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Prominent Afghan Comedian Asif Jalali Dies Of Heart Attack

FILE: Afghan comedian and actor Asif Jalali

Asif Jalali, a well-known Afghan TV actor who gained renown for his political satire and stand-up comedy, has died in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Sabir Mohmand, a spokesman for the Ministry of Information and Culture, told RFE/RL that Jalali died on January 1 of a heart attack, but provided no further details.

Sayeed Rahmani, the head of the Afghan National Theater, said Jalali was born in 1957 in northeastern Afghanistan.

Jalali hosted several shows on local Afghan broadcasters, including the popular program Shabkhand (“Evening Laughter”).

His comedy blazed a trail in Afghanistan, where political satire was a new phenomenon after years of tightly constrained media programming, and long-standing fears of angering religious conservatives.

"The aim of my comedy is to challenge the wrongs in my society," he told the BBC in a profile that aired in 2011, "so that if they see a minister, they think he is rubbish. My other aim is to make people laugh."

Film director Latif Ahmadi told the dpa news agency that Jalali started his artistic career in commercials some 13 years ago. He also appeared in the famous Afghani drama Bulbul, in which he played the love interest of a female character.

His death surprised many across Afghanistan, and some of his fans took to social media to honor him.

"Jalali did God's work by making us laugh," Saad Mohseni, who heads the group that owns local broadcaster TOLO TV,said on Twitter.

There was no immediate word on survivors. Dpa reported that he had five children.

With reporting by dpa

Taliban Attacks On Afghan Security Forces Leave Dozens Dead

FILE: An Afghan National Army unit prepares an offensive in Kunduz Province.

At least 26 members of Afghanistan’s security forces were killed in a new wave of Taliban attacks in northern Afghanistan, local officials said on January 1.

The insurgents claimed responsibility for all the attacks.

In northern Kunduz Province, at least 10 Afghan officers were killed and four others wounded in an attack on a police checkpoint in the district of Dashti Archi late on December 31, the head of the provincial council Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi said.

In Balkh Province, the Taliban killed nine police officers in an attack on their checkpoint. The fate of four other policemen who were at the checkpoint was unknown, said Mohammad Afzel Hadid, head of the provincial council.

In another attack on December 31 seven members of the security forces were killed in a gun battle with the Taliban, according to Jawad Hajri, the provincial governor's spokesman. He said 10 Taliban fighters were also killed.

Earlier this week, the Taliban said it has no intention of declaring a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan.

"In the past few days, some media have been releasing untrue reports about a cease-fire... The fact is that, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has no cease-fire plans," the Taliban said in a December 30 statement.

Taliban militants continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, as well as government officials -- even as the group holds peace talks with a U.S. envoy tasked with negotiating an end to the military conflict in Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa

Pakistani Taliban Commander Reportedly Killed In Afghanistan

Afghan government officials met with refugees from Waziristan in the Gulan camp on December 4.

A key commander of the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has been shot dead at a refugee camp in southeastern Afghanistan, a Pakistani security source and a tribal elder have told RFE/RL.

A security official in the South Waziristan tribal district, in northwestern Pakistan, who requested anonymity said Qari Saifullah Mehsud was killed in his residence in the Gulan refugee camp overnight on December 28-29.

Daud Mehsud, a tribal elder at the camp, told RFE/RL on December 30 that the two gunmen had been "guests" at the TTP commander's home for several days before they killed him and fled.

A provincial police spokesman, Haider Adil, confirmed a killing but did not confirm the identity of the victim. He said a "criminal" case had been launched.

Mehsud was buried in the Gurbaz district of Khost Province at around 3 p.m. local time on December 29, the tribal elder added.

The TTP has not issued any statement.

Qari Saifullah Mehsud had fled the Pakistani military offensive in North Waziristan in 2014.

He had worked as a TTP spokesman in Kurram tribal district as well.

Taliban Attack Kills 17 Pro-Government Militia In Northern Afghanistan

A Taliban attack in Afghanistan’s northern Takhar Province has killed 17 local militiamen, local officials said on December 29.

The attack apparently targeted a local militia commander who escaped unharmed, a spokesman for the governor of Takhar Province said.

The area is currently under the control of government forces, the spokesman added.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.

