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Pakistan Shuts Border With Afghanistan Ahead Of Presidential Poll

FILE: A border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan which connects the southwestern Pakistan border town of Chaman to the town of Spin Boldak in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar.

Pakistan has closed all border crossings with Afghanistan after the Taliban threatened to disrupt upcoming presidential polls in the war-wracked country.

The crossings are to remain closed for people and trade lorries during polling in Afghanistan on September 28, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Elections for a new Afghan president are set for September 28 amid fears of violence after Taliban leaders ordered militants to disrupt the process.

Pakistan has also announced it was deploying extra security personnel at the border crossings to make sure militants do not cross into Afghanistan.

The Afghan Taliban has been accused of launching deadly attacks in Afghanistan from their hideouts across the border in complicity with Pakistani spy agencies. Islamabad denies the accusation.

The election comes only weeks after peace talks between the United States and the Taliban collapsed, prompting fears of more violence in the country.

With reporting by dpa

Taliban Lifts Ban On WHO Vaccine Operations In Occupied Afghan Territories

FILE: A health worker marks the little finger of a child after administering polio vaccination to children in Kandahar on April 1.

Taliban militants in Afghanistan have lifted a ban on World Health Organization (WHO) activities in areas they control, another apparent move by the extremist group to improve their image following the collapse of peace talks with the United States.

The move announced on September 25 reversed a decision made in April when the extremist group barred the WHO and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from operating in its occupied territories, accusing the groups of carrying out "suspicious" activities associated with polio-vaccination campaigns.

"After realizing its shortcomings and following constant contact and meetings with our representatives, the WHO received permission for their activities," Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in a statement.

The ban had threatened to intensify a major humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, one of three countries in the world where the disease is endemic.

The Taliban on September 15 revoked its ban on the ICRC and restored its guarantee for the security of Red Cross staff doing humanitarian work in Afghanistan, but it did not mention the WHO.

At the time, Schaerer Juan-Pedro, who leads the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan, wrote on Twitter that "we welcome the acknowledgment of our humanitarian principles and renewal of security guarantees to enable us [to] work in Afghanistan."

In its September 25 statement, the Taliban offered a guarantee of safety for WHO staff. But the group also insisted that the WHO conduct only health-related work, get the extremists’ permission before hiring workers, and carry out vaccine campaigns only in health centers.

The UN health agency did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

The Taliban controls or is active in more than half of Afghanistan's 410 districts.

The Western-backed central government in Kabul is battling the resurgent Taliban for control of the country.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, has conducted at least nine rounds of talks in Qatar with the Taliban, which has so far refused to negotiate directly with the government in Kabul, calling them “puppets.”

Khalilzad reported that he had reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban in which Washington would pull out troops and the militants would promise to break with Al-Qaeda and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorists.

However, the peace talks collapsed in early September after President Donald Trump cited an attack that killed an American soldier as his reason for calling off negotiations.

Trump proclaimed the negotiations “dead” and he scrapped planned secret talks with the group at Camp David.

The Taliban on September 18 said "doors are open" to resuming talks with the United States despite continuing violence ahead of a presidential election on September 28.

The Taliban's chief negotiator, Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, made the statement after two recent attacks claimed by the militants killed at least 48 people in Afghanistan.

With reporting by Reuters and Tolo News

Afghan Reporter Dies From Blast Wounds, Seventh Journalist Killed In Country This Year

Abdul Hamid Hotaki

An Afghan reporter has died from injuries suffered in an explosion near the election campaign headquarters of President Ashraf Ghani in the city of Kandahar.

Hewad TV said in a Facebook post on September 25 that Abdul Hamid Hotaki died in hospital from "heavy wounds" suffered in the blast, which killed three others, including a child, and wounded at least seven.

"Hotaki is the seventh journalist to be killed in #Afghanistan in 2019," the Afghanistan Journalists Center said in a tweet noting Hotaki's death.

The Interior Ministry has blamed the attack on Taliban militants, though no one has taken responsibility for the explosion, which comes just days before a presidential election on September 28.

