In 2015, the Islamic State in Khorasan was officially established in Afghanistan’s east by former members of the Pakistani Taliban. The group’s ideology took hold partly because many villages there are inhabited by Salafi Muslims, the same branch of Sunni Islam as the Islamic State. A minority among the Taliban, who mostly follow the Hanafi school, Salafi fighters were eager to join the new terrorist group.

The draw of young fighters to the Islamic State is especially pronounced in Jalalabad, where Salafi mosques have sprung up in growing numbers in recent years, providing ample recruiting grounds for the terrorist group.

The Taliban have made a show of openness to the Salafists, accepting a pledge of allegiance from some Salafi clerics earlier this month. But there is still widespread unease within their community, especially in Jalalabad.

At one Salafi religious school in the city, the Taliban cracked down on the ideology by forcing the school’s founder to flee. They have allowed boys to continue their Quranic studies but have banned Salafist works from the curriculum.

For Faraidoon Momand, a former member of the Afghan government and a local power broker in Jalalabad, the worsening economic situation in the country is also driving the Islamic State’s recruitment.

“In every society if the economy is bad, people will do what they have to do to get by,” Mr. Momand said.

As dusk fell over Jalalabad on a recent day in October, a unit of Taliban fighters belonging to the intelligence agency rode through the streets in a modified Toyota pickup, a machine gun mounted in its bed, as the streets filled with commuters and evening shoppers.

The Talibs pulled up at key intersections and checkpoints, jumping out and assisting with the screening of cars and the ubiquitous yellow three-wheeled rickshaws that jostle and honk as they throng streets. They poked their heads in, shining flashlights inside, questioning passengers, and waved them on.

“We have a court for every criminal,” said Abdullah Ghorzang, a Taliban commander. “But there is no court for ISIS-K. They will be killed wherever they are arrested.”

Victor J. Blue reported from Jalalabad, Afghanistan; Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Doha, Qatar, and Christina Goldbaum from Kabul. Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt from Washington; Safiullah Padshah from Jalalabad; and Sami Sahak from Los Angeles.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