On December 28, 10 Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack on a military base in southern Helmand Province.

Taliban militants continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, as well as government officials -- even as the group holds peace talks with a U.S. envoy tasked with negotiating an end to the military conflict in Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by dpa and AP

Ten Afghan Soldiers Killed In Taliban Attack On Military Base In Helmand

FILE: An Afghan army convoy in Helmand.

Ten Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack on a military base in the southern province of Helmand, officials said on December 28.

A powerful explosion first hit an army checkpoint late on December 27, followed by an hours-long gunbattle, provincial spokesman Omar Zawak said.

The attack also wounded four soldiers, he said.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yusouf Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the group also seized weapons and ammunition.

The insurgents have a strong presence in Helmand Province.

The Taliban has increased its attacks in recent days against Afghan Army bases and checkpoints across different provinces.

Last week, six Afghan soldiers were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a car laden with explosives outside an army compound in northern Balkh Province. Militants then stormed the compound.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.

On December 23, an American soldier was killed in combat in northern Kunduz Province.

The Taliban claimed it was behind a fatal roadside bombing that targeted American and Afghan forces in Kunduz.

Taliban militants continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, as well as government officials -- even as the group holds peace talks with a U.S. envoy tasked with negotiating an end to the military conflict in Afghanistan.

Scores of Afghan civilians have also been killed in crossfire or by roadside bombs planted by militants.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Kidnapped Afghan Peace Marchers 'Released Without Harm'

This summer, more than two dozen activists of the People's Peace Movement marched more than 150 kilometers from Helmand's capital of Lashkar Gah to Musa Qala.

Twenty-seven Afghan peace activists who were kidnapped by the Taliban in the country's west have been freed "after being held by the militants for 45 hours," an official has said.

The activists from the People's Peace Movement (PPM) were released "without harm," PPM spokesman Bismillah Watan Dost said on December 26. He didn't provide further details.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.

The activists were kidnapped in the Bala Buluk district of Farah Province while traveling from the neighboring province of Herat, the PPM and Farah officials said.

Farah police had said efforts were under way to track the kidnappers. A PPM member also said tribal elders in Farah were to negotiate with the Taliban to release the abducted activists.

According to the PPM, the activists were in the middle of a fresh round of rallies, traveling around the country to spread a message of peace and urging all sides of the conflict in Afghanistan to agree upon a cease-fire.

The group said this was the fourth time the militant group had abducted PPM peace marchers.

The most recent incident was in June, when the Taliban detained 25 peace activists who traveled to the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala in Helmand Province in an attempt to meet with militants and plead with them to seek peace. They were released several days later.

The 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.

The movement has always claimed to be an impartial movement, only advocating for peace in the war-torn country.

Based on reporting by Tolo News and dpa

Suicide Car Bomb Hits Afghan Army Compound

FILE: Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers prepared for a military operation in Balkh Province in February.

At least six Afghan soldiers have been killed in a powerful suicide car bombing that targeted a military compound in the country’s northern Balkh Province in the early morning of December 26, officials say.

After the bomber detonated the explosives-packed car, a group of militants stormed the compound, the Defense Ministry said in a statement, calling the assault a "terrorist attack."

At least three soldiers were wounded in the explosion and the ensuing fighting between the militants and Afghan security forces.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but the ministry and local officials blamed it on the Taliban.

Munir Farhad, a spokesman for the Balkh provincial governor, said clashes inside the compound continued for several hours before the attackers were repelled.

It comes two days after the Taliban stormed a checkpoint in Balkh's Dawlat Abad district, killing seven Afghan soldiers.

Six other members of the security forces -- three soldiers and three intelligence agents -- were wounded in that attack on December 24.

Taliban militants continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, as well as government officials -- even as the group holds peace talks with a U.S. envoy tasked with negotiating an end to the military conflict in Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by AP and Tolo News

Officials: 27 Afghan Activists Abducted By Taliban During Peace March

FILE: A People's Peace Movement protest in the southern province of Helmand in July.

Twenty-seven Afghan activists from the People's Peace Movement (PPM) have been abducted by the Taliban during a peace march in the country’s west, the group’s leaders and local officials said on December 25.