Afghanistan is the world's deadliest conflict, and security fears have been a hallmark of the campaign, even in the heavily guarded capital, Kabul.

Ghani, the incumbent, has mostly campaigned remotely, addressing small gatherings outside the heavily militarized capital via Skype or telephone.

Ghani and his leading rival, Abdullah Abdullah, are expected to place first and second respectively among the 16 candidates in the election. The top two vote getters will then head to a runoff election.

A suicide bombing that killed 26 people last week near an election rally in Parwan Province, north of Kabul, where Ghani was due to speak, came as a sharp reminder of the dangers.

The Taliban group that ruled much of the country until 2001 and opposes Afghanistan's central government is estimated to control or contest nearly half of Afghanistan's 400 districts, depriving many in rural regions of the right to vote.

The Taliban considers the Afghan government a U.S. puppet and has warned Afghans not to vote, saying that polling stations will be targeted by militant attacks.

Two Killed In Roadside Blast In Southern Afghanistan

FILE: The aftermath of a roadside bomb attack in Kandahar city in April 2018.

Two civilians have been killed in a roadside bomb attack in southern Afghanistan, officials said on September 21.

Five people were also wounded in the September 20 attack in southern Kandahar Province, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the Spin Boldak district, but the Taliban are active in the province.

Elsewhere, two blasts rocked the capital, Kabul, late on September 20, police said, adding no casualties were reported.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for those attacks.

Across Afghanistan, militant attacks have continued as the country prepares for presidential elections later this month, while U.S.-Taliban talks over a peace deal have collapsed.

Casualties since the talks fell apart less than two weeks ago are now at least 331, including 96 killed, according to a count from Reuters.

A Taliban truck bombing destroyed a hospital in southern Afghanistan on September 19. Afghan officials on August 20 said 39 people had died in the attack, nearly double the original figure given, with 140 wounded.

The Taliban said the target of the attack in Qalat, the capital of Zabul Province, was a nearby building housing the government's intelligence department.

President Ashraf Ghani promised measures on September 20 to prevent civilian casualties in the war against militants, a day after at least 30 civilians were killed in a U.S. drone strike in eastern Nangarhar Province.

Ghani said he had introduced "checks and balances" to stop night raids and attacks leading to the loss of innocent lives.

He was speaking at an election rally in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province.

Ghani said he had ordered investigations into recent incidents in which the Afghan forces accidentally targeted civilians. He did not comment directly on the U.S. drone strike.

U.S. security officials in Afghanistan said the drone strike was intended to destroy a hideout used by Islamic State fighters.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, AP, and Reuters

UNICEF Says More Than 29 Million Babies Born In Conflict Zones In 2018

Afghan women sit with their children after returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan in September 2016.|

More than 29 million babies were born last year into conflict-affected areas, including Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

A report published on September 20 said the statistics meant that more than one in five babies born last year spent their earliest moments in communities affected by "the chaos of conflict, often in deeply unsafe, and highly stressful environments."

"Every parent should be able to cherish their baby's first moments, but for the millions of families living through conflict, the reality is far bleaker," UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.

She said that in many countries, violent conflict has severely limited access to essential services for parents and their babies.

A UNICEF worker in Afghanistan related the story "of my son, 5-year-old Heraab. [He] finds himself in a community where he is constantly exposed to the sounds of explosions, smell of smoke, accompanied by the regular shrieking of sirens, be it police or ambulance, or the persistent honking of cars and motorbikes rushing the injured to hospital."

"He shudders and wakes up at night if a truck passes by with speed, sometimes shaking the windows of our house, thinking it must be another attack," the worker related.

Afghanistan is embroiled in an 18-year civil war since the 2001 invasion by U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban government after it refused to hand over Al-Qaeda terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, blamed for launching the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

A UNICEF staffer in war-torn Yemen said that "some of the young children we see shake with fear, uncontrollably, for hours on end. They don't sleep. You can hear them whimpering, it's not a usual cry but a cold, weak whimper."

