TIME Afghanistan

Taliban Bombings, Gunfight Near Afghan Presidential Candidate’s House

An Afghan policeman stands guard near the site of an attack in Kabul
An Afghan policeman stands guard near the site of an attack in Kabul, March 25, 2014. Zohra Bensemra—Reuters

Militants have attacked a provincial election office in the capital, Kabul, adjacent to the home of leading presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, as the Taliban ramps up a promised wave of violence ahead of the country's vote on April 5

Taliban militants attacked an election office in the Afghan capital Tuesday next to the home of one of the country’s leading presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani.

Ghani was not in the house, which is adjacent to a provincial election office, at the time of the attack but his family was home and the house was hit during the assault, an aide said. There are no reports of casualties, Reuters reports.

At least two suicide bombings on the election office were followed by a lengthy gun battle between the Taliban and Afghan security forces. The Taliban, which claimed credit for the attack, has promised bombings and assassinations in the run up to Afghanistan’s April 5 presidential elections. With outgoing president Hamid Karzai barred from running for another term, the election is set to be the country’s first-ever democratic transfer of power.

Ghani, a former World Bank official, said on Twitter that his family was not harmed in the attack.


TIME Afghanistan

AFP Reporter Sardar Ahmad Killed in Kabul

Afghanistan's interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi shows pictures of Taliban insurgents that were killed last night in a luxury hotel in Kabul March 21, 2014. Omar Sobhani—Reuters

Sardar Ahmad, a veteran Afghan reporter with AFP, was killed along with his wife and two of their children by gunmen at the luxe Serena Hotel in the capital's center, the latest attack to underscore rampant security issues ahead of the April elections

A journalist for Agence France-Presse was killed along with his wife and two children in Afghanistan on Thursday evening, the latest in a string of brazen attacks in the run-up to general elections on April 5.

Sardar Ahmad, 40, was at Kabul’s Serena hotel when four gunmen opened fire on staff and guests enjoying dinner, killing nine civilians including four foreigners, AFP reports. The Taliban was quick to claim responsibility. Ahmad’s youngest son reportedly survived the attack and has undergone emergency treatment at a hospital in the city. Ahmad, an Afghan national who also ran the Kabul Pressistan media company, joined AFP in 2003 and became its senior staff reporter in the capital.

The bloodshed at a luxury hotel in the city center is the latest such incident as Afghanistan’s polls approach. On March 11, British-Swedish journalist Nils Horner, 52, was shot dead in broad daylight in a street in the supposedly secure diplomatic district.


TIME Afghanistan

Nine Dead in a Hotel Bloodbath: Welcome to Campaign Season in Kabul

An Afghan security personnel keeps watch near the Serena hotel, during an attack in Kabul
An Afghan soldier keeps watch near the Serena hotel, during an attack in Kabul, March 20, 2014. Taliban gunmen claimed nine lives. Ahmad Masood—Reuters

Four gunmen with pistols in their boots passed through security undetected at the Serena hotel in Afghanistan's capital to kill nine its worst attack in years, the latest in a string of high-profile targets that have cast a grim shadow over the upcoming elections

Four gunmen passed through heavy security at a luxury hotel in central Kabul on Thursday evening, opening fire on guests and staff and killing nine civilians, including four foreigners, according to officials in Kabul on Friday morning. At least four others were also injured in the attack.

Police say the four young men had hidden pistols in their boots and passed through security at the Serena hotel undetected. The government says they hid out in the hotel for hours before about 9 p.m., when guests reported hearing several gunshots. All four gunmen were killed.

The Serena is popular with foreigners, diplomats and affluent Afghans and, despite heavy security, has been the target of attacks before.

The Taliban was quick to claim responsibility for the attack, which comes just weeks before Afghans are due to go to the polls on Apr. 5 to elect a new president. On Mar. 10, the militant group vowed to use “all force” to disrupt the elections, claiming that whoever succeeded President Hamid Karzai would be a proxy for the United States. “It is the religious obligation of every Afghan to fulfill their duty by foiling the latest plot of the invaders that is [disguised] in the garb of elections,” the statement said.

(MORE: AFP Reporter Killed in Serena Hotel attack)

According to AFP, earlier in the day the Taliban attacked a police station in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 18. In a three-hour siege of the station in the middle of the city, ten police officers and one civilian were killed, along with the seven suicide attackers.

A string of recent attacks on high-profile targets, including security installations and foreigners, has cast a shadow over what will be the country’s first democratic transfer of power since 2001. In January, Taliban fighters stormed a popular Lebanese restaurant in a diplomatic enclave in Kabul, killing 21, mostly foreigners. Earlier this month, Swedish journalist Nils Horner was murdered in the same area. (A Taliban splinter group claimed responsibility for that attack.)

Election-related violence has also been on the upswing in recent weeks. As the presidential candidates hold rallies around the nation, several campaigners have been killed and injured. On Mar. 12, four members of the Independent Election Commission were kidnapped in eastern Nangarhar province next door to Pakistan. The last presidential elections in 2009 were marred by fraud, violence and voter intimidation.