In US Drone Strike, Evidence Suggests No ISIS Bomb

[explosion] In one of the final acts of its 20-year war in Afghanistan, the United States fired a missile from a drone at a car in Kabul. It was parked in the courtyard of a home, and the explosion killed 10 people, including 43-year-old Zemari Ahmadi and seven children, according to his family. The Pentagon claimed that Ahmadi was a facilitator for the Islamic State, and that his car was packed with explosives, posing an imminent threat to U.S. troops guarding the evacuation at the Kabul airport. “The procedures were correctly followed, and it was a righteous strike.” What the military apparently didn’t know was that Ahmadi was a longtime aid worker, who colleagues and family members said spent the hours before he died running office errands, and ended his day by pulling up to his house. Soon after, his Toyota was hit with a 20-pound Hellfire missile. What was interpreted as the suspicious moves of a terrorist may have just been an average day in his life. And it’s possible that what the military saw Ahmadi loading into his car were water canisters he was bringing home to his family — not explosives. Using never-before seen security camera footage of Ahmadi, interviews with his family, co-workers and witnesses, we will piece together for the first time his movements in the hours before he was killed. Zemari Ahmadi was an electrical engineer by training. For 14 years, he had worked for the Kabul office of Nutrition and Education International. “NEI established a total of 11 soybean processing plants in Afghanistan.” It’s a California based NGO that fights malnutrition. On most days, he drove one of the company’s white Toyota corollas, taking his colleagues to and from work and distributing the NGO’s food to Afghans displaced by the war. Only three days before Ahmadi was killed, 13 U.S. troops and more than 170 Afghan civilians died in an Islamic State suicide attack at the airport. The military had given lower-level commanders the authority to order airstrikes earlier in the evacuation, and they were bracing for what they feared was another imminent attack. To reconstruct Ahmadi’s movements on Aug. 29, in the hours before he was killed, The Times pieced together the security camera footage from his office, with interviews with more than a dozen of Ahmadi’s colleagues and family members. Ahmadi appears to have left his home around 9 a.m. He then picked up a colleague and his boss’s laptop near his house. It’s around this time that the U.S. military claimed it observed a white sedan leaving an alleged Islamic State safehouse, around five kilometers northwest of the airport. That’s why the U.S. military said they tracked Ahmadi’s Corolla that day. They also said they intercepted communications from the safehouse, instructing the car to make several stops. But every colleague who rode with Ahmadi that day said what the military interpreted as a series of suspicious moves was just a typical day in his life. After Ahmadi picked up another colleague, the three stopped to get breakfast, and at 9:35 a.m., they arrived at the N.G.O.’s office. Later that morning, Ahmadi drove some of his co-workers to a Taliban-occupied police station to get permission for future food distribution at a new displacement camp. At around 2 p.m., Ahmadi and his colleagues returned to the office. The security camera footage we obtained from the office is crucial to understanding what happens next. The camera’s timestamp is off, but we went to the office and verified the time. We also matched an exact scene from the footage with a timestamp satellite image to confirm it was accurate. A 2:35 p.m., Ahmadi pulls out a hose, and then he and a co-worker fill empty containers with water. Earlier that morning, we saw Ahmadi bring these same empty plastic containers to the office. There was a water shortage in his neighborhood, his family said, so he regularly brought water home from the office. At around 3:38 p.m., a colleague moves Ahmadi’s car further into the driveway. A senior U.S. official told us that at roughly the same time, the military saw Ahmadi’s car pull into an unknown compound 8 to 12 kilometers southwest of the airport. That overlaps with the location of the NGO’s office, which we believe is what the military called an unknown compound. With the workday ending, an employee switched off the office generator and the feed from the camera ends. We don’t have footage of the moments that followed. But it’s at this time, the military said that its drone feed showed four men gingerly loading wrapped packages into the car. Officials said they couldn’t tell what was inside them. This footage from earlier in the day shows what the men said they were carrying — their laptops one in a plastic shopping bag. And the only things in the trunk, Ahmadi’s co-workers said, were the water containers. Ahmadi dropped each one of them off, then drove to his home in a dense neighborhood near the airport. He backed into the home’s small courtyard. Children surrounded the car, according to his brother. A U.S. official said the military feared the car would leave again, and go into an even more crowded street or to the airport itself. The drone operators, who hadn’t been watching Ahmadi’s home at all that day, quickly scanned the courtyard and said they saw only one adult male talking to the driver and no children. They decided this was the moment to strike. A U.S. official told us that the strike on Ahmadi’s car was conducted by an MQ-9 Reaper drone that fired a single Hellfire missile with a 20-pound warhead. We found remnants of the missile, which experts said matched a Hellfire at the scene of the attack. In the days after the attack, the Pentagon repeatedly claimed that the missile strike set off other explosions, and that these likely killed the civilians in the courtyard. “Significant secondary explosions from the targeted vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.” “Because there were secondary explosions, there’s a reasonable conclusion to be made that there was explosives in that vehicle.” But a senior military official later told us that it was only possible to probable that explosives in the car caused another blast. We gathered photos and videos of the scene taken by journalists and visited the courtyard multiple times. We shared the evidence with three weapons experts who said the damage was consistent with the impact of a Hellfire missile. They pointed to the small crater beneath Ahmadi’s car and the damage from the metal fragments of the warhead. This plastic melted as a result of a car fire triggered by the missile strike. All three experts also pointed out what was missing: any evidence of the large secondary explosions described by the Pentagon. No collapsed or blown-out walls, including next to the trunk with the alleged explosives. No sign that a second car parked in the courtyard was overturned by a large blast. No destroyed vegetation. All of this matches what eyewitnesses told us, that a single missile exploded and triggered a large fire. There is one final detail visible in the wreckage: containers identical to the ones that Ahmadi and his colleague filled with water and loaded into his trunk before heading home. Even though the military said the drone team watched the car for eight hours that day, a senior official also said they weren’t aware of any water containers. The Pentagon has not provided The Times with evidence of explosives in Ahmadi’s vehicle or shared what they say is the intelligence that linked him to the Islamic State. But the morning after the U.S. killed Ahmadi, the Islamic State did launch rockets at the airport from a residential area Ahmadi had driven through the previous day. And the vehicle they used … … was a white Toyota. The U.S. military has so far acknowledged only three civilian deaths from its strike, and says there is an investigation underway. They have also admitted to knowing nothing about Ahmadi before killing him, leading them to interpret the work of an engineer at a U.S. NGO as that of an Islamic State terrorist. Four days before Ahmadi was killed, his employer had applied for his family to receive refugee resettlement in the United States. At the time of the strike, they were still awaiting approval. Looking to the U.S. for protection, they instead became some of the last victims in America’s longest war. “Hi, I’m Evan, one of the producers on this story. Our latest visual investigation began with word on social media of an explosion near Kabul airport. It turned out that this was a U.S. drone strike, one of the final acts in the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Our goal was to fill in the gaps in the Pentagon’s version of events. We analyzed exclusive security camera footage, and combined it with eyewitness accounts and expert analysis of the strike aftermath. You can see more of our investigations by signing up for our newsletter.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