"Others are so malnourished and traumatized they detach emotionally from the world and people around them, causing them to become vacant and making it impossible for them to interact with their families."

Yemen's civil war has killed thousands of civilians and caused shortages of food and medical care that have affected millions in what international experts have called a "humanitarian disaster."

A Saudi-led Sunni Muslim coalition intervened in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government ousted from power in the capital, Sana'a, by the Iran-backed Shi'ite Huthis in late 2014.

The Huthis, who deny being a puppet of Iran and say they launched a revolution against corruption, hold Sana'a and most of the biggest urban centers of Yemen.

Government Compound In Eastern Afghanistan Attacked

Smoke rises near a government building attacked by suicide bombers and gunmen in Jalalabad on September 18.

At least one suicide bomber and several gunmen have attacked a government building in eastern Afghanistan, wounding 12 people, including a child and a woman, officials say.

Attackers detonated explosives outside the building in Jalalabad, the capital of the eastern province of Nangarhar, said Ataullah Khogyani, the provincial governor's spokesman and a provincial council member.

Khogyani added that fighting was ongoing.

"Security forces are in the area to rescue the staff" at the electronic identification registration center, said Khogyani.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but both Taliban and Islamic State group are active in eastern Afghanistan.

Militant attacks have continued as Afghanistan prepares for a presidential election later this month, while U.S.-Taliban talks over a peace deal have collapsed.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

UN Extends Afghan Mission After China Veto Threat

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Human Rights Director Richard Bennett (file photo)

The UN Security Council has unanimously extended its assistance mission in Afghanistan after China withdrew its threat of a veto if the text did not mention Beijing's Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

The 15 members of the council on September 17 extended the mission for one year with a compromise text, negotiated by Germany and Indonesia, that doesn't mention "any specific initiative" but refers to promotion of "regional cooperation and connectivity," according to diplomats.

The adopted resolution asks the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to support "in close consultation and coordination" with the Afghan government the organization of "future timely, credible, transparent, and inclusive" elections, including the presidential vote set for September 28.

It further calls for working "closely with the election management bodies on and after election day, supporting them to deliver a robust and transparent results management process."

Established in 2002, UNAMA supports the government in Kabul as well as the peace and reconciliation process, promotion of human rights, and encourages regional cooperation. It mandate was due to expire on September 17.

China's Belt and Road program is aimed at building trade and transportation infrastructure that links China with South and Central Asia, Europe, and Africa through massive Chinese investments.

The United States, which views the initiative as a means of expanding Chinese hegemony, had refused any mention of it in the UN resolution. A majority of council members supported the U.S. stance.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

U.S. Soldier, Seven Afghans Killed As Blackouts Hit One-Third Of Afghanistan

FILE: A damaged electricity pylon in Baghlan Province.

A U.S. service member and at least seven Afghans have been killed across Afghanistan, while one-third of the country was hit by a blackout.

The NATO-led Resolute Support mission said the service member was killed in action but did not provide further details.

The death brings to 17 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in combat in the country this year, according to the Pentagon's count.

Earlier, Afghan officials said at least seven people had been killed in separate attacks.

The deaths come about a week after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly called off talks to end the 18-year conflict in Afghanistan, citing a recent Taliban attack in Kabul that killed a U.S. soldier.

Mohibullah Mohib, spokesman for the police chief of the western Farah Province, said five people, including women and children, were killed when a roadside bomb hit a vehicle on September 15 near the provincial capital of Farah.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the Taliban is active in the province and earlier this month it launched an offensive to take the city of Farah. The insurgents briefly seized an army recruitment center and set it ablaze.

A sticky bomb attached to a minibus belonging to the university in Ghazni Province exploded and killed the bus driver on September 16. Arif Noori, spokesman for the provincial governor, said five Ghazni University students were also wounded in the blast.

In eastern Logar Province, a schoolgirl died in the crossfire during a battle in the Mohammad Agha district between the Taliban and the security forces, the police said. A second student was wounded.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's main power utility said that households and businesses in about a third of the country have been hit by blackouts after electricity pylons in the northern province of Baghlan were blown up over the weekend.