Iqbal Khaibar, a PPM leader, said the activists were kidnapped in the Bala Buluk district of Farah Province while traveling from the neighboring province of Herat.

Dadullah Qani, a member of the Farah provincial council, confirmed the incident.

Farah police said efforts have begun to track the kidnappers.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.

The activists were in the middle of a fresh round of rallies, traveling around the country to spread a message of peace and urging all sides of the conflict in Afghanistan to agree upon a cease-fire, the PPM said in a statement.

The group said this is the fourth time the Taliban has abducted PPM peace marchers.

The most recent incident was in June, when the Taliban held 25 peace activists who traveled to the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala in Helmand Province in an attempt to meet with the militants and plead with them to seek peace. They were released several days later.

The 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.

The movement has always claimed to be an impartial movement, only advocating for peace in the war-torn country.

Based on reporting by dpa and Tolonews.com

Seven Afghan Soldiers Killed In Taliban Attack

FILE: Afghan National Army soldiers in the northren Balk province in April 2017.

At least seven Afghan soldiers have been killed in a militant attack on an army checkpoint in the northern province of Balkh, the country’s Defense Ministry said.

Six other members of the security forces -- three soldiers and three intelligence operatives -- were wounded in the “enemy” attack in Balkh’s Dawlat Abad district on December 24, the ministry said in a statement.

The statement said the checkpoint was manned by both the Afghan Army and the National Directorate of Security.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack that occurred around 4:30 a.m. local time.

Taliban militants continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, as well as government officials -- even as the group holds peace talks with a U.S. envoy tasked with negotiating an end to the military conflict in Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by AP, tolonews.com

Pentagon Identifies Soldier Killed By Roadside Bomb In Afghanistan

FILE: U.S. soldiers from the 1-108th Cavalry Regiment of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team scan key terrain and provide security during a key leader engagement in Kapisa Province in February.

The Pentagon has identified a 33-year-old soldier from New Jersey as the U.S. victim in a fatal roadside bombing in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz Province.

The U.S. military on December 23 said Sergeant 1st Class Michael Goble of Washington Township died in the blast that has been claimed by the Taliban militant group.

Goble's unit was engaged in combat operations in Kunduz, when he suffered fatal injuries, the Pentagon said. No further details were provided.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said they killed “a U.S. force member and injured an Afghan commando” in Kunduz.

Goble's death was the 20th by a U.S. service member this year in Afghanistan. More than 2,400 Americans have died in the nearly 18-year conflict.

Taliban militants continue to carry out attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. troops even as they hold peace talks with a U.S. envoy attempting to end America's longest war.

Hundreds of Afghan civilians have also been killed in the crossfire or by militant bombs.

Some 20,000 foreign troops -- 12,000 to 14,000 from the United States -- are in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist, and advise local troops.

U.S. President Donald Trump is seeking to end the conflict and pull U.S. troops out of the country to fulfill a campaign promise he made in 2016.

U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has met with Taliban leaders in Qatar and, at times, has appeared close to reaching a cease-fire deal with the extremist group.

However, Trump in September canceled a secret meeting in the United States that was to include Taliban leaders after the militant group carried out a car bombing in Kabul that killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier.

Negotiators from both sides have since resumed talking, but no further progress has been reported.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

U.S. Service Member Killed In Afghanistan, Pentagon Says

FILE: U.S. soldiers look out over hillsides during a visit of the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan General at the Afghan National Army (ANA) checkpoint in Nerkh district of Wardak Province in June.

A U.S. service member has been killed in action in Afghanistan, the U.S. military reports.

Officials gave no further details in the announcement on December 23, and the name of the service member was withheld pending notification of family members.

AFP reported that the Taliban militant group had claimed responsibility for the attack on the U.S. service member.

In a WhatsApp message to the news agency, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said insurgents "blew up an American vehicle in Char Dara district of Kunduz" late on December 22.

At least 20 foreign service members have been killed this year in Afghanistan, and more than 2,400 U.S. forces have died in the nearly 18-year conflict.

Some 20,000 foreign troops -- 12,000 to 14,000 from the United States -- are in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist, and advise local troops.

