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U.S. Military: Two Service Members Killed In Afghanistan

FILE: U.S. troops boarding a Chinook helicopter in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

The U.S. military says two of its service members have been killed in Afghanistan.

A statement said the killings occurred on June 26, but it did not provide any details surrounding the circumstances of the deaths, which bring the tally of U.S. service member deaths in Afghanistan to at least six this year.

The death of the two service members came less than 24 hours after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a previously unannounced visit to the Afghan capital, Kabul, during which he said Washington was hopeful of a peace deal with the Taliban “before September 1.”

The United States began a fresh push last September to bring the militant group to the negotiating table to end the nearly 18-year Afghan conflict -- the longest war in U.S. history.

The U.S. envoy seeking a peace deal, Zalmay Khalilzad, has held six rounds of talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha. The next round is scheduled to begin on June 29.

The talks are expected to focus on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and on a Taliban guarantee that militants will not plot attacks from Afghan soil.

"All sides agree that finalizing a U.S.-Taliban understanding on terrorism and foreign troop presence will open the door to intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiation," Pompeo said.

About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are deployed in Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Taliban Threaten Afghan Media Not To Air Government Ads Against The Militants

FILE: Taliban fighters in the central Afghan province of Ghazni.

The Taliban have issued a threat to Afghan media, saying journalists will be targeted unless news outlets stop broadcasting what they describe as government propaganda against the militants.

In a statement released on June 24, the group gave Afghan radio stations, TV channels, publications and others a week to cease airing anti-Taliban announcements paid for by the government.

The ads call on citizens to inform authorities if they see any suspicious Taliban activities.

The Taliban, which has targeted media in the past, said that Afghan news outlets that refuse to stop publishing the ads will be considered “military targets.”

Nai, an Afghan media advocacy organization, condemned the Taliban warning and called on the Afghan government to take stronger measures to ensure the safety of Afghan media.

Nai said nine Taliban-related media incidents have taken place since the beginning of the year, with one journalist killed, and one injured.

With reporting by AP and dpa

Afghan, Bulgarians Get Life Sentences Over Deaths Of 71 Migrants

Police stand behind the defendants as the verdicts are read out on June 20.

An Afghan human trafficker and three Bulgarian accomplices have received life sentences over the deaths of 71 migrants who suffocated inside a sealed refrigeration truck abandoned near an Austrian village in 2015.

The ruling on June 20 by the Hungarian appeals court came after the Afghan ring leader, 32-year-old Samsoor Lahoo, and his accomplices were found guilty of organized human trafficking and manslaughter over the August 2015 tragedy.

Initially, the four had been sentenced to 25 years in prison after the court found that the men refused to open the doors to let air in, despite pleas from the people who were suffocating inside.

But the judge presiding over the appeal, Erik Mezolaki, said on June 20 that the harsher sentence better reflected the weight of the crime.

Mezolaki said three of the traffickers would have no possibility of parole. He said the fourth would serve a minimum 30 years in prison.

The three Bulgarian accomplices were identified as Lahoo’s deputy, the truck driver, and the driver of a car that escorted the truck.

The victims were refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

They included eight women, four children, and 59 men.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Angry Afghan Lawmakers Disrupt Parliament Over Disputed Vote

FILE: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with the newly elected members of Wolesi Jirga on May 15.

KABUL -- Chaotic scenes erupted in Afghanistan's lower house of parliament on June 19 amid a weeks-long dispute over the election of a speaker.

Video footage showed angry members of the Wolesi Jirga smashing the speaker's chair and flipping his desk over to prevent businessman Mir Rahman Rahmani from taking his seat.

The violence came the day after Rahmani was elected as speaker -- a result that supporters of the other leading candidate, Kamal Nasir Osuli, refused to recognize.

Afghanistan's general elections in October 2018 were marred by security and organizational issues.

The official results were finalized in May, seven months after the poll.

The new Wolesi Jirga has since been trying to elect a speaker, but disagreements over vote-counting have led to an impasse.

With reporting by dpa

Khalilzad: U.S. Seeking 'Peace Agreement' With Taliban, Not 'Withdrawal' Deal

The U.S. special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad.

KABUL -- The U.S. envoy seeking a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban has said Washington is seeking a “comprehensive peace agreement, not a withdrawal agreement” in its talks with the Taliban.

Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted the comments late on June 18 after a spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, wrote in a tweet that the United States had agreed to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan.