The utility, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), said on September 16 that three pylons carrying 220 KW of electricity imported from neighboring Uzbekistan had been destroyed the previous day, cutting power in 11 of the country's 34 provinces, including the capital, Kabul.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attacks, which come as fighting has intensified in northern provinces including Baghlan amid stalled efforts by the United States and the Taliban to agree plans to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

DABS said engineers had arrived from neighboring provinces to work on restoring the pylons.

Afghanistan generates only 25 percent of its electricity domestically and the lines bringing power in from Uzbekistan have been attacked regularly, forcing those that can afford it to rely on expensive diesel generators.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Taliban Restores Security Guarantees To Red Cross In Afghanistan

FILE: An ICRC convoy in a remote part of Afghanistan.

The Afghan Taliban on September 15 revoked their ban on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and restored its guarantee for the security of ICRC staff doing humanitarian work in Afghanistan.

"The Islamic Emirate restores the former security guarantees to ICRC in Afghanistan and instructs all mujahedin to pave the way for ICRC activities and to be mindful of security to this committee's workers and equipment," a Taliban statement read.

An ICRC spokesman said the same day that the organization's operations had resumed across the country.

In April, the Taliban imposed a ban on the ICRC and the World Health Organization (WHO), alleging the two organizations were conducting "suspicious" activities connected with their vaccination campaigns.

The September 15 statement did not mention the WHO.

The WHO has been carrying out a polio-vaccination campaign in Afghanistan, one of the last countries in the world where the disease is endemic.

The Taliban control more than half of Afghanistan's 410 districts.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

U.S. Congressional Panel To Question Trump's Afghan Envoy

FILE: U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad

A U.S. Congressional committee has issued a subpoena to question President Donald Trump's special Afghanistan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, next week after peace talks with the Taliban abruptly ended.

Representative Eliot Engel (Democrat-New York), the chairman of the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was "fed up" with the Trump administration, which he blamed for preventing Khalilzad from briefing lawmakers and keeping the American public "in the dark" about the peace process, which aims to end the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan.

The State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the subpoena, Reuters reported.

"So Ambassador Khalilzad is here in Washington, and so that I think answers the question for where he is," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in Washington on September 12.

The open congressional hearing is scheduled for September 19 and comes after Trump on September 9 called the peace talks "dead" having earlier canceled a secret meeting with Afghanistan's Taliban leaders at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

Trump's sudden move angered many in Congress exacerbating their frustration at having their requests to arrange briefings with Khalilzad constantly refused in February, April, and earlier this month.

Ending the Afghanistan war and bringing U.S. soldiers home has been one of Trump's key foreign policy initiatives.

Ortagus has said that talks with the Taliban are off for now in accordance with Trump’s declarations.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and AP

Taliban Suicide Bombing Leaves Four Afghan Troops Dead

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier stands guard at a checkpoint in Kabul on September 10.

KABUL -- At least four members of Afghan security forces have been killed in a suicide bombing at the front gate of a military base on the outskirts of Kabul, an official says.

The September 12 bombing in Chahar Asyab district was claimed by the Taliban.

At least three other people were wounded in the attack that targeted an Afghan special forces base, Defense Ministry spokesman Rohullah Ahmadzai said.

A reporter for local TV news channel ToloNews said that a number of gunmen attacked the base and fighting was ongoing.

However, Ahmadzai denied the involvement of any assailants following the blast.

The attack is the latest since President Donald Trump last week called off U.S.-Taliban talks aimed at ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

With reporting by dpa, AP, and TOLOnews

On 9/11 Anniversary, Trump Vows To Hit Taliban 'Harder’ Than Ever

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump observe a moment of silence to mark the 18th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to hit the Taliban "harder" than ever, as the United States marked the 18th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that ushered in the war in Afghanistan.

Trump spoke on September 11 at a Pentagon event honoring the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks, just days after he announced that peace talks with the Taliban were "dead."

In the last four days, U.S. forces have "hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before and that will continue,” he said.

