs, the flooding has affected six of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, including the capital, Kabul.

In central Bamyan Province’s Sheber district, some 500 people were reported to have been rescued as water levels rose there.

According to AP, floods have destroyed more than 220 homes over the past two days.

So far this year, around 150 people have died as heavy rains and flooding swept away homes in different provinces, according to Afghan officials.

Based on reporting by AP

Three Dead, Including Senior Cleric, In Kabul Mosque Blast

Afghan soldiers keep watch outside a mosque after a bomb attack on May 24.

Three people, including a senior cleric, were killed and at least 20 wounded in an explosion during prayers at a mosque in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told RFE/RL’s Afghan Service that among the dead was prayer leader Mawlawi Raihan, a supporter of the Western-backed government, in the May 24 explosion.

Jan Agha, a district police official, was quoted by the AP news agency as saying the bomb was apparently planted in the microphone used by the mosque leader during Friday Prayers.

No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but both the Taliban and the Islamic State group regularly stage attacks in the country's capital.

"Our initial information on the incident shows that the Taliban terrorist group was behind the attack,” Rahimi said.

The Kabul neighborhood where the bombing took place is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns, most of whom are Sunni Muslims.

The attack rattled the community, which was in the midst of celebrating the 19th day of Ramadan.

“No Muslim is allowed to kill another Muslim, especially during Ramadan. This is a great sin,” said Kabul resident Ghulam Haidar.

Raihan was relatively well-known in Kabul, as he appeared frequently on religious shows broadcast on local TV.

With reporting by AP and AFP

At Least Three Killed In Explosion In Afghanistan

Afghan soldiers and voluntaries carry an injured man to a hospital following a suicide bomber attack with explosives packed in a vehicle in Ghazni Province on May 22.

Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said at least three people were killed and more than a dozen wounded after a vehicle exploded in the southeastern city of Ghazni.

The ministry said in a statement on May 22 that police fired on an explosive-laden vehicle that had failed to stop at a security checkpoint, causing an explosion.

Two police officeres and a child were killed in the blast, the ministry said.

The ministry said the vehicle was a stolen Humvee, one of the four-wheeled armored vehicles that have been provided to Afghan forces by the United States.


Ghazni city public hospital chief Baz Mohammad Hemat said at least 15 civilians and five police officers were wounded in the explosion.

Arif Noori, the provincial governor's spokesman, said officials had received intelligence that the Taliban was preparing to stage such an attack.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although similar attacks in the past have been blamed on the Taliban.

The militant group controls large areas of Ghazni Province.

Based on reporting by Tolo News, AP, and dpa

New Afghan Parliament Session Ends In Brawl Over Speaker

The inauguration of the new Afghan Parliament in Kabul on May 15.

A fight broke out during the first session of Afghanistan's new parliament after disagreement on the election of a speaker.

Online video showed lawmakers fighting on May 19 over the seating of businessman Mir Rahman Rahmani as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga. The body was meeting for the first time since controversial elections held last year.

Rahmani received 123 votes the previous day to defeat challenger Kamal Nasir Osuli, who had 55 votes, for the speaker's post.

But Rahmani was one vote short of the simple majority of 124 votes in the 247-seat Wolesi Jirga that is needed to secure the speakership.

Rahmani's supporters declared him the the new speaker and insisted he take the post.

"He has secured a majority of the votes and one vote is not an issue, so he is our new chairman," said Nahid Farid, a lawmaker from the western city of Herat.

But opponents of Rahmani -- the father of Ajmal Rahmani, a wealthy businessman known in the Afghan capital for selling bulletproof vehicles to Kabul's elite -- refused to let him sit in the speaker's chair.

"We will never accept the new speaker and there must be a reelection with new candidates," said Mariam Sama, a parliament deputy from Kabul.

Ramazan Bashardost, a deputy from Kabul, told Tolo News that the controversy over the new speaker could be resolved through legitimate means but lawmakers "are not willing to address the issue through legal channels."

The results of the October 20 parliamentary elections were officially finalized this month after months of technical and organizational problems.