Khalilzad has held six rounds of talks with the militant group in Qatar to end the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan.

The sides have made progress, but the Taliban has so far rejected direct negotiations with the Western-backed government in Kabul.

“As we prepare for the next round of talks with the Taliban, important to remember we seek a comprehensive peace agreement, NOT a withdrawal agreement,” Khalilzad tweeted.

The U.S. envoy wrote in a separate tweet that such an agreement would include “counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan negotiations that lead to a political settlement; and a comprehensive & permanent ceasefire."

“This is a framework which the Taliban accept,” he added.

Khalilzad also reiterated that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

Suicide Bomber Kills Nine In Eastern Afghanistan Attack Claimed By IS

A wounded men receives treatment in a hospital after a suicide attack on the outskirts of Jalalabad on June 13.

At least nine people were killed and 12 others wounded by a suicide bomber on June 13 in Jalalabad, the capital of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, officials said.

The bomber, who was on foot, detonated his device near a security checkpoint, according to a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar.

"Four security personnel and five civilians have been killed and 12 more, including three security personnel, wounded," said Attaullah Khogyani.

At least one child was among those killed, while three others were among those wounded.

The Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed responsibility for the attack on its news agency, Amaq.

A wave of violence across Afghanistan in recent weeks has claimed the lives of dozens of civilians and security forces.

The Taliban militant group is in negotiations with U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad for a peace settlement that would put an end to the almost 18-year war, but little progress has been made so far.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

Dozens Of Inmates Rescued From Taliban-Run Prison

Baghlan district Governor Khanzad Mazlomiyar said on June 11 that civilians and members of the security forces were among those freed during the operation, which took place the previous day.

KABUL -- Afghan special forces have rescued 44 people from a Taliban-run prison in the northern province of Baghlan, local officials say.

Baghlan district Governor Khanzad Mazlomiyar said on June 11 that civilians and members of the security forces were among those freed during the operation, which took place the previous day.

The Taliban has yet to comment on the raid.

Last month, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that Afghan captives held by the militant group had been subjected to "ill-treatment and actions that may amount to torture."

UNAMA made its assessment after interviewing 13 detainees from a group of 53 rescued in April by Afghan forces from a Taliban-run detention facility in the southern province of Uruzgan.

It quoted the detainees as saying that the Taliban killed some of their captives.

Six Afghan Civilians Killed In Roadside Bomb Blast

FILE: Aftermath of a bomb attack targetting the police in Kandahar.

KABUL -- Six civilians have been killed in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar after a roadside bomb ripped through the vehicle they were travelling in, officials say.

Provincial police spokesman Qasim Afghan said the explosion occurred in Dand district on June 11, killing all passengers inside the vehicle.

Four children were among those killed in the blast, Afghan said.

All the victims were said to be members of one family.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Dand district Governor Haji Abdullah said the bomb was placed by the Taliban on a road frequently used by foreign and Afghan security forces.

On June 9, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it "remains troubled that civilians are being killed in high numbers" in the Afghan conflict, and urged all parties to protect civilians from harm.

A statement said that "anti-government elements deliberately and knowingly targeted civilians" during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, adding that attack in Kabul alone had caused more than 100 civilian casualties.

"I condemn these deliberate attacks on civilians that signal a disturbing intent to spread fear; they delegitimize the perpetrators, depriving them of any claim to represent the people of Afghanistan," UNAMA head Tadamichi Yamamoto said.

With reporting by AFP

Afghan Peace Marchers Detained By Taliban, Supporters Say

More than two dozen activists from the People’s Peace Movement (PPM) embarked on a march of more than 150 kilometers from Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gah, to Musa Qala, before they went missing.

Afghan peace protesters who went missing after marching through a Taliban-controlled area of Helmand Province have been detained by the militants, a supporter of the movement told RFE/RL on June 5.

The so-called People's Peace Movement (PPM) attracted international attention last year with its peace marches across Afghanistan and in Kabul during which they warned about the record levels of violence across the country.

PPM member Bacha Khan Muladad told RFE/RL on June 5 that there is no news about the fates of 25 of their friends who traveled to the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala, some 130 kilometers from the provincial capital of Laskar Gah four days ago in an attempt to meet with militants and plead with them to seek peace.

Almost 4,000 civilians -- including more than 900 children -- were killed in Afghanistan last year, with more than 7,000 wounded, according to the United Nations, making 2018 the deadliest year on record.

