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Monday, January 24, 2022

US drone strike kills 9 family members in Afghanistan as leaders scramble for talks


France, Britain and Germany are expected to propose the establishment of a safe zone in Kabul to provide a safe passage for those trying to leave Afghanistan.

A US drone strike killed nine members of one family, including children, on Sunday after American forces attempted to target a vehicle in a residential neighbourhood in Afghanistan, a relative of the deceased told CNN.

The US Central Command said its forces were targeting a car containing a suspected ISIS-Khorasan suicide bomber who posed an “imminent” threat to the airport. US officials said the car was parked next to the building where the family were located.

“We are not ISIS or Daesh and this was a family home—where my brothers lived with their families,” said the brother of one of the civilians killed, who told CNN that the youngest victim was a two-year-old girl.

Neighbours at the scene were forced to put out a fire following the deadly air strike.

“The father of the family and another young boy and there were two children. They were dead. They were in pieces. There were [also] two wounded,” said a neighbour.

Another man said he managed to remove a three- to-four-year old child from the scene, adding that “three people were inside the car” while three others were outside the vehicle. According to him, two children were among the wounded who were taken to the hospital.

The Pentagon said it acknowledged the reports of civilian casualties and said it is still assessing the results of the strike. The US “would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life,” it added.

“We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today,” said US Central Command [CENTCOM] spokesperson Bill Urban.

“We know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle, indicating a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties,” he added.

The resurgence of the IS-affiliated terrorist group has raised new concerns over the security situation in Afghanistan, mainly at the Hamid Karzai International Airport were thousands of Afghans have gathered in the past two weeks awaiting an opportunity to depart the country.

On Thursday, the group claimed an attack at the gates of the airport were at least 175 people were killed, most of whom civilians.

The attacks also come days ahead of the 31 August deadline for the foreign troop withdrawal. The UK has already formally ended its presence in Afghanistan.

UK to move Afghanistan embassy to Qatar as rocket attack strikes Kabul

With little time left to evacuate all western personnel and Afghans who worked with them over the past 20 years, the latter are especially struggling to be evacuated. Countries have been reaching out to Qatar and Turkey in efforts to help facilitate rapid, safe evacuations.

As the host of the Afghan peace process talks, Qatar is one of the few countries able to negotiate with the Taliban.

On Sunday, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Minister of Defence Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah held a joint virtual meeting with their Turkish counterparts to discuss the latest developments in Afghanistan.

“During the call, bilateral cooperation relations between the two countries were reviewed, as well as the latest security and political developments in Afghanistan,” read a statement by Qatar’s foreign ministry [MOFA].

Following Thursday’s attacks, the Taliban asked Turkey—which has been running the airport’s security for the past six years—for technical help to run the airport post deadline. A Taliban official also said the group is set to request similar technical assistance from Qatar to help operate the airport.

Turkey has managed to evacuate at least 350 of its soldiers and up to 1,400 people from Afghanistan since the Taliban captured Kabul on 15 August.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said he is working with Britain and Germany on a UN proposal to establish a safe zone in Kabul that would enable the safe passage of those trying to leave the country.

Macron said his country had already started discussions with the Taliban over evacuations, noting that the resolution would be raised on Monday at a UN Security Council meeting with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and envoys for Britain, France, the US, China and Russia.

“There are some discussions to see how flights could be re-established,” Macron said in a TV interview broadcast by France’s TF1, adding that Qatar was also helping with negotiations.

Earlier this week, Macron held talks with Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on a possible role for Doha in organising further evacuations beyond the 31 August deadline.

“What we have proposed, and what we plan to bring to the UN Security Council along with Britain and Germany is a solution that we have used before in other operations, which would involve creating a zone allowing people to arrive at that airport,” added the French president.

Macron also said talks with the Taliban do not necessarily mean that his country officially recognises the militants’ rule. France has ended its presence in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, the Taliban will allow foreign nationals and Afghan citizens with travel authorisation from another country to depart Afghanistan, according to a joint statement issued by Britain, the United States and other countries including France on Sunday.

Taliban rule

The latest instability in Afghanistan was triggered by US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all foreign troops following a two-decade invasion that brought destruction and bloodshed to the country.

Since the announcement in April, the Taliban has made sweeping territorial gains, enabling the group to capture Kabul in a week without a fight.

Many have cited concerns over living under the Taliban’s harsh interpretation of “Islamic” rule as the main reason for fleeing the country.

Exclusive: Mass evacuation of Afghans ‘draining Afghanistan of its brains’, Qatar’s Lolwah Al Khater says

While the Taliban has made several promises, including allowing women and girls to work and get education, the group is still imposing its strict beliefs on Afghans.

Recently, newly-appointed minister for the Ministry of Higher Education, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, said female and male students will be segregated in classrooms.

Former minister of higher education, Abbas Basir, said the Taliban has promised to preserve achievements made in the education sector over the past two decades.

“The higher education ministry has made better progress than any other departments in terms of system-making,” Basir said.

Haqqani also said universities will resume operations soon and the salaries of lecturers and the education ministry’s employees will be paid.

In an exclusive interview with Doha News, Taliban spokesperson in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, said women must wear the hijab [headscarf] if they want to work and have access to education.

“The situation of women and men of Afghanistan will improve,” said Shaheen.

Veteran leaders in talks

With the Taliban taking over Kabul, the country has yet to form a government, and talks currently taking place between former Afghan officials and the militant group have made little progress.

According to Reuters, veteran Afghan leaders, including two regional commanders, are trying to engage in talks with the Taliban and are planning to meet within weeks to discuss the country’s new government.

“We prefer to negotiate collectively, because it is not that the problem of Afghanistan will be solved just by one of us,” 27-year-old Khalid Noor, son of Atta Mohammad Noor, the once-powerful governor of northern Afghanistan’s Balkh province, told Reuters in an interview from an undisclosed location.

The group also includes veteran ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum and others who have long-opposed the Taliban’s takeover.

“So, it is important for the entire political community of the country to be involved, especially the traditional leaders, those with power, with public support,” added Noor.

Both Atta Noor and Dostum fled the country when the Taliban captured the northern city of Mazar-i Sharif without a fight.

“The Taliban at this point are very, very arrogant because they just won militarily. But what we assume [is] that they know the risk of ruling the way they did before,” Noor said, referring to the previous Taliban regime.

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