The president also warned militants against ever carrying out an attack in the United States again.

The U.S. military response would be such that "they will never have seen anything like what will happen to them,"’ Trump said, noting that he was not referring to the use of nuclear arms.

The president’s comments came as Ayman al-Zawahiri -- the leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network that carried out the 2001 attacks on U.S. soil -- in a video recording called for assaults on “the interests of Israel and its American, British, French, Russian, and European allies.”

Zawahiri was named the head of Al-Qaeda in 2011 after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces in Pakistan. The Egyptian is believed to be hiding in the country's tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan.

In his remarks on September 11, Trump reiterated that he had called off the peace negotiations with the Taliban last week because of a car bombing carried out by the militant group in Kabul that killed a U.S. soldier and 11 other people.

After nine rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar to end the 18-year war, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had said he had reached an agreement “in principle” with the militants.

With reporting by dpa and AFP

Trump Issues Order Bolstering Counterterrorism Efforts On Eve Of 9/11 Anniversary

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a briefing on terrorism financing at the White House on September 10 in Washington.

President Donald Trump has issued an executive order making it easier for the U.S. administration to impose sanctions on suspected terrorists, their financiers, and their supporters.

"Today's executive order by President Trump adds further muscle to U.S. counterterrorism efforts," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a briefing to reporters late on September 10.

The order came out on the eve of the 18th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Calling the order the "most significant update to counterterrorism sanctions authority since September of 2001," Pompeo said the new rules allow the State Department and Treasury Department to directly target leaders of suspected terror groups and their affiliates "without having to tie terrorist leaders to specific acts."

He said the new rules were also more effective at targeting individuals and groups participating in terrorist training and allowed the authorities to impose sanctions on financial institutions that provide services to designated terrorists.

Using the new order, the Treasury Department on September 10 imposed sanctions on leaders, individuals, and entities affiliated with groups such as Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Pakistan's Tehrik-e Taliban, and the Iranian Quds Force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' foreign arm.

"Since the horrific attacks of 9/11, the U.S. government has refocused its counterterrorism efforts to constantly adapt to emerging threats," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

With reporting by dpa and AP

Explosion At U.S. Embassy In Kabul On 9/11 Anniversary

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul (file photo)

A rocket exploded at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and another struck the Afghan Defense Ministry complex in the early hours of September 11.

No injuries were reported at both locations, according to the AP and AFP news agencies.

"A rocket hit a wall at the Defense Ministry, with no casualties reported," Interior Ministry spokesman Nosrat Rahimi said in a statement.

Inside the embassy, employees heard the following message over the loudspeaker: "An explosion caused by a rocket has occurred on compound."

"We can confirm there was an explosion near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul," a State Department official said. "U.S. [diplomatic] mission personnel were not directly impacted by this explosion."

The blast comes on the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States that ushered in the war in Afghanistan, and just after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that peace talks with the Taliban were "dead."

Trump gave the assessment of peace negotiations, which had been going on between U.S. and Taliban officials for months, on September 9.

Days earlier he canceled secret talks with Afghan and Taliban officials in the United States in the wake of a car bombing carried out by the militant group in Kabul that killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier.

Trump said he felt that the Taliban had carried out the violence to put them in a better bargaining position in the negotiations.

During a visit to Afghanistan on September 9, U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, indicated to reporters that the United States was likely to increase operations against the Taliban.

About 14,000 U.S. soldiers remain in the country and Trump has called their ongoing deployment "ridiculous," including the many billions of dollars spent in the war.

The UN envoy for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said on September 10 that it was "imperative" for peace talks to start "as soon as possible" between the Afghan government and Taliban.

Meanwhile, relatives of 9/11 victims are expected at the Ground Zero memorial near the site of the rebuilt World Trade Center on September 11, while Trump is scheduled to join a commemoration at the Pentagon.

The anniversary ceremonies remember the nearly 3,000 people who were killed when hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.

In addition to being a day of remembrance and patriotism, September 11 is also a day of volunteering.