U.S. War in Afghanistan Ends as Final Evacuation Flights Depart

The last United States forces left Afghanistan late Monday, ending a 20-year occupation that began shortly after Al Qaeda’s attacks on 9/11, cost over $2 trillion, took more than 170,000 lives and ultimately failed to defeat the Taliban, the Islamist militants who allowed Al Qaeda to operate there.

Five American C-17 cargo jets flew out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul just before midnight, the officials said, completing a hasty evacuation that left behind tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to flee the country, including former members of the security forces and many who held valid visas to enter the United States.

“A new chapter of America’s engagement with Afghanistan has begun,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Monday evening. “It’s one in which we will lead with our diplomacy. The military mission is over.”

But the war prosecuted by four presidents over two decades, which gave Afghans a shot at democracy and freed many women to pursue education and careers, failed in nearly every other goal. Ultimately, the Americans handed the country back to the same militants they drove from power in 2001.

scenes of mass desperation and carnage this past week became indelible images of the Americans’ final days, only a few hundred Afghans still waited at the gates on Monday night as the last flights departed.

Bin Laden was killed by an American SEAL team in Pakistan in 2011.

But the United States, confident it had routed the Taliban, refused their entreaties for a negotiated surrender and plowed ahead with an enormous effort to not only drive them out but to construct a Western-style democracy in Afghanistan. The lengthy occupation allowed the Taliban to regroup, casting itself as the national resistance to the American invaders and, three American presidents later, driving them out in a war of attrition, much as Afghans had done to the Soviets in the 1980s.

The United States departure was marred by a ghastly burst of civilian casualties that seemed emblematic of the American missteps in the war.

A drone strike that the U.S. military said was aimed at thwarting an attack on the airport killed 10 civilians, survivors said, including seven children, an aid worker for an American charity organization, and a contractor with the U.S. military.

according to Brown University’s Cost of War project — approached the number of dead fighters.

The Taliban gave few signs on Monday that they were ready to govern a country of nearly 40 million facing a major humanitarian crisis, with about half the population malnourished, according to the United Nations.

a suicide attack that killed more than 170 people, including 13 American service members, at the airport on Thursday.

The spokesman, Capt. Bill Urban, said that the military was investigating the claims of civilian casualties, and suggested that any civilian deaths may have resulted from the detonation of the explosives in the vehicle. The New York Times could not independently verify whether the American missile strike killed the 10 civilians.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

In the final hours of the evacuation, American surveillance and attack aircraft locked down the skies over Kabul, circling high overhead until the last transport plane was aloft.

“Job well done,” said Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne, who was on the last plane out. “Proud of you all.”

A military official said that every American who wanted to leave and could get to the airport was taken out. But a number of Americans, thought to be fewer than 300, remain, either by choice or because they were unable to reach the airport.

But the evacuation did not reach all those Afghans who had assisted the United States over the years, and who now face possible Taliban retribution. An unknown number of those who made it through the tortuous process for special visas granted to American collaborators never even made it to the airport, much less onto an evacuation flight.

“Because I worked with the Americans, I won’t be able to put food on my table, and I won’t be able to live in Afghanistan,” said one special visa holder, Hamayoon, in an interview on Monday from Kabul. “I risked my life for many years, working for the Americans, and now my life is at even greater risk.”

a deadly Taliban attack in 2016, were also left behind. Some 600 hundred students and relatives had boarded buses to the airport but in the end were not cleared to enter the airport gates.

Mr. Blinken said the United States had “worked intensely” to evacuate Afghans who worked with the Americans and were at risk of reprisal.

“We’ve gotten many out but many are still there,” he said. “We will keep working to help them. Our commitment to them has no deadline.”

He also said that the Taliban had pledged to let anyone with proper documents “freely depart Afghanistan.”

Conditions are bound to get much worse soon, both in Kabul and across the country, U.N. officials warned. Food stocks will likely run out at the end of September, said Ramiz Alakbarov, the United Nation’s humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan.

