The fall of Afghanistan's northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban is making headlines—the first major city to be taken by the insurgents since the US invasion of 2001, and well outside their traditional stronghold in the country's south. A pitched battle to retake the city is now raging, and the US has launched air-strikes, causing God knows what carnage among the civilian inhabitants. But while the world media have been paying little attention, this didn't come out of nowhere. Kunduz city had been under siege for a month, and the Taliban have taken control of nearly all of Kunduz province, as well as much of the neighboring province of Takhar. This resurgence comes as the Taliban have broken off talks with the government under the new more hardline leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mansour. On the same day as the fall of Kunduiz, a suicide blast amid spectators at a volleyball match in Paktika province left nine dead and many more wounded. And hundreds of fighters claiming loyalty to ISIS attacked military checkpoints in Nangarhar province, in a coordinated assault that has left at least two soliders dead (probably many more).
The UN on Aug. 5 said that a new report (PDF) shows a significant increase in the number of women and children being hurt or killed in Afghanistan's war with the Taliban and other insurgents. The number of total casualties in the conflict rose by approximately one percent in the first half of this year, but the number of women casualties has risen by 23% and the number of child casualties has risen by 13%. The director of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Danielle Bell, stated that she believes the increase in casualties is due to ground fighting, and attributed 70% of the deaths to insurgents. Out of the over 4,900 civilian casualties in the first half of 2015, there have been 559 women casualties (164 deaths and 395 injuries) and 1,270 child casualties (320 deaths and 950 injuries).
Fighters loyal to ISIS have seized substantial territory in Afghanistan, according to an ominous Reuters report June 29. Witnesses who fled fighting in Nangarhar province told reporters that hundreds of ISIS fighters in convoys of pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns seized several villages that were held by the Taliban—and put local opium fields to the torch. "They burned poppy fields in Shadal village and banned shops from selling cigarettes," said tribal elder Malek Jan. Taxing opium production is a key source of Taliban revenue, but Reuters reports that ISIS loyalists in Nangarhar appeared to have other sources of money. Witnesses said they had plenty of cash. It is unclear where the money is coming from, but it frees ISIS to stigmatize the Taliban as soft on drugs.
Chicago documentary collective Kartemquin Films announced that it will make director Brent E. Huffman's new release Saving Mes Aynak available for free to the people of Afghanistan on the digital platform VHX. The film follows Afghan archaeologist Qadir Temori as he races to save the remains of Mes Aynak from imminent demolition by China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), a Chinese state-owned mining company that wants to develop a mammoth copper project on the site. Located in Afghanistan's Taliban hotbed of Logar province, Mes Aynak was built 2,000 years ago by the ancient Buddhist civilization—on top of a Bronze Age site dating back some 5,000 years. Only 10% of the site has so far been excavated, and time is running out. Laws protecting antiquities apparently go unenforced due to official corruption. Meanwhile, the Taliban continue to plunder the site, selling the artifacts on the black market to fund their insurgency. Huffman received death threats from the Taliban for his filiming work at the site. (Al Jazeera, Newsweek, July 1; Inside Pulse, June 25)
The Guardian reports May 29 that women are being officially denied the vote in "the most socially conservative regions" of Pakistan, where local elections were held over the weekend. In races for district and village council seats in Hangu and Malakand districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, deals have been struck with village elders barring women from voting—and not for the first time. In a parliamentary by-election in KP's Lower Dir district earlier in May, none of the eligible 50,000 women in the constituency turned out to vote. Reporta said mosques broadcast warnings to women, and polling stations were guarded by "baton-wielding men" who blocked the few women who did show up to vote. A court in Peshawar threw out a petition brought by 12 women from Lower Dir who demanded the election be re-run. The case was dismissed in just 15 minutes. Siraj-ul-Haq, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, argued that the women of Lower Dir had chosen to respect local traditions by not voting. Jamaat-e-Islami governs KP in coalition with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by the former cricket star Imran Khan.
Afghanistan's Primary Court in Kabul sentenced four men to death on May 5 for the mob killing of a 27-year-old woman. Farkhunda was killed March 19 after being accused of burning a copy of the Koran, although an investigation later determined she never did. The attack was captured on cell phone cameras as Farkhunda was beaten, thrown from a roof, run over by a car and dragged to a river bank. The nationally-televised trial had 49 suspects, including 19 police officers, charged with murder, assault and encouraging others to engage in assault. Four were sentenced to death, eight defendants were sentenced to 16 years in prison, and several others still await sentencing. Judge Safiullah Mojadedi dismissed the cases against 18 of the defendants. Mojadedi also ordered another police officer arrested for allegedly freeing a suspect in this case. The trial began just four days ago.
At least eight have been were killed and scores injured in Niger in two consecutive days of angry protests over the Charlie Hebdo affair. The French cultural center was attacked and several churches burned. Protests began outside the grand mosque of capital Niamey Jan. 16, and quickly spread to other parts of the country. Police in Algiers fired on protesters with rubber bullets after rioting broke out at an anti-Charlie march Jan. 17. In Pakistan a local photographer was hit by gunfire and seriously wounded in protests outside the French consulate in Karachi. Angry protests are also reported from Afghanistan. A demonstration in Chora district, Uruzgan province, followed Friday prayers at a local mosque where a cleric asked worshippers to rally in support of the Charlie attackers, who he praised as "true mujahedeen." (EuroNews, AFP, BBC News, News24, Jan. 16)
Well, the supposed NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan was formally announced Dec. 28. A quiet ceremony in Kabul was arranged in secret due to increasing Taliban strikes in the area, including suicide bombings and gun-battles. On Jan. 1 the US-led International Security Assistance Force is to be replaced by a NATO "training and support" mission—with nearly 12,500 foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan, the big majority supplied by the US. Officially, they are not to participate in direct fighting. The Pentagon's "Operation Enduring Freedom" is now to be replaced by "Operation Freedom's Sentinel," in turn part of NATO's new "Operation Resolute Support." (Jurist, DoD) The AP story, as presented on HuffPo, headlines: "US Formally Ends War In Afghanistan" Emphasis on the "formally," eh? Reads the lead: "The war in Afghanistan, fought for 13 bloody years and still raging, came to a formal end Sunday with a quiet flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul that marked the transition of the fighting from US-led combat troops to the country's own security forces." How can a war that is "still raging" come to an "end"? Similar absurd claims marked the US "withdrawal" from Iraq in 2011. Is Iraq at "peace" now? We utterly reject this stupid, arrogant US-centrism that universally infects left, right and center in the United States. The war in Afghanistan is not over, and the US has no power to "end" it!