Based on reporting by Reuters and Tolo News

Taliban, German Envoys Meet In Qatar Amid Peace Push

Markus Potzel was the German ambassador in Kabul from 2014 to 2016.

The Taliban has met in Qatar with Germany's special representative for Afghanistan amid international efforts to end the nearly 18-year war.

In a statement on May 19, the Taliban said Markus Potzel held talks with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's deputy leader who is leading the militant group's peace efforts.

U.S. and Taliban negotiators have met for several rounds of peace talks since last year, and despite progress have been unable to finalize a peace agreement.

Sohail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Qatar, said in a statement on May 19 that Potzel and Baradar discussed "various aspects" of a possible peace deal, and "efforts of Germany in this regard."

Potzel, the ambassador to Afghanistan from 2014 to 2016, also met Baradar for talks on May 1.

The latest talks between U.S. and Taliban representatives ended on May 9, with U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad saying that "steady but slow progress" was made.

U.S. and Taliban negotiators have been trying to find agreement on four interconnected issues, including the Taliban breaking off ties with groups designated as terrorist by Washington, the timetable of a U.S. military withdrawal, a cease-fire in Afghanistan, and an intra-Afghan dialogue that would include the Taliban and government representatives.

The Taliban has refused to negotiate with the Western-backed Kabul government, viewing it as illegitimate.

With reporting by dpa

At Least Nine Afghan Policemen Killed In Air Strike

FILE: An Afghan police graduation ceremony in Helmand, November 2018.

KABUL -- An air strike has mistakenly killed at least nine Afghan police officers, including a commander, during a battle with the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand, local officials say.

They said that 14 officers were also wounded in the May 16 strike in the Nahr-e Saraj district , which is located outside the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand Province
Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand Province

Helmand Governor Mohammad Yasin said that the incident was being investigated.

His spokesman, Omar Zwak, said that foreign forces in Afghanistan had carried out the air strike as part of an operation to drive out Taliban militants from the area.

A statement from the militant group claimed that U.S. forces were behind it.

There was no immediate comment from the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan or the U.S. military.

The Taliban has continued attacks against Afghan and foreign troops despite holding several rounds of peace talks with the United States in Qatar.

With reporting by AP and dpa

At Least Six Afghan Soldiers Killed In Taliban Attack

FILE: Afghan policemen at a checkpoint in southern Afghanistan.

Afghan officials say at least six government troops have been killed in Taliban attacks on two military checkpoints in the country's south.

Gul Islam Seyal, a spokesman for the governor of Zabul Province, said six other soldiers were wounded in the attacks in the Shamulzayi district on May 16.

In response, the Afghan Air Force attacked several Taliban hideouts in the south of the country, killing 37 militants, the Afghan Defense Ministry said.

Zabul Province
Zabul Province

The barren, sparsely-populated province is a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan, where the militants have been waging a 17-year insurgency.

The government's control barely goes beyond the provincial capital, Qalat, with the Taliban contesting or controlling most of Zabul, which shares a border with Pakistan.

The Taliban has continued attacks against Afghan and foreign troops despite holding several rounds of peace talks with the United States in Qatar.

The sides have made progress but have not reached a final agreement on ending the war.

With reporting by dpa

Senators Push For Visas For Afghans Who Helped U.S. Forces

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen sponsored the bill with other colleagues, including several Republicans. (file photo)

Republican and Democratic senators have sponsored a bill to provide U.S. visas for Afghans who worked for American forces during the war in their country and whose lives are at risk due to that work.

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen sponsored the May 15 bill with Republicans Thom Tillis, Roger Wicker and Cory Gardner and Democrats Jack Reed, Richard Blumenthal and Tim Kaine.

The bill would provide 4,000 Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for the remainder of the federal fiscal year ending on September 30, and also try to identify reasons that have prevented Afghans from getting SIVs under previously passed legislation.

Supporters of the measure said Washington must offer safe haven to Afghans who worked for U.S. forces in order to ensure local support.