U.S. forces also carry out counterterrorism operations against Islamist militant groups, including Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

U.S. President Donald Trump is seeking to end the conflict and pull U.S. troops out of the country to fulfill a campaign promise he made in 2016.

U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has met with Taliban leaders in Qatar and, at times, has appeared close to reaching a cease-fire deal with the extremist group.

However, Trump in September canceled a secret meeting in the United States that was to include Taliban leaders after the militant group carried out a car bombing in Kabul that killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier.

Negotiators from both sides have since resumed talking, but the Taliban has to date rejected negotiations with the Afghan government, seeing it as a puppet of foreign powers.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

U.S. Defense Chief Says He's Fine With Afghan Troop Reduction 'With Or Without' Peace Deal

FILE: U.S. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper (Front Center) in Kabul in October.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on December 15 said he wants a drawdown of soldiers in Afghanistan “with or without” a peace deal, while voicing confidence that the head of the NATO mission in the country could carry out current tasks with fewer numbers.

The administration of President Donald Trump may announce a troop reduction of around 4,000 soldiers before the end of the year year, according to U.S. media.

There are an estimated 12,000 to 13,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan at any given time, depending on troop rotations.

Esper told reporters that Austin Miller, the commander of NATO's Resolute Support Mission and U.S. forces, “is confident that he can go down to a lower number” of soldiers, according to AFP.

Miller "believes he can conduct all the important counterterrorism missions and train, advise, and assist" the Afghan Army, Esper said.

The defense secretary added that he would like to see a political agreement sealed between the Afghan government and the Taliban to end the 18-year war.

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad last week resumed talks with Taliban negotiators in the Qatari capital, Doha, where the insurgents maintain a political office.

"But I think we can [reduce the number of troops] with or without that political agreement,” Esper said.

Meanwhile, on the same day, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) reiterated Trump’s wish to reduce the number of troops to 8,600 during a visit to Kabul.

‘"If President Trump decides in the next few weeks to reduce our forces below the 12,000 we have, I could support that," he said.

"The Afghan security forces are getting more capable," said Graham. “As they achieve capability, the number of U.S. forces necessary can go down.”

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Roadside Bomb Kills 10 From Same Afghan Family

FILE: The aftermath of a bomb blast in the Afghan province of Khost.

A roadside bomb exploded in the Afghan eastern province of Khost, killing at least 10 civilians traveling in a vehicle, officials say.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the blast occurred in the district of Ali Sher On the morning of December 17.

The casualties included three children, two women, and five men, Rahimi said.

Talib Mangal, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said they were all members of one family who were traveling to Logar Province to attend a funeral.

Rahimi blamed Taliban militants for the bombing.

The militant group did not immediately comment.

The United Nationals Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has said it is "gravely concerned about the unprecedented levels of violence” harming Afghan civilians.

UNAMA recorded 2,563 deaths and 5,676 injured in the first nine months of this year.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

At Least Three Afghan Police Officers Killed In Herat

Afghan police officers stop cars at a check point in Herat on September 27.

At least three Afghan police officers have been killed in an attack in the western city of Herat, officials say.

Provincial police chief General Aminullah Amarkhil said a group of gunmen launched the assault late on December 15.

Two attackers were killed in the ensuing battle and a number of others were wounded, according to Amarkhil.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Insider Attack Kills At Least Nine Afghan Troops

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in 2008

At least one member of an Afghan militia has shot dead nine of his fellow militiamen in what the Interior Ministry is calling an insider attack.

However, local sources and the Taliban said the number of those killed on December 14 was at least 24. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the attack was actually a coordinated militant assault on the checkpoint where the shooting took place.

Details were sketchy and investigators were still looking into the attack in central Ghazni Province's Karabagh district, Defense Ministry deputy spokesman Fawad Aman said. The number of attackers was also not immediately clear.

Afghan militias are under the command of the country's National Security Forces, which suffer near daily Taliban attacks.

The Taliban reportedly controls or holds sway over half the country.

In the past two years, dozens of Afghan security forces have been killed by the Taliban in such attacks in various districts of Ghazni, according to officials.

U.S. and NATO troops have been the main target of insider attacks, but Afghan security forces have also been targeted.