The growing state of insecurity ahead of this vote will once again keep many voters in unstable parts of the country away from the polls. It also opens up the doors for more foul play, which will ultimately weaken the mandate of whatever government comes to power, says Wahid Mozhda, an analyst and former foreign ministry official in the Taliban government. “If no monitors can go watch, people can stuff boxes.” He says in 2009, political forces – not just the Taliban – were involved in the intimidation of civilians to disrupt the vote, and expects worse this time around.

TIME Afghanistan

Gunmen Storm Luxury Hotel in Kabul

An Afghan policeman stands guard near the security perimeter setup around the Serena hotel in Kabul late on March 21, 2014. Shah Marai—AFP/Getty Images

Authorities say four assailants were killed and there were no known other deaths. The Kabul hotel, which regularly houses foreign delegations, is hosting United Nations staffers in the country to monitor upcoming elections

Gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Kabul on Thursday in the most recent attack on foreigners, but authorities say four assailants were killed and there were no known other deaths.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told Reuters that two guards were injured at the Serena hotel, in the center of the capital. He said the attackers, who appeared younger than 18, entered with pistols in their socks and waited three hours before firing their weapons.

The hotel regularly houses foreign delegations and is currently hosting United Nations staffers in the country to monitor upcoming elections, according to BBC.

In January, a bomb killed 21 people at a restaurant popular among foreigners, shattering a sense of relative security for foreigners in the Afghan capital. Earlier this month, a British-Swedish journalist was shot dead in broad daylight in Kabul.



10 Dead in Coordinated Attacks in Eastern Afghanistan

Afghan policemen remove the dead body of a Taliban insurgent from the site of a suicide car bomb attack in Jalalabad province, March 20, 2014.
Afghan policemen remove the dead body of a Taliban insurgent from the site of a suicide car bomb attack in Jalalabad province, March 20, 2014. Parwiz—Reuters

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a series of coordinated, deadly attacks on a police compound in Jalalabad, just weeks before the presidential elections. The provincial governor said the attacks "will not weaken our morale"

Militants in eastern Afghanistan launched a brazen series of pre-dawn attacks on Thursday at a police facility in Jalalabad, leaving 10 officers dead.

The attack, which killed the district police chief and wounded 14 officers, began at about 5 a.m. when a car laden with explosives breached the gate of the police headquarters, the New York Times reports. After the initial blast, six bombers stormed the facility. Government officials said two were killed before they could detonate their explosives, but the others managed to ignite their devices. That kicked off a three-hour gun battle inside the compound.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack that comes weeks before the presidential elections on April 5, which it has vowed to disrupt. Militants have carried out attacks against civilians in recent weeks, but government officials publicly insist they won’t be intimidated as candidates travel the country before the ballot. “Such attacks on our security forces will not weaken our morale,” Attullah Lodin, Nangarhar Province’s governor, told the Times. “I assure you that we continue to fight the enemies.”

Thursday’s attack underscores critical security issues ahead of the planned withdrawal of foreign forces at the end of the year. The United States has discussed keeping thousands of troops in Afghanistan, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement and will leave it to his successor.



Woman Loses 100 Pounds For Soldier Husband’s Return Home

When Larry Shaffer left for Afghanistan, his high school sweetheart Misty weighed about 260 pounds. When he returned after a year, she was less than 155 pounds

When Larry Shaffer returned from Afghanistan, he had no idea of the surprise awaiting him at home.

When Shaffer left, his high school sweetheart weighed about 260 pounds. When he returned after a year, she was less than 155 pounds. At the airport, Misty Shaffer, 25, just ran and jumped into her Army specialist husband’s arms. It was the first time he’d been able to lift her.

He said just one word: “Wow.”

Misty Shaffer said that she decided to lose weight because she wanted to surprise her husband and have a better life.

“I just sat in bed one night and was like, ‘I can do this,'” she told CNN. “‘I need to do this.'”

Watch the video above for the details.

TIME Afghanistan

Karzai: We Don’t Need U.S. Troops In Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, inspects a guard of honour as he arrives to deliver his final address in parliament in Kabul on March 15, 2014. Wakil Kohsar—AFP/Getty Images

Afghanistan's outgoing president said the Afghan military is ready to handle security missions without the help of the United States and reiterated his opposition to a deal that would allow a residual American force to remain in the country

Afghan President Hamid Karzai signaled his defiance of the United States in his final address before the country’s parliament Saturday, claiming U.S. troops are not needed in Afghanistan as his military is ready to take over entirely.

Karzai also reiterated that he would not sign a security agreement with the United States that would allow American soldiers to stay in Afghanistan to help train and mentor Afghan troops and hunt down al-Qaeda, the Associated Press reports. The outgoing president has come under heavy pressure from the United States and other nations, as well as a council of notable Afghanis, to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement.

“I want to say to all those foreign countries who maybe out of habit or because they want to interfere, that they should not interfere,” said Karzai on Saturday.

Karzai has been president of his embattled country since December 2001, and last won a presidential election in 2009. He has increasingly been at odds with the United States, opposing U.S. military operations against the Taliban even as it ramped up attacks and civilian killings in recent months.