President Donald Trump's administration has cut by 60 percent the number of U.S. visas provided to Afghans who risked their lives assisting American forces, National Public Radio reported on May 1.

Some 1,650 SIVs were approved last year, down from more than 4,000 in fiscal year 2017.

Army General Austin Miller, commander of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, sent a letter to Shaheen backing the bill, calling the SIV program critical to success in Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by Reuters and NPR

Final Results Of Last Year's General Elections In Kabul Announced

Afghan women cast their vote during the parliamentary elections in Kandahar in October 2018.

KABUL -- The Afghan election authorities have announced the final results of the country's parliamentary polls in Kabul, seven months after the vote was held.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said late on May 14 that in Kabul Province, 24 men and nine women had won seats in the lower house of Afghanistan's parliament, the Wolesi Jirga.

Ajmal Rahmani, a businessman, is leading the winners' list with more than 11,000 votes, according to the IEC.

Voters in Afghanistan cast their ballots on October 20 last year to choose their representatives in the parliament's lower chamber. The polls were held after months of delay.

The preliminary election results in Kabul were announced in January by the IEC, whose members were later fired and replaced for allegedly abusing their authority.

The electoral officials were heavily criticized following the delayed parliamentary polls, which also were marred by inefficiencies that included absent electoral staff and missing voting materials.

The May 14 announcement comes ahead of the country's presidential election now planned for September 28.

The vote has been postponed twice to give the authorities more time to organize the ballot and fix the problems that occurred during the October elections.

The presidential election was initially scheduled for April 20, then delayed until July 20.

Multiple Blasts In Eastern Afghanistan Kill At Least Three

FILE: Afghan police officials inspect a damage vehicle, after it hit a bomb blast, in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangahar Province in April.

Afghan officials say at least three people have been killed and some 20 others wounded in a series of blasts in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the explosions hit a crowded market square in the provincial capital, Jalalabad, late on May 13.

Khogyani said there were at least three explosions in the area, while local media quoted eyewitnesses as saying they heard four blasts.

"The nature of the explosions is not clear, but it could be [improvised explosive devices]," Khogyani said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Both the Taliban and Islamic State extremist groups are active in Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan.

President Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban a cease-fire to begin on the first day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which began on May 6. But the militant group refused.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Tolo News

German Police Accused Of Mistreating Afghan Resisting Deportation

WATCH: Police officers watch demonstrators gathering to protest against the German asylum policy at the Ministry for Children, Family, Refugees and Integration of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) in Duesseldorf.

A European Council watchdog committee has accused German police of mistreating an Afghan man being deported back to his homeland by squeezing his genitals.

"To ill-treat a person by squeezing the genitals, a technique which is clearly aimed at inflicting severe pain to gain compliance, is both excessive and inappropriate," the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) said in a report released on May 9.

The committee said it had observed on a 2018 flight that a German federal police officer used the method on an Afghan man who was resisting being returned, while another officer held him with an arm around his neck so "the returnee started struggling to breathe."

The committee recommended "immediate action to end the application of these two techniques."

Berlin said it had sent the recommendation to federal police to take action.

The August 14, 2018 charter flight carried 46 Afghans from Munich to Kabul after their asylum requests had been denied.

CPT representatives were also on the flight, along with German police officers.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Taliban Fighters Storm Afghan Security Checkpoints, Killing Eight

FILE: Afghan troops during a military operation in the Takhar Province.

Taliban fighters attacked security checkpoints in Afghanistan's northeastern Takhar Province, killing eight members of the security forces, a local official said.

Provincial council chief Wafiullah Rahmani on May 7 said three soldiers and five police officers were killed in the May 6 attack in Khwaja Bahaudin district.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Takhar's Provincial council chief Wafiullah Rahmani.
Takhar's Provincial council chief Wafiullah Rahmani.

The militants launch near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces, even as peace efforts have been gaining momentum to put an end to Afghanistan's 17-year war.

In a separate development, Dadullah Qaneh, a councilman in the western Farah Province, said coalition forces on May 5 launched air strikes against Taliban-run heroin labs, killing 15 people.