With reporting by AP, MSN, and AFP​

Reports: Khalilzad Returns To Qatar For More U.S.-Taliban Talks

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (left) met with Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on September 2.

U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad is back in the Qatari capital for further talks with the Taliban aimed at ending the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan, unidentified officials are quoted as saying.

"Ambassador Khalilzad has returned to Doha to continue talks," a State Department spokesperson said on September 5, according to the AFP news agency.

AP quoted officials close to the negotiations as also saying that the U.S. envoy had returned to the city, where the Taliban have a political office.

Khalilzad told RFE/RL on September 2 that the two sides had reached a deal "in principle" to end America's longest war following nine rounds of negotiations in Qatar.

The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan said the agreement would become final when U.S. President Donald Trump agrees to it, paving the way for an "inter-Afghan dialogue."

Completion of the deal is also reportedly still contingent on assent among Taliban leaders.

The envoy has briefed the government in Kabul, with which the the militant group refuses to negotiate, on the terms of the draft agreement.

The Taliban have not relented on violence despite negotiating with the United States, killing a U.S. serviceman, a Romanian soldier and at least 10 other people in a bombing in Kabul on September 5.

It was the second major Taliban bombing in the city this week after a suicide attack late on September 2 killed at least 16 people.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Afghan Human Rights Defender Kidnapped, Shot Dead

FILE: Ghor residents and lawmakers protest against insecurity in the region.

The chairwoman of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) says the acting head of the organization's office in the western province of Ghor was found dead after being abducted by the Taliban.

Abdul Samad Amiri "was kidnapped by Taliban on his way [from] Kabul to Ghor in Jalreez area of Maidan Wardak province. We received the extremely shocking news this morning that he was shot last night,” Shaharzad Akbar tweeted on September 5.

Jalreez district is located west of Kabul.

"Our colleagues organized for Mr Amiri’s body to be carried to Kabul and are now with the family. The commission is in mourning and we are all extremely shocked. We are investigating the details and @AfghanistanIHRC will soon release a statement,” Akbar wrote in a separate tweet.

The commissioners of the IHRC are appointed by the Afghan government.

The killing comes two weeks after Amnesty International warned that Afghanistan’s human rights community was under "intensifying attacks" from both the authorities and armed groups.

Human rights defenders and activists have been largely ignored by the Afghan government and the international community as they face "intimidation, harassment, threats, and violence," the London-based human rights watchdog said on August 28.

There has been no let-up in violence in the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan, even though U.S. and Taliban negotiators appeared to be closing in on an accord to end the fighting.

More than 3,800 civilians were killed or injured during the first six months of this year alone, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

Blast Strikes Near Embassy District Of Kabul

Security forces are seen near the site where a suicide bomber blew himself up in the center of Kabul on September 5.

A large explosion has struck a neighborhood of eastern Kabul early on September 5, with officials saying first responders are rushing to the scene.

Reuters quoted unnamed government officials as saying a suicide bomber had blown himself up.

Casualty estimates were initially unavailable.

An Interior Ministry spokesman confirmed the blast but said the target was unclear.

It was said to have been centered in or near a neighborhood that houses the U.S. and other embassies and government buildings.

The United States and Taliban representatives are trying to finalize an agreement to end their 18-year conflict, and a draft agreement that was reached "in principle" is currently being discussed among Afghan government officials and in Washington and among Taliban leaders.

Loud Blast Hits International Area Of Kabul

FILE: Afghan security forces inspect the site of suicide bomb attack in Kabul.

KABUL -- A loud explosion has jolted the Afghan capital, Kabul, shaking windows and doors in houses several kilometers away from the blast, officials and eyewitnesses say.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nusrat Rahimi said it was a car bombing that happened at around 9:45 p.m. local time on September 2 near the Green Village, a large compound to the east of the city that houses aid agencies and international organizations.

"A nearby gas station also caught fire and exploded. Police and special forces have arrived at the scene and cordoned off the area," Rahimi tweeted.