Two U.S. troops were killed by an Afghan soldier in the southern Kandahar Province in July. The perpetrator was wounded and arrested.

Also in Kandahar, two months later, three U.S. military personnel were wounded when a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police opened fire on a military convoy.

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held several days of meetings with Taliban representatives in Qatar since December 7. The Taliban maintains a political office in Qatar.

It was his first such direct contact between Khalilzad and the militant group since President Donald Trump halted negotiations three months ago following a deadly wave of Taliban attacks, including a Kabul suicide bombing that killed an American soldier.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and Tolo News

Roadside Bomb Kills 10 Civilians In Eastern Afghanistan

Ten people, including four women and a child, were killed in a roadside bomb explosion in eastern Afghanistan, officials said on December 13.

The occurred in the volatile district of Jaghatu in Ghazni Province.

All the victims of the blast were civilians, said Aref Noori, a spokesman for the provincial governor, adding that six others were wounded.

"Unfortunately, in the explosion, 10 people, including four women and a child, were killed," Noori said.

Marwa Amini, deputy spokeswoman for the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul, confirmed the blast and death toll.

Officials said the bomb was planted to target Afghan security forces, since it detonated some 300 meters from a military base.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but officials blamed the Taliban.

Earlier this week, the Taliban launched an attack near Bagram, a major U.S. airbase.

This is the second such incident within the past two weeks in the district. In a previous incident, a civilian truck was hit with a roadside bomb that left one dead and one wounded.

Based on reporting by dpa and AFP

U.S. 'Briefly' Suspends Taliban Peace Talks After Attack On U.S. Base

Zalmay Khalilzad

U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad on December 12 said peace negotiations with the Taliban are taking a “brief pause” after the insurgent group staged an attack on the main U.S. military base in the country.

Taliban militants had the previous day struck near the Bagram U.S. military base, killing at least two Afghan civilians and wounding more than 70 other people, including five Georgian soldiers.

The December 11 attack, which included at least one suicide car bombing, came as the United States last week resumed talks with the Taliban -- three months after President Donald Trump abruptly halted negotiations to end the 18-year war.

“When I met the Talibs today, I expressed outrage about yesterday’s attack on Bagram, which recklessly killed two and wounded dozens of civilians,” the Afghan-born U.S. diplomat tweeted. “#Taliban must show they are willing & able to respond to Afghan desire for peace.”

Therefore, Khalilzad said, “We’re taking a brief pause for them to consult their leadership on this essential topic.”

The restart of talks had followed Trump's surprise Thanksgiving visit to see U.S. troops in Afghanistan on November 28, when he voiced hope that "the Taliban wants to make a deal and we are meeting with them."

Hague International Court Hears Afghanistan Probe Appeal

The hearing at the International Criminal Court is to last three days.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has started hearing an appeal against an earlier decision to reject a request to open an investigation into possible war crimes and other abuses committed during the conflict in Afghanistan.

Fergal Gaynor, a lawyer representing 82 alleged Afghan victims, told the IC'’s Appeals Chamber in The Hague on December 4 that the court was "the only jurisdiction in the world...that can offer the victims a prompt and impartial investigation into the brutal crimes committed against them."

Calling the three-day hearings "an historic day for accountability in Afghanistan," Gaynor said his clients were "united" in wanting an investigation.

Jay Sekulow, one of U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyers, is to address the five-judge panel later in the day.

He has said he intends to defend the interests of members of the U.S. military "who sacrifice everything to defend us."

In April, judges unanimously turned down a request made by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to proceed with a probe into crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban, Afghan security forces, and the U.S. military and intelligence agencies.

In a ruling condemned by victims and rights groups, the judges said that an inquiry "would not serve the interests of justice" because it would likely fail due to lack of cooperation.

Human Rights Watch warned that the decision "sends a dangerous message to perpetrators that they can put themselves beyond the reach of the law just by being uncooperative."

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the ruling, calling it "a major international victory…for the rule of law."

In November 2017, Bensouda asked judges to initiate an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since May 2003.

Washington has said it would revoke or deny visas to ICC staff seeking to investigate the allegations of abuses.

The United States is among dozens of countries that have not ratified the Rome treaty that established the ICC in 2002.