Qaneh said the victims were laborers, but Mohibullah Mohib, the provincial police chief's spokesman, said those killed in the Bakwa district air strikes were all members of the Taliban.

Based on reporting by AP and Tolo News

U.S.-Taliban Peace Talks Suspended For First Day Of Ramadan

Delegates attend the Afghan Loya Jirga meeting in Kabul last week on May 2.

Peace talks between U.S. negotiators and Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, have been interrupted to mark the beginning of Ramadan.

The two sides are apparently at loggerheads over the key sticking point of when foreign forces might leave Afghanistan.

The two sides have been involved for much of the past week in a sixth round of negotiations aimed at ending the almost 18-year war -- the United States' longest ever -- but the Taliban says talks have become bogged down.

Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted that the talks were pausing for the first day of the holy month of Ramadan -- when Muslims fast during the day -- but would be resumed "the following day."

Shaheen told AFP news agency late on May 5 that talks hit an impasse over when foreign forces would depart Afghanistan.

Before agreeing to any withdrawal, Washington is demanding that militants establish security guarantees, a cease-fire, and make other commitments including an "intra-Afghan" dialogue with the Kabul government and other Afghan representatives.

The Taliban has said it will not take any of these steps until the United States announces a withdrawal timeline.

At the end of a wide-ranging peace gathering in Kabul last week, President Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban a cease-fire to begin on the first day of Ramadan, but the militants rejected it.

Ghani on May 6 reiterated his call for the Taliban to observe demands from last week's gathering that saw thousands of tribal elders and Afghans meet in Kabul.

At least 13 people were killed and dozens more wounded on May 5 after a Taliban suicide bomber and several gunmen attacked a police headquarters in the northern Afghan city of Pul-e Khumri.

Based on reporting by AFP and Tolo News

At Least 13 Dead, Dozens Injured In Taliban Attack On Police HQ

The building of the police headquarters after the attack.

KABUL -- At least 13 people have been killed in a Taliban attack by the Taliban on a police headquarters in the northern Afghan city of Pul-e-Khumri, officials say.

The Interior Ministry said that the May 5 attack in Baghlan Province's capital began with a suicide car bomber striking the entrance to the compound and eight gunmen rushing in after the explosion.

The ministry said that 13 police officers were killed and another 55 people, including 20 civilians, were wounded before the attackers were all killed in an hours-long gunbattle.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which comes two days after an Afghan grand council convened by President Ashraf Ghani ended with a demand for an immediate cease-fire.

The council, known as a Loya Jirga, brought together more than 3,200 politicians, tribal elders, prominent figures, and others to hammer out a shared strategy for future negotiations with the Taliban.

In a statement on May 3, the Taliban rejected a cease-fire, saying attacks will continue during Ramadan.

The militant group, which has been holding direct talks with U.S. officials to end the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan, has rejected cease-fire proposals, saying U.S. and NATO troops must withdraw from the country first.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and TOLOnews

At Least Nine Afghan Police Killed In Taliban Ambush

FILE: An Afghan soldier stands guard at the entrance of a government compound in Farah Province.

An Afghan official says at least nine police officers have been killed by a Taliban ambush on their convoy in the country's west.

Abdul Samad Salehi, a member of the provincial council in Farah Province, said the ambush took place in Anardara district as the convoy was heading to defuse a roadside bomb late on April 24.

Salehi said the militants briefly overran the district police headquarters, igniting hours-long clashes.

The attack took place in the Anardara district of Farah Province
The attack took place in the Anardara district of Farah Province

Reinforcements arrived later and managed to wrest back control of the headquarters, he said.

The Taliban controls large parts of the province, which is located on the border with Iran.

Farah has been the scene of months of fierce fighting between the militant and government troops.

The violence came as the United States continues to push for a peace settlement with the Taliban, with a new round of talks scheduled next month in Qatar.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Pompeo Tells Afghan President Qatar Talks With Taliban Best Chance For Peace

FILE: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shake hands following a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, July 2018.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to express disappointment over the postponement of talks with the Taliban and to condemn the insurgent group’s recent announcement of a "spring offensive."