The Taliban have promised amnesty to those who opposed them, but it is a promise they may not have the power to keep.

“The Taliban are going out of their way to emphasize the amnesty message,” the veteran diplomat said. “But they may not have full command and control.”

In Kabul, “we may be on the brink of an urban humanitarian catastrophe,” the diplomat said. “Prices are up. There are no salaries. At some point millions of people will reach desperation.”

Reporting was contributed by Jim Huylebroek, Matthieu Aikins, Najim Rahim, Helene Cooper, Fahim Abed, Lara Jakes and Farnaz Fassihi.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

U.S. Launches Strike on ISIS-K as Bombing’s Death Toll Soars

The U.S. military said on Friday night that it had launched its first reprisal strike for the devastating suicide bombing at Kabul’s airport the day before, using a drone to target and apparently kill a planner for the group that claimed responsibility for the deaths of as many as 170 civilians and 13 U.S. service members.

“U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner,” Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said in a statement, referring to the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, also known as Islamic State Khorasan.

“The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan,” Captain Urban said. “Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties.”

The attack at the airport on Thursday was one of the deadliest bombings in the nearly two decades since the U.S.-led invasion. American officials believe “another terror attack in Kabul is likely,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Friday afternoon. “The threat is ongoing and it is active. Our troops are still in danger.”

attack also killed 13 U.S. service members, and one of the first to be identified was Rylee McCollum, 20, a Marine who had been on his first overseas deployment, according to his father. He was one of 10 Marines, two soldiers, and one Navy medic killed in the attack, according to defense officials.

ISIS-K, instead saying it was just one. The explosion hit right near the airport’s Abbey Gate, at a security chokepoint that squeezed together an enormous crowd that U.S. troops were checking for entry.

It was not only fear that trimmed the crowd at the airport Friday, what had been a constant mass since the Taliban assumed power nearly two weeks ago. Taliban fighters with Kalashnikov rifles kept people farther away from the airport’s entrance gates, guarding checkpoints with trucks and at least one Humvee.

Flights to evacuate people already within the airport resumed soon after the bombing. But the airport itself was largely locked down on Friday.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

Both exercises — the walk and the nudging — are proving to be challenges. In the normally bustling and noisy Shahr-e Naw neighborhood, once alive with street vendors and jostling pedestrians, there is now an unsettling silence. And so far his encounters with the Taliban have not yielded the results he had hoped for.

on pace to fall well short of providing an exit for everyone who wants to leave.

That left Afghans scrambling to find a way out of the country.

In the southwest, thousands of people have been trying to flee into Pakistan, gathering daily near the Spin Boldak-Chaman border crossing, the only one designated for refugees. In the west, several thousand people a day are also crossing into Iran, U.N. officials said.

Daniel Victor, Zia ur-Rehman, Jim Huylebroek, Megan Specia, Fahim Abed, Jack Healy and Helene Cooper contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Suicide Bombers in Kabul Kill Dozens, Including 13 U.S. Troops

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two explosions killed dozens of people, including at least 13 U.S. troops, ripping through the crowds outside Afghanistan’s main airport on Thursday, just hours after Western governments had warned of an imminent Islamic State attack and told their people to stay away from the airport.

The attack, by at least two suicide bombers, struck at the only avenue of escape for the thousands of foreign nationals and tens — or hundreds — of thousands of their Afghan allies who are trying to flee the country following the Taliban takeover and ahead of the final withdrawal of U.S. troops, set for next Tuesday.

Afghan health officials gave varying estimates of the toll at the international airport in Kabul, the capital — from at least 30 dead to more than 60, and from 120 wounded to 140 — while a Taliban spokesman cited at least 13 civilians killed and 60 wounded.

Islamic State Khorasan, the terrorist branch known as ISIS-K.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks on behalf of its loyalists in Afghanistan.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

General McKenzie said it appeared that a suicide bomber, most likely wearing a concealed explosives vest, had made it through the checkpoints outside the airport, many of them run by Taliban soldiers, who are supposed to detect such attackers. He said he had no reason to believe that the Taliban, who are eager for the Americans to leave as quickly as possible, knowingly let the bomber through.

The chief Taliban spokesman, however, made a point of saying that the attack took place in an area where American forces controlled security.

The explosion hit at the airport gate, where U.S. troops screen people who are trying to get in. Gunfire followed, but it was not clear who was shooting. The general said American forces will work with the Taliban to keep crowds farther back from the airport gates, and to close some roads to thwart vehicle attacks.