U.S. forces and other foreign troops intervened in Afghanistan 18 years ago following the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and overthrew the Taliban government.

There are roughly 13,000 U.S. troops in the country, as well as European forces participating in the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.

More than 32,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict, according to the United Nations.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Afghan Official Banned For Failing To Report Sexual Abuse

Afghan women's football team (file photo)

Former Afghan football official Mohammad Hanif Sediqi Rustam has been banned from the sport for five years and fined 10,000 Swiss francs after being found guilty by FIFA's ethics committee of violations relating to the abuse of female players.

FIFA said Sediqi Rustam was a former assistant to former Afghanistan Football Federation president Keramuudin Karim who was banned for life in June and fined about $1 million following complaints lodged by several Afghan female players.

FIFA said that Sediqi Rustam "was aware of such abuse" and had the duty to report it and prevent it.

At least five Afghan players accused Karim of repeated sexual abuse in 2013-2018.

Afghan authorities in June issued an arrest warrant for Karim in connection with the allegations. Karim's whereabouts weren't immediately known.

With reporting by Reuters

Afghan Officials Say IS Militants Surrender After Defeat In Nangarhar

Afghan security personnel escort arrested alleged Taliban and Islamic State militants during an operation in Jalalabad on October 1.

Afghan military officials say 113 members of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group surrendered to Afghan government forces on December 1 in the Achin district of Nangarhar Province.

A statement from the 201st Corps of the Afghan National Army said those who surrendered included 49 IS fighters along with 21 women thought to be the wives of IS fighters and 43 children.

The statement said IS militants also handed over 35 weapons to the security forces.

Dozens of IS fighters and their families have been living in the Shinwari district and other nearby areas of Nangarhar Province since the group announced its presence in Afghanistan in 2014.

Those areas are mostly between the Afghan city of Jalalabad and the nearby border with Pakistan.

IS militants have fought against both Taliban militants and Afghan government forces in Afghanistan, as well as claiming responsibility for numerous bomb attacks against civilians in the country.

In recent months, Afghan government forces have been conducting operations against the IS extremists in the Achin district. Afghan officials say that offensive formally ended on November 30.

They say more than 1,000 IS fighters and their family members have surrendered since the offensive began.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently said during a recent visit to Nangarhar Province that IS extremists have been defeated in the area.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, AP, and AIP

High-Ranking Taliban Official Killed In Northern Afghanistan

FILE: Militants surrender to Afghan forces in Jowzjan.

A high-ranking Taliban official has been killed in clashes with security forces in Jowzjan Province in Afghanistan’s north, a local official said.

Qari Nuriddin and his four bodyguards were killed in the district of Mengajik, where the militant group has a strong presence, provincial government spokesman Abdul Maaruf Azar said on November 30.

Four other militants were wounded in the clashes that erupted overnight, the spokesman told RFE/RL.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.

Azar also confirmed local reports that more than 25 members of the Taliban in Mengajik had recently cut ties with the militant group to return to civilian life.

Azar told RFE/RL that all of them were young men from the Mengajik district.

Most of them had left fror Iran and Turkey in search of work, Azar said. He didn't provide further details.

Senior Afghan Military Commander Killed In Helmand Province

FILE: An Afghan army soldier in Helmand.

A senior border commander from the Afghan National Army has been killed in an explosion in southern Helmand Province, Afghan officials said.

General Zahir Gul Moqbil's vehicle struck a roadside bomb on November 30 in an area between the Nawa and Marja districts, provincial Governor Mohammad Yasin said.

Moqbil had been commander for the past five years, according to Helmand police spokesman Zaman Hamdard.

Two other security officers were wounded in the attack, the head of the Media and Public Relations Office in Helmand, Zahid Atal, told RFE/RL.

A local reporter with Shamshad TV was also injured in the blast. Several other journalists, including an RFE/RL reporter, who were accompanying Afghan security forces at the time of the blast were not hurt.

Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The militant group controls most districts in Helmand.

With reporting by AP and dpa

Thousands Rally In Kabul To Condemn Electoral 'Fraud'

Supporters of presidential contender Abdullah Abdullah rally in Kabul on November 29.