The sound of gunfire could also be heard in the aftermath of the explosion and a cloud of smoke could be seen spiraling into the sky over the area.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack or any information on casualties.

The Taliban and Islamic State militant groups have targeted Kabul in the past.

The latest attack comes U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad was in Kabul to discuss with Afghan officials a draft peace deal with the Taliban.

Kabul's Green Village was targeted by a truck bomb in January that killed four people and wounded 90 others.

Green Village is separate from the nearby Green Zone, a heavily fortified part of Kabul that is home to several embassies including the U.S. and British facilities.

With reporting by Reuters, Tolo News, and dpa

French Prosecutor Says Knife-Wielding Afghan Suspect In 'Psychotic State’

Migrants and refugees leave their camp as they are evacuated by French CRS riot police in Nantes, western France, on July 23.

An Afghan asylum-seeker who fatally stabbed one person and wounded eight others in France was under the influence of drugs and experiencing "paranoid delirium," a regional prosecutor said on September 1 as reported by the AP news agency.

He was in a "psychotic state" during the stabbing and reported hearing "voices" telling him to kill, prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet said.

The suspect started attacking people with a knife on August 31 outside a subway station in the Lyon suburb of Villeurbanne.

A group of passers-by apprehended him before the police arrived.

The 33-year-old suspect’s identity wasn’t made available to the public and isn't listed on any radicalism watch list. A police search of his residence found two knives and no radical literature.

He has been living at a French center for asylum-seekers and was in possession of a temporary French residency card.

French cities are on high alert following several deadly attacks blamed on Islamic extremists in 2015 and 2016.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Afghan Man Detained Following Mass Knife Attack In France

FILE: Policemen stand during the evacuation of a migrants and refugees camp in Franc.e

Police in France detained an Afghan asylum-seeker after one person was killed and nine others injured in a knife attack near a commuter train station outside Lyon.

Authorities on August 31 described the attacker as a 33-year-old Afghan citizen who had applied for asylum in France and was waiting for a response.

Police said a 19-year-old man was killed and three of the others were in critical condition following what was described as a “frenzied” attack.

"There was blood everywhere," said a woman who witnessed the attack in the town of Villeurbanne.

Authorities said the incident did not immediately appear to be terrorism-related and it was not known if the assailant knew the victims.

French cities are on high alert following several deadly attacks blamed on Islamic extremists in 2015 and 2016.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

NATO Identifies Soldiers Killed In Afghan Combat As U.S. Special Operations Forces

More than 2,400 U.S. service personnel have died in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 to topple the Taliban.

The NATO Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan has identified two military personnel killed in the country as members of the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command, also known as the Green Berets.

The military on August 22 identified the two killed in action a day earlier as Master Sergeant Luis F. Deleon-Figueroa, 31, and Master Sergeant Jose J. Gonzalez, 35.

Officials said the two died as a result of small-arms fire in northern Faryab Province.

Deleon-Figueroa served in the army for more than 13 years and became a Green Beret in 2014. He was deployed twice to Afghanistan.

Gonzalez was posthumously promoted to the master-sergeant rank.

U.S. and Taliban negotiators are meeting in Qatar in a new round of talks with the goal of ending the nearly 18-year Afghan war.

The United States formally ended its Afghan combat mission in 2014, but about 14,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, mainly training and advising government forces battling the Taliban, an affiliate of the Islamic State extremist group, and other militants.

More than 2,400 U.S. service personnel have died in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 to topple the Taliban.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

Two U.S. Soldiers Killed In Afghanistan

U.S. soldiers attend a training session for the Afghan Army in Herat (file photo)

The NATO Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan says two U.S. military personnel have been killed in the country.

The two service members were "killed in action," the mission said in a statement on August 21.

Their names were being withheld until after their relatives were notified, in accordance with Pentagon policy, it said.

The statement doesn't say how the soldiers were killed.

It comes as U.S. and Taliban negotiators were set to resume talks in Qatar on ending the nearly 18-year Afghan war.

The United States formally ended its Afghan combat mission in 2014 but about 14,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, mainly training and advising government forces battling the Taliban, an affiliate of the Islamic State group, and other militants.