“This is close-up war — the breath of the person you are searching is upon you,” General McKenzie said, adding, “I cannot tell you how impressed I am with the heroism” of the service members doing that perilous work.

“If we can find who’s associated with this, we will go after them,” he said.

Mr. Biden vowed, “we will respond with force and precision at our time” against the Islamic State leaders who ordered the attack. He added, “We have some reason to believe we know who they are.”

U.S. Marines at Abbey Gate had been working tirelessly for days, well aware that their time to help Afghans and U.S. citizens flee the country was running short as the Aug. 31 withdrawal date drew near. Ten of them were among the dead.

The State Department had identified about 6,000 Americans who were in Afghanistan on Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban began entering Kabul and the U.S.-backed president, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country. On Wednesday, the department said that figure was down to 1,500 and it was trying frantically to reach them all, telling them to get to the airport or sending helicopters to extract them.

But then the intelligence on an impending attack prompted the United States and NATO allies to tell people overnight not to approach the airport. Even so, by Thursday afternoon, the State Department said, about 500 more Americans had left the country, and hundreds more were awaiting evacuation, while some U.S. citizens had signaled that they do not intend to leave.

Early Friday morning, alarmed Kabul residents reported another series of explosions near the airport, setting off fears of another bombing attack. Taliban officials and Afghan journalists soon reported otherwise: It was the Americans, they said, destroying their own equipment as they prepared to leave Afghanistan.

Reporting was contributed by Jim Huylebroek, Victor Blue, Fahim Abed, Najim Rahim, Fatima Faizi, Helene Cooper, Michael Shear and Lara Jakes.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Taliban Promise Peace, but Doubt and Fear Persist

KABUL, Afghanistan — For the first time since retaking power in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s leaders on Tuesday sketched out what their control of the country could look like, promising peace at home and urging the world to look past their history of violence and repression.

“We don’t want Afghanistan to be a battlefield anymore — from today onward, war is over,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s longtime chief spokesman, in a news conference in Kabul, the capital.

Mr. Mujahid, a high-ranking leader, said the Taliban had declared a blanket amnesty, vowing no reprisals against former enemies. And the group has in some places appealed to civil servants — including women — to continue to go to work.

After days of uncertainty around the world over Afghanistan’s swift fall to a group notorious for its brutality, Mr. Mujahid’s words, delivered in a restrained tone, were a glimpse into a Taliban desire to portray themselves as ready to join the international mainstream.

frenzied rush to Kabul’s airport, which continued to be a scene of mass desperation and chaos two days after the Taliban entered the city. The group said its fighters were acting to restore order, but in some corners, they were also inflicting fear.

target of violence by the Taliban and other militants. Despite rampant fear about the Taliban’s intentions, the reporters directly challenged Mr. Mujahid’s promises.

“Do you think the people of Afghanistan will forgive you?” one reporter asked, noting the long campaign of Taliban bombings and attacks that claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives. Another noted that Mr. Mujahid sat in the same spot occupied until last week by a government spokesman who was assassinated by the Taliban.

Mr. Mujahid, responding patiently, allowed that civilian deaths had been “unfortunate,” but said such were the fortunes of war. “Our families also suffered,” he added.

chaos at the airport, where U.S. troops shot and killed at least two people on Monday and others fell to their deaths trying to cling to a U.S. military transport as it took off, there were reports of several more deaths on Tuesday. Tens of thousands of people have flooded the airport in waves, trying their luck for a flight to anywhere.

While American troops controlled a large part of the airport, the Taliban took control of the approaches to it, and at times beat people with rifle butts and clubs to force back the crowds trying to get in. It was not always clear whether they were attempting to prevent people from reaching the airport, or simply prevent another lethal crush.

President Biden faced mounting criticism in Washington, including from fellow Democrats, over the stunning lack of preparation for the lightning advance of the Taliban and the collapse of government resistance, leading to confused and halting efforts to get Americans and their Afghan allies out of the country. Republicans said Mr. Biden was in too much of a hurry to withdraw U.S. forces, although he had postponed the date set by President Trump, who struck a deal with the Taliban.

“We didn’t need to be in this position; we didn’t need to be seeing these scenes at Kabul airport with our Afghan friends climbing a C-17,” said Representative Jason Crow, a Democrat of Colorado and a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan.

declared on Twitter.