After 18 years of war, the Taliban and the United States have held several rounds of peace talks, but an agreement still appears far off, mainly because the militants refuse to hold negotiations with the Afghan government.

Afghan President Ghani Says Will Visit Pakistan On June 27

FILE: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif offering prayers at a Pakistani war memorial in November 2014.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he will visit Pakistan on June 27 in an effort to improve bilateral relations that are often hampered by mistrust and reciprocal accusations.

Ghani said on June 4 that the visit was agreed on after he met Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan last week on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Saudi Arabia.

"I hope the visit will be positive," Ghani said in his message to mark Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that ends the holy month of Ramadan.

Kabul has been long accused Pakistan of harboring Taliban militants who launch attacks inside Afghanistan, but Ghani said he was hopeful that years of mistrust can be replaced by mutual trust and cooperation toward peace.

Last week, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy seeking a peace deal with the Taliban, held talks in Islamabad with senior Pakistani officials, including Khan and army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Pakistan has recently offered support to U.S. efforts to broker an end to Afghanistan's almost 18-year-long war.

Khalilzad has held several rounds of talks with the militants in Qatar. The sides have made progress, but the Taliban has so far rejected direct negotiations with Kabul.

With reporting by AP

Five Killed In Bus Bombing In Kabul

The bus was carrying employees of the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission.

A magnetic bomb attached to a bus carrying government employees killed at least five people and wounded 10 more on June 3 in Kabul, Afghan officials said.

The attack, the latest in a series to hit the Afghan capital over the past several days, came with the city under tight security ahead of this week's Eid al-Fitr holiday ending the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the bus was carrying employees of the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which came only hours after the Interior Ministry briefed media on security measures in large cities ahead of Eid.

Both Taliban and Islamic State militants have staged attacks in Kabul, which was hit by a wave of attacks over the past week.

Four bombings on June 2 killed at least two people and wounded 27. They came after deadly suicide bombings on May 30 and May 31.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Taliban Head Rejects Call For Holiday Truce; U.S. Envoy Heads To Region

FILE: Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada

The head of the Taliban ruled out calling a cease-fire anytime soon, as the United States envoy headed to the region for new round of efforts to end the long-running war in Afghanistan.

In his comments on June 1, Haibatullah Akhundzada also claimed that foreign forces in Afghanistan were "condemned to defeat." However, he also said Islamist fighters would continue talks with the United States.

The Taliban's fight "and resistance against the occupation is nearing the stage of success, Allah willing," Akhundzada said in a message timed for Eid, the festival that ends the holy month of Ramadan.

"No one should expect us to pour cold water on the heated battlefronts of jihad or forget our 40-year sacrifices before reaching our objectives," Akhundzada said.

Last year, the Taliban observed a three-day cease-fire during Eid. Many Afghans have hoped for another truce this year.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had proposed a nationwide cease-fire at the start of Ramadan, but the Taliban rejected the offer.

Meanwhile, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was heading to Afghanistan and also Germany, Belgium, Qatar, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates as part of continuing efforts to try and end the war.

The State Department said Khalilzad will continue talks with the Taliban in Doha, where the group has a political office.

The Taliban has refused to negotiate directly with the Kabul government.

In Kabul, Khalilzad was expected to meet representatives of civil society and women's rights groups.

With reporting by AFP and dpa

Car Bomb Rocks Afghan Capital

Afghan police arrive at the site of a suicide car bomb in Kabul on May 31.

A fatal car-bomb blast has struck the Afghan capital, Kabul, the second deadly explosion in the city in two days.

At least seven people were reported killed or injured in the May 31 explosion in the Yakatot area of eastern Kabul.

The bomb exploded as a U.S. military convoy passed through the area.

A spokesman for the U.S. military said four U.S. service personnel were slightly injured in the incident.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi was quoted by AFP as saying four Afghan passersby had been killed and three were wounded.

Officials cautioned that the exact number of dead and wounded remains unknown.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the blast, claiming without evidence that 10 U.S. soldiers had been killed.

U.S. and NATO military forces, as well as the Afghan National Security Forces, maintain facilities in the area near the explosion.

On May 30, six people were killed when a suicide bomber struck near an Afghan Army academy a few kilometers away from the scene of the May 31 blast.

The Islamic State (IS) extremist organization claimed responsibility for the May 30 attack.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters

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

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