More than 2,400 U.S. service personnel have died in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 to topple the Taliban.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

Death Toll From Afghan Wedding Attack Rises To 80

he shoes of victims are seen outside a damaged wedding hall after a blast in Kabul on August 18.

The death toll from a suicide bomb attack on a wedding party in Kabul last week has risen to 80, two senior Afghan officials said on August 21.

The initial death toll after the August 17 explosion was 63, but some of the wounded had died in hospital, said Nasrat Rahimi, an Interior Ministry spokesman.

"Seventeen others have succumbed to their injuries in hospital and over 160 are still being treated either in hospitals or at home," Rahimi said.

The Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed responsibility for the attack on a huge wedding reception at a hotel in western Kabul.

The attack was the 17th to take place in Kabul since the beginning of the year and the second deadliest one in August alone.

At least 193 people have died and nearly 900 others have been injured in the attacks.

The attack came with Washington and the Taliban reportedly nearing a deal to end the nearly 18-year war

With reporting by Reuters and dpa

U.S. Peace Envoy Heads To Qatar, Afghanistan For New Talks

FILE: U.S. special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is heading to Qatar to resume talks with Taliban negotiators and to Kabul to meet with Afghan leaders, amid reports indicating a deal could be close to end the near 18-year war in Afghanistan.

The U.S. State Department said Khalilzad was departing on August 20 for the two countries and that additional stops could be included in his trip.

In the Qatari capital, Doha, Khalilzad "will resume talks with the Taliban as part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that ends the conflict in Afghanistan,” the statement said.

"In Kabul, he will consult with the leadership of the Afghan government on the peace process and encourage full preparation for intra-Afghan negotiations,” it added.

Khalilzad has conducted eight rounds of talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar, where the extremist group has an office.

After the latest round, both sides said great progress had been made toward a bilateral U.S.-Taliban agreement that would cover the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in exchange for guarantees by the Taliban not to harbor terrorist groups.

Such a deal would be followed by intra-Afghan peace negotiations on a political settlement and a permanent cease-fire.

U.S. officials have been attempting to bring the Taliban into direct contact with the Afghan government. The extremist group has said it will only negotiate with the Western-backed government in Kabul when Washington commits to withdrawing its forces.

About 14,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, mainly training and advising government forces.

Even as talks appear to be advancing, Afghanistan continues to be the victim of extremist-led violence and bloodshed.

More than 32,000 civilians in Afghanistan have been killed in the past decade, the United Nations said earlier this year as the government struggles to battle Taliban, Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and other militant groups.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters

Afghan Ambassador To Spain Injured In Barcelona Mugging

Spain's King Felipe VI (right) welcomes Afghanistan's new ambassador to Spain, Humayoon Rasaw, during the credentials presentation of new ambassadors at the Royal Palace in Madrid in February.

The Afghan ambassador to Spain has been mugged in Barcelona, police and diplomatic sources say, the latest in a string of high-profile robberies in Spain's northeastern Mediterranean port.

The assailants attacked Humayoon Rasaw on a street in the center of the city on August 18, throwing him to the ground to steal his watch, a police spokeswoman said.

Rasaw, who was in Barcelona for celebrations marking Afghanistan's national day, suffered a leg injury but "is fine," an Afghan Embassy source said in Madrid.

Rasaw's watch was worth 17,000 euros ($18,850), Spanish newspaper El Periodico reported.

Rasaw's mugging comes as Barcelona, one of Europe's most visited cities, has seen a sharp rise in crime, including several involving foreigners that have made global headlines.

In late June, Hyewon Kim, a South Korean woman who was part of an official government delegation, died after her purse was snatched, when she fell and seriously injured her head.

Earlier this month a Chinese man died in a fight outside a Barcelona nightclub.

The city of 1.6 million, Spain's second-largest, has seen eight murders since July, an unusually high number in Spain, which has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe.

Robberies, especially those targeting tourists, have also risen.

Based on reporting by AFP and El Periodico

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