The Taliban attempted on Tuesday to project an image of being a force for stability, while tapping into the feared reputation their law enforcement and intelligence services acquired before the group was driven from power in 2001 by a U.S.-led invasion. The Taliban intelligence chief for Kabul made a statement telling looters that his group was watching and making arrests.

treatment of women and girls under a resurgent Taliban has been one of the most acute concerns raised by their opponents in Afghanistan and by international rights groups.

“There will be no violence against women, no prejudice against woman,” Mr. Mujahid said Tuesday. But his assurances were vague. Women, he said, would be allowed to work and study and study “within the bounds of Islamic law.”

Similarly, he said the new Taliban needs and wants a free and independent press, which the old Taliban never tolerated — as long as it upholds Islamic and national values.

Mujib Mashal reported from Kabul, and Richard Perez-Peña from New York. Carlotta Gall and Ruhallah Khapalwak contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Chaos Ensues at Kabul Airport as Americans Abandon Afghanistan

ISTANBUL — Thousands of desperate Afghans trying to escape the Taliban takeover swarmed Kabul’s main international airport on Monday, rushing the boarding gates, mobbing the runways, clambering atop the wings of jets and even trying to cling to the fuselage of departing American military planes.

At least half a dozen Afghans were killed in the chaos, some falling from the skies as they lost their grasp, and at least two shot by American soldiers trying to contain the surging crowds.

The images evoked America’s frantic departure from Vietnam, encapsulating Afghanistan’s breathtaking collapse in the wake of American abandonment.

As American troops sought to manage the exodus, seizing air traffic control to prioritize military flights evacuating Western citizens and flying Apache helicopters low over the crowds to clear the runway, Taliban fighters capped a swift and devastating lunge for power, posing for an iconic photo behind the ornate presidential desk in the presidential palace hours after President Ashraf Ghani had fled the country.

quickly circulated around the world, seemed to speak louder than words.

In one extraordinary scene filmed by Afghan media, hundreds of people ran alongside an American military C-17 cargo plane and some tried to climb into the wheel wells or cling to the sides of the plane as it gathered speed, a striking symbol of America’s military might flying away even as Afghans hung on against all hope.

said that in the coming days it would evacuate thousands of American citizens, embassy employees and their families, and “particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals.”

The State Department said the United States evacuated 1,600 people from Afghanistan over the weekend, bringing the total number of people flown out to 3,600 since mid-July. The Pentagon said Monday evening that in the previous 48 hours some 700 Afghans who worked with the United States, along with their families, had been evacuated. The Pentagon is hoping to evacuate up to 5,000 people per day by later this week.

Other countries were also scrambling to evacuate their citizens. British officials said they were confident that they could remove some 3,000 Britons thought to be in Afghanistan but they said they were less sure about being able to provide a safe exit to the Afghans who aided the British and whose lives could now be at risk.

video posted on Facebook a Taliban commander driving a government police pickup truck outside the airport was asked about the hundreds of people seeking to fly out of the country. “They should not go,” he answered. “We will be here and we will bring peace and security now that we have left the corrupt regime behind us.”

Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt and Lara Jakes contributed reporting from Washington, and Farnaz Fassihi from New York.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Taliban Capture Zaranj, an Afghanistan Provincial Capital, in a Symbolic Victory

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban captured a regional hub city in western Afghanistan on Friday, officials said, the first provincial capital to fall to the insurgency since the Biden administration announced the full withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The successful takeover marks a significant milestone in the insurgents’ relentless march to increase their stranglehold on the Afghan government and retake power in the country. The Taliban have besieged a host of such cities for weeks, and the fall of Zaranj, the provincial capital of Nimruz Province on the Afghanistan-Iran border, is the Taliban’s first breakthrough. And it handed the insurgents another crucial international border crossing, the latest in its recent campaign to control road access in Afghanistan.

A regional administrative hub is now completely controlled by the Taliban, an attention-grabbing addition to their steady drumbeat of rural victories in recent months. It was a considerable setback for the government, which has had to contend with simultaneous attacks on capital cities that have stretched military resources desperately thin.

The collapse of Zaranj at the hands of the insurgents was confirmed Friday by Rohgul Khairzad, the deputy governor of Nimruz, and Hajji Baz Mohammad Naser, the head of the provincial council.

coordinated attack by the insurgent group on the residence of the acting defense minister that left eight people dead. That assault highlighted the Taliban’s ability to strike in the heart of the Afghan capital as they continue their sweeping military campaign.