KABUL -- Thousands of supporters of Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have marched in Kabul in a rally the organizers said was aimed at condemning and preventing electoral fraud.

Large crowds of people, including women, marched from different parts of the capital before gathering in central Pashtunistan Square in front of the Presidential Palace, despite an earlier warning from the city police not to rally near the site.

Abdullah's Stability and Convergence Team, the organizer of the rally, demands the Independent Election Commission (IEC) annul about 300,000 votes the group deems "fraudulent."

Protest leaders said they will organize more rallies if their demands are not met.

A statement read at the gathering called for the international community and the IEC to hear the "people's voice."

"We will defend their rights," it added.

Two months after the September 28 presidential election, preliminary results have still not been announced by the IEC. The announcement of the election results has been postponed at least twice, fueling allegations of fraud and more uncertainty in the war-torn country.

A vote recount has been delayed by members of Abdullah's campaign team who have shut down election centers in several provinces.

The delay marks a further blow to an already delayed tally in a crucial election for the South Asian country as it tries to quell multiple insurgencies, with the help of U.S. and other foreign troops, and recover from decades of conflict.

The election was mired by record-low turnout and bickering between the incumbent, President Ashraf Ghani, and his main election rival, Abdullah.

At Least 22 People Killed Northern Afghan Blast, Attack

The Khan Abad district of Kunduz (file photo)

At least 22 people, including 15 civilians, have been killed in the past 24 hours in two different incidents in Afghanistan’s north, officials say.

In the province of Kunduz, 15 people, including eight children, were killed and two others wounded when their vehicle hit a roadside mine on November 27.

The victims were traveling to attend a wedding ceremony in Khan Abad district, according to provincial Governor Abdul Jabbar Naeemi.

The official said the mine was planted by the Taliban, which didn’t immediately comment. The region is the scene of regular clashes between Taliban fighters and Afghan forces.

The Taliban attacked the provincial capital, also called Kunduz, in early September, but failed to capture it.

Last month, the United Nationals Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it was "gravely concerned about the unprecedented levels of violence harming civilians" in the first nine months of this year.

UNAMA recorded 2,563 deaths and 5,676 injured from January to September.

In the province of Takhar, at least seven security troops were killed and 10 wounded in a militant attack on two military bases, local councilors Mohammad Azam Afzali and Yaqoob Nazari said on November 28.

The officials said that the bases, located in the Darqad district, were not sufficiently fortified.

Security forces recently recaptured Darqad from the Taliban, which had the district under its control for nearly two months.

The officials said the militant group still had a presence in the outskirts of the district.

Based on reporting by AFP, dpa, and Tolo News

Afghanistan Urged To Release Men Who Exposed Pedophile Ring

Afghanistan's main intelligence agency "arbitrarily detained" two human rights defenders last week after they exposed alleged sexual abuse against children, Amnesty International says.

In a statement on November 25, the London-based human rights watchdog said Musa Mahmudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi were detained by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) on November 21 when they were on their way to meet with the European Union ambassador in Kabul.

The NDS must release the two men immediately, the statement said, adding that they “are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment” while in custody.

Both Mahmudi and Hamidi are well-known human rights defenders from Logar Province, south of Kabul, according to Amnesty.

It said the pair started receiving threats, including from local officials in Logar, after they gave interviews to the Afghan media outlet TOLO News and the British newspaper The Guardian earlier this month about a pedophile ring in the region.

At least 546 boys from six schools have allegedly been abused and some of the victims have been murdered, The Guardian reported, adding that rights campaigners had uncovered more than 100 videos of the abuse.

Authorities have not confirmed the allegations.

But Didar Lawang, spokesman for Logar’s governor, confirmed Mahmudi's arrest, telling AFP it occurred "after the people of Logar asked the government to arrest him and question him about a pedophile ring in schools."

“Rather than punishing [Mahmudi and Hamidi] for speaking out against these horrific crimes, the authorities should praise them for their work and hold the suspected perpetrators accountable through fair trials and without recourse to the death penalty,” said Samira Hamidi, South Asia campaigner at Amnesty.

The ancient practice of "bacha bazi" -- literally, dancing boys -- is common in Afghanistan among wealthy and powerful men who exploit underage boys as sexual partners.

With reporting by AFP

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