His refusal to sign a security agreement with the United States may be futile, however, as all 10 candidates seeking the presidency in April 5 elections have said they will sign the agreement.


TIME press freedom

Western Journalist Shot Dead in Afghanistan

Swedish journalist Nils Horner.
Swedish journalist Nils Horner. Mattias Ahlm—Sveriges Radio/EPA

Nils Horner, the South Asia correspondent for Swedish Radio, was reportedly shot dead by gunmen in broad daylight—a rare, brazen attack on a foreigner near the city's diplomatic district

A British-Swedish journalist was shot dead in Kabul on Tuesday, in a brazen attack in a busy section of the city that many worry is a harbinger of future security issues in Afghanistan’s capital.

Nils Horner, 52, the South Asia correspondent for Swedish Radio, was killed assassination-style by a pair of gunmen in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, an area populated with embassies, western nongovernmental organizations and journalists, the Washington Post reports. Afghan police said Horner, who was identified by the Swedish embassy, was on his way to visit a Lebanese restaurant Taverna du Liban that was bombed in January, killing 21 people, mostly foreigners.

Horner had spoken to the news desk earlier in the morning, Anne Lagercrantz, head of news at Swedish Radio, told the AP. Upon seeing the news that a foreign journalist had been shot, staffers aimed to contact their colleague by email but received no response. When they called his cell phone, Lagercrantz added, a doctor answered to say Horner was the victim.

Cilla Benkö, the chief executive of Swedish Radio, confirmed initial reports that gunmen shot Horner in the back of the head and fled the scene. Horner was taken to the hospital where he died from his injuries, the Post reports. Afghan police said two suspects had been arrested.

Benkö said Horner always took the appropriate safety precautions in these types of reporting situations. “This was his life,” he said. “He didn’t want to do anything else.”

During an interview in 2011, Horner, who was known for coverage from Afghanistan in 2001, Baghdad in 2003 and Thailand following the tsunami in 2004, elaborated about the risks of radio field reporting: “We don’t feel the same pressure to always be in the middle of a firefight, or something like that, but of course we want to be as close as possible,” he said. “You almost have to sort of, everyday, ask yourself is this worth doing—taking the risk—or is it not?”

Although Kabul has often been the scene of bomb attacks on government buildings, the city has rarely seen such an attack on a civilian in broad daylight, on the edges of an area the Guardian describes as “the heavily fortified diplomatic district.” A Taliban spokesman said the group was not claiming responsibility, but that they would speak with insurgent groups who may have been responsible for Horner’s killing.

[Washington Post]

TIME Afghanistan

Taliban Order Fighters To Disrupt Afghan Elections

Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in April

The Afghan Taliban issued a warning on Monday against anyone taking part in the upcoming presidential elections on April 5, ordering their fighters to “use all force” to disrupt the polling.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in a statement that the group is telling clerics across the country to inform locals that the election is “an American conspiracy,” the Associated Press reports.

“We have given orders to all our mujahadeen to use all forces at their disposal to disrupt these upcoming sham election to target all its workers, activists, callers, security apparatus and offices,” the statement said. It also advised Afghans to not put themselves in danger by going to the polls.

Several incidents of campaign-related violence have been reported in the last month, with the Taliban taking responsibility for some of the attacks. President Hamid Karzai, who became leader following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, is barred from running for a third term.


TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Vice President Dies from Illness

In this Sept. 22, 2011 file photo, Afghanistan’s Vice President Field Marshal Mohammed Qasim Fahim attends a press conference honoring former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul, Afghanistan Kamran Jebreili—AP

Afghanistan's government announced on Sunday that Mohammed Qasim Fahim, who served as the head of the the nation’s intelligence service in the 1990s, and was appointed as first Vice President in 2009, has died of natural causes

Afghan Vice President Marshal Mohammed Qasim Fahim has died of natural causes, the government announced on Sunday, and three national days of mourning will be observed.

The official Twitter account of Aimal Faizi, the spokesperson of President Hamid Karzai, stated that Kabul has called for the flag to be flown at half-mast during that time.

Fahim, 56, was reportedly suffering from diabetes and died as a result of illness at his home in Kabul, according to Tolo News. AFP reports Fahim was labeled a “ruthless strongman” who received U.S. support after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

According to an official biography, Fahim was born in 1957 in Panjshir province in northern Afghanistan. He fought against the nation’s Soviet occupation alongside military leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. Fahim served as the head of the the nation’s intelligence service in the 1990s, and was appointed as first Vice President in 2009.

His death comes ahead of the planned withdrawal of most foreign troops in December, and less than a month before Afghanistan’s national elections take place. Voters are due to decide a replacement for the mercurial Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from running for another term.

President candidates Ashraf Ghani and Zalmai Rassoul both quickly expressed their condolences on Twitter. “I am deeply saddened & shocked by the news of Marshal Qasim Fahim, 1st VP’s, passing. My heartfelt condolences with his family and #Afg ppl,” wrote Rassoul, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs who stepped down from office to run for president this year.


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