In northern Afghanistan on Friday, the Taliban attacked another provincial capital, Sheberghan, from five directions, burning houses and wedding halls, and assaulting the police headquarters and the prison. There were numerous civilian casualties, said Halima Sadaf Karimi, a member of Parliament from Jowzjan Province, of which Sheberghan is the capital.

Fighting also continued around the major western city of Herat, in Kandahar city in the south and in other provincial capitals.

The government’s response to the insurgents’ recent victories has been piecemeal. Afghan forces have retaken some districts, but both the Afghan Air Force and its commando forces — which have been deployed to hold what territory remains as regular army and police units retreat, surrender or refuse to fight — are exhausted.

In the security forces’ stead, the government has once more looked to local militias to fill the gaps, a move reminiscent of the chaotic and ethnically divided civil war of the 1990s that many Afghans now fear will return.

In recent weeks, the U.S. military has increased airstrikes on Taliban positions around crucial cities in an effort to give Afghan forces on the ground time to regroup. The strikes alone do little to change the situation on the ground, but have slowed Taliban advances.

The United States is supposed to complete its withdrawal by Aug. 31, at which point the Biden administration has said its military operations will end. That would give the Afghan government mere weeks to reconstitute its security forces to defend the cities and territory still under its control.

At a special session of the United Nations Security Council on Friday, Deborah Lyons, the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for Afghanistan, warned that without action, the country could descend “into a situation of catastrophe so serious that it would have few, if any, parallels in this century.”

Afghanistan, she said, had come to resemble the battlefields of Syria and Sarajevo, with the Taliban making a “strategic decision” to attack urban areas, causing hundreds of deaths among civilians in just the last few weeks. The fighting, she said, comes on top of a punishing drought that has left 18.5 million people in need of humanitarian aid.

She added: “As one Afghan put it to us recently, ‘We are no longer talking about preserving the progress and the rights we have gained, we are talking about mere survival.’”

Reporting was contributed by Christina Goldbaum, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Michael Schwirtz.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Taliban Try to Polish Their Image as They Push for Victory

KABUL, Afghanistan — In June, when the Taliban took the district of Imam Sahib in Afghanistan’s north, the insurgent commander who now ruled the area had a message for his new constituents, including some government employees: Keep working, open your shops and keep the city clean.

The water was turned back on, the power grid was repaired, garbage trucks collected trash and a government vehicle’s flat tire was mended — all under the Taliban’s direction.

Imam Sahib is one of dozens of districts caught up in a Taliban military offensive that has swiftly captured more than a quarter of Afghanistan’s districts, many in the north, since the U.S. withdrawal began in May.

It is all part of the Taliban’s broader strategy of trying to rebrand themselves as capable governors while they press a ruthless, land-grabbing offensive across the country. The combination is a stark signal that the insurgents fully intend to try for all-out dominance of Afghanistan once the American pullout is finished.

have begun to muster militias to defend their home turf, skeptical that the Afghan security forces can hold out in the absence of their American backers, in a painful echo of the country’s devastating civil war breakdown in the 1990s.

report. Some homes there were burned down by the Taliban, residents said.

“The Taliban burned my house while my family was in the house,” said Sirajuddin Jamali, a tribal elder. “In 2015, a military base was under siege and we provided food and water for them, but now the Taliban are taking revenge,” Mr. Jamali sobbed. “Do they do the same in any area the Taliban take?”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the accusations of burning down homes was under investigation.

The group’s public responses, though rarely sincere, play directly into a strategy meant to portray the insurgents as a comparable option to the Afghan government. And they ignore the fact that local feuds drive large amounts of the war’s violence, outweighing any official orders from the Taliban leadership.

On the battlefield, things are shifting quickly. Thousands of Afghan soldiers and militia members have surrendered in past weeks, forfeiting weapons, ammunition and armored vehicles as the Taliban take district after district. Government forces have counterattacked, recapturing several districts, though not on the scale of the insurgents’ recent victories.

But little reported are Taliban losses, aside from the inflated body counts announced by the Afghan government’s Ministry of Defense. The Taliban, with their base strength long estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000 fighters, depending on the time of year, have taken serious casualties in recent months, especially in the country’s south.

The casualties are primarily from the Afghan and U.S. air forces, and sometimes from Afghan commando units.