Some 250 Afghan politicians and civil society figures had been due to meet with Taliban negotiators in Doha starting on April 19 for the so-called intra-Afghan dialogue. It would have marked the first time that Taliban and Kabul government officials sat together.

But the meetings were abruptly cancelled on April 18 amid disagreements about the size and composition of the Afghan delegation.

The State Department said in a statement that Pompeo called Ghani on April 21 and condemned the Taliban's announcement of starting another offensive in the spring.

Pompeo also said that the talks present an important opportunity to advance peace.

“The secretary encouraged all sides to seize the moment and reach an understanding on participants, so that an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue can be convened in Doha as soon as possible,” the State Department said.

The United States has been holding separate bilateral peace negotiations with the Taliban in Doha as part of a months-long peace push.

With reporting by AP

Islamic State Claims Responsibility For Deadly Assault On Afghan Ministry

Police said a bomber blew himself up outside the ministry, clearing the way for the other attackers to enter the building and the heavily guarded government compound in central Kabul.

The Islamic State (IS) extremist group has claimed responsibility for an attack on an Afghan government building that killed at least seven people on April 20.

According to a statement published by the militant group’s Amaq news agency on April 21, the assault on the Communications Ministry headquarters in downtown Kabul was carried out by four IS followers.

The Afghan affiliate of IS, sometimes known as Islamic State Khorasan, has been active in the war-torn country since 2015, fighting the Taliban as well as Afghan and U.S. forces.

Afghan officials said the attack on the ministry began with an explosion at the entrance of the building in a busy commercial area of the city, followed by gunfire.

Police said a bomber blew himself up outside the ministry, clearing the way for the other attackers to enter the building and the heavily guarded government compound in central Kabul.

Nasart Rahimi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said four civilians and three soldiers were killed during the attack, which lasted several hours. Eight civilians were wounded, he said.

Rahimi said the security operation ended "after all four attackers were shot and killed by Afghan security forces."

Police also shot and killed four other militants before they could reach their target of the nearby central post office, Rahimi said.

The official said some 2,700 government employees and civilians were rescued by security forces after being stuck in several government buildings.

Based on reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters

Blast, Gunfire Reported In Kabul

An Afghan soldier walks near the site of an explosion in Kabul in March.

KABUL -- An explosion followed by gunfire has been reported in the center of the Afghan capital, a police spokesman tells RFE/RL.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the blast close to the communications ministry.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi confirmed gunfire around the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, without providing further details.

"Around 11:40 am an explosion heard near the Communications Ministry, and sporadic fire has also been heard in the area," Rahimi said.

The explosion was also close to the heavily fortified Serena Hotel, one of the very few hotels still used by foreign visitors, in one of the main commercial areas of the city.

With reporting by Reuters, Tolo News, and AFP

'American Taliban' Lindh To Be Released From Prison Next Month

John Walker Lindh

John Walker Lindh, an American who pleaded guilty in 2002 to fighting for the Taliban, is to be released in May after serving 17 years in prison.

Court papers filed this month said the 38-year-old, dubbed the "American Taliban," will be released from a prison in Indiana on May 23.

Documents filed last week with the federal court in the state of Virginia showed Lindh has agreed to restrictive conditions during a three-year probation period after his release.

Those restrictions include accepting that he cannot have an Internet-capable device without permission from his probation office, cannot view or access extremist or terrorism videos, and must allow the probation office to monitor his Internet use.

Lindh, born to a Catholic family, traveled to Yemen to study Arabic in 1998 and then moved to Afghanistan four months before Al-Qaeda's September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.

Lindh was captured by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in December 2001, just two months after a U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, and handed to U.S. forces.

In 2002, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to supplying services to the Taliban and carrying explosives in commission of a felony.

His jail term has been shortened for good behavior.

Based on reporting by AFP, NBC, and The Washington Post

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