Mullah Basir Akhund, a former commander and member of the Taliban since 1994, said that cemeteries along the Pakistani border, where Taliban fighters have long been buried, are filling up faster than in years past. Pakistani hospitals, part of the country’s unwavering line of support for the insurgents, are running out of bed space. During a recent visit to a hospital in Quetta, a hub for the Taliban in Pakistan, Mr. Akhund said he saw more than 100 people, most of them Taliban fighters, waiting to be treated.

But despite tough battles, the weight of a nearly withdrawn superpower, and the Taliban’s own leadership issues, the insurgents continue to adapt.

Even as they seek to conquer the country, the Taliban are aware of their legacy of harsh rule, and do not want to “become the same pariah and isolated state” that Afghanistan was in the 1990s, said Ibraheem Bahiss, an International Crisis Group consultant and an independent research analyst.

“They’re playing the long game,” Mr. Bahiss said.

Reporting was contributed by Asadullah Timory in Herat, Taimoor Shah in Kandahar, Ruhullah Khapalwak, Farooq Jan Mangal in Khost and Zabihullah Ghazi in Jalalabad.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Aung San Suu Kyi Makes First Court Appearance Since Coup

For the first time since Myanmar’s military locked her up in a pre-dawn raid as part of its coup on Feb. 1, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar’s ousted civilian government, was seen in person on Monday when she sat briefly at a court hearing.

The short appearance at a special court in Naypyidaw, the Southeast Asian country’s capital, was also the first time that most of her legal team had caught a glimpse of their famous client. They have been defending her against a raft of criminal charges that the United Nations and foreign governments say are clearly politically motivated. Most of the country’s elected leadership has been jailed.

In a 30-minute meeting with her lawyers before the hearing, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who had previously appeared by video link, seemed healthy and resolute, if unclear about just how Myanmar had changed since the coup, a member of her legal team said. Since the putsch, the military has imposed a reign of terror, isolating the country once more from the international community.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was determined to defend the integrity of her political party, the National League for Democracy, or N.L.D., her lawyers said.

importing walkie-talkies, breaching coronavirus regulations and contravening the Official Secrets Act, among other crimes. Military-linked forces have also accused her of accepting bags of cash and 25 pounds of gold, although she has not been formally charged on those counts.

If she is found guilty of the charges — and Myanmar’s courts have a record of delivering guilty verdicts in political cases — Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, could be imprisoned for the rest of her life.

Although Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was initially held at her villa in Naypyidaw, she was moved to an undisclosed location a week later, blindfolded while in transit, her lawyer said.

“She doesn’t know where she is living now,” Ms. Min Min Soe said. “She doesn’t know anything about what is happening outside.”

internet blackouts imposed by the junta. With Covid-19 restrictions in place, some of the hearings were supposed to occur by video link.

Her next scheduled court date is June 7.

trounced the military’s proxy political party in nationwide elections. The lopsided result seemed to blindside some members of the military, even though the league had done the same five years before when it began sharing power with the army.

When the military, known as the Tatmadaw, staged its coup in February, it promised to hold elections within a year. The timetable was then extended to two years. Now, the country is facing the prospect of an election at an indeterminate point in the future without the party that won the most votes from citizens.

The military says that the elections last year were fraudulent, a charge dismissed by international observers and by a national election commission that was disbanded after the coup.

“The N.L.D. cannot be dissolved by force and orders because it is already the party in the hearts of the people,” said U Aung Kyi Nyunt, a spokesman for the party. “Abolition through illegal power will not succeed. The N.L.D. will survive and remain strong in Myanmar’s political history.”

ethnic armed groups claimed that they had killed dozens of Tatmadaw soldiers in offensives, even as the army’s shelling claimed lives of civilians sheltering in a church in eastern Myanmar. In the big cities, including Yangon and Mandalay, protesters organized flash mobs of dissent, scattering quickly as security forces drew near.

More than 800 people have been killed by security forces since the coup, according to a monitoring group, many shot in the head while peacefully protesting. More than 4,200 have been detained.

Among them is U Thein Hlaing Tun, a lawyer representing another of Myanmar’s jailed elected leaders. He was arrested on Monday as he tried to meet with his client at the same special court in Naypyidaw where Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi appeared.

Mr. Thein Hlaing Tun was charged with violating a section of the penal code criminalizing perceived slights against the Tatmadaw.

“That’s all we know about his arrest,” Ms. Min Min Soe said.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<