At least 17 people were killed in a car bomb explosion in an Afghan city on Thursday as crowds shopped for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, officials and a medic said.
“Seventeen bodies and 21 wounded people were brought to our hospital,” Sediqullah, a senior doctor at a hospital in the city of Puli Alam in Logar province, told AFP news agency.
The bombing came hours before a three-day ceasefire was to begin in the country for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, officials said.
“It was a suicide car bomb in a crowded place where our people were shopping for Eid al-Adha,” Dedar Lawang, spokesman for Logar’s governor, told AFP.
The ceasefire, announced by the Taliban, comes at a time when violence has risen across the war-torn country as US-brokered peace talks between the armed group and an Afghan government-mandated committee await the completion of a prisoner exchange between the two sides.
The Taliban denied responsibility for the bombing in a statement from spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
The explosion targeted Afghan security forces in Pul-e-Alan, the capital of the eastern province of Logar, and civilian casualties are also feared, according to Shahpoor Ahmadzai, the spokesman for the provincial police.
He added it was unclear whether it was a car or suicide bombing, but that security forces had gathered for duty in the city to prepare for security measures for Eid al-Adha, which will be celebrated in Afghanistan on Friday.
Since the US-Taliban agreement in February, 3,560 Afghan security forces personnel have been killed in attacks by fighters, according to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a report this week that more than 1,280 Afghan civilians had been killed in the first six months of the year, mainly as a result of fighting between Afghan government forces and the Taliban.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was in Kabul on Wednesday to discuss the need to keep violence down by all sides after the ceasefire and the completion of the prisoner exchange, according to a statement by the US embassy in Kabul.
Grunts who spend their days hauling heavy gear or moving pallets of laden with equipment are about to get a major assist at the hands of a brand new robotic exoskeleton.
The Marine Corps Logistics Innovation Office has awarded a contract to Salt Lake City-based Sarcos Defense to furnish grunts with an Alpha version of its Guardian XO powered exoskeleton by the end of 2020, the company announced on Tuesday.
The full-body autonomous exoskeleton, which can stay powered for up to eight hours on a single charge, can repeatedly lift 200-pound objects without fatigue or strain, as Military.com reported last year.
“Instead of a team of four Marines, maybe you only need a Marine with this capability to offload pallets or move or load munitions,” Jim Miller, Sarcos Robotics’ vice president of defense solutions, said at the time.
The Alpha variant was publicly unveiled earlier this year at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show, according to Sarcos Defense.
“The Sarcos Defense team is very pleased that the U.S. Marine Corps will be testing use cases for our Guardian XO Alpha version this year,” Sarcos Defense CEO Ben Wolff said in a statement. “Our military branches need to regularly address changing personnel issues and reduce the risk of injury from performing heavy-lifting tasks.”
According to Wolff, the Air Force, Navy and U.S. Special Operations Command are all working with the company on their own powered exoskeleton technologies.
Now, the Guardian XO may look slick, but it ain’t necessarily the P-5000 Powered Work Loader that Ripley uses to deal with the pesky xenomorph queen in the 1986 movie Aliens. Still, it’s pretty damn close:
In the newest report, the outlet alleges, based on testimony and videos that the Australian SAS allegedly planted the same weapon on the bodies of two different Afghan civilians after a raid in which locals say unarmed civilians were executed.
An AK-47 assault rifle with teal-coloured tape wrapped around the stock was photographed next to two bodies in separate locations and logged in the special forces database after the raid at the village of Shina in May 2012.
The operation by members of 3 Squadron SAS left three Afghans dead, with the special forces claiming they were all insurgents and legitimately killed.
According to ABC’s unnamed sources, one of the killed individuals was Taliban, the other two were civilians.
ABC spoke to several members who served on that 2012 special forces rotation of Afghanistan who say that so-called “throwdowns”, such as assault rifles and radios, were often used to cover up unlawful killings.
“Often people who had been killed had weapons placed on them and [they were] photographed with these weapons,” said an SAS patrol member who served on that special forces rotation of Afghanistan.
“That happened on numerous occasions.”
ABC even hired an Afghan journalist to visit the village of Shina and interview residents and investigate what had transpired back in 2012.
Relatives of two of the men killed that day say both were civilians and were shot in cold blood by the Australians.
Abdul Wali said the Australians landed in one helicopter near his family home and in another helicopter near the village reservoir.
“They had gloves on and their faces were camouflaged with green and other colours. They were unidentifiable.”
Abdul Wali is the son of Abdul Wahid – a man in his 80s, who was allegedly killed by the Australian SAS.
“They called on my father and my father went towards them along with another elder, Mr Aminullah,” said Abdul Wali.
“They were together at the time when they went towards them … and they shot [my father].”
According to his testimony, the soldiers shot his father in the neck and abdomen.
Another resident – Sakhi Daad said he was irrigating his wheat when the Black Hawk helicopters landed. According to his story, all the men of the village were detained and put in a compound.
“We were all handcuffed and they had guns. They told us not to look at each other,” said Sakhi Daad.
“After a while shots were fired on the other side [of the compound].”
After a while, the soldiers freed the Afghans and left them return, where they found three bodies.
One of them was his brother-in-law, Jan Mohammad.
“He was 20 years old, he was engaged, and he wasn’t married yet. He wasn’t able to work because his brain didn’t work properly,” said Sakhi Daad.
“He was mentally ill.”
He said when the Australian soldiers arrived, Jan Mohammad was grazing a cow.
“When the cow heard the helicopters, it ran and he ran after it,” he said.
“Soldiers came his way … and saw him running. I don’t know what they thought, that maybe he is a Talib and running away or a civilian that is running away. They shot him straight away in the head.”
The third Afghan allegedly killed in the SAS raid was the imam of the local mosque, Muhibullah.
Abdul Wali says the killing of his father was unforgivable.
“He was on his own land. He never stole or did anything bad to anyone. He was an elderly person. This is impossible to forgive and I won’t forgive it,” he said.
“I want [the Australians] to be tried,” said Sakhi Daad. “If the government cares about us, if they care about our widows and orphans, then they must summon them and try them in the court.”
Also, in 2012, evidence surfaced of Australian SAS carrying out a mass shooting of civilians in Kandahar Province.
The raid is believed to be the worst one-day death toll uncovered to date of alleged unlawful killings by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
Up to 10 unarmed civilians were allegedly killed.
Afghan witnesses and Australian sources have told the ABC that the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) operation left a number of Taliban dead. But also allegedly left many civilians dead.
Below is the testimony of a local farmer named Rahmatullah:
“First, when the helicopters landed, they started with the Taliban. They also shot other people who were there as well. The tractor moved from the area because they were scared.”
“[They] shot them at the tractor. They were shooting people intentionally. They were mass shooting,” Rahmatullah said.
“Then some people busy with irrigation were shot, some were shot near the onions. Some people went in the tractor and they were shot in the tractor,” Mohammad Nassim, another villager said.
The Australian Inspector General is preparing a report on SAS activities such as this and it appears to be taking a while.
The Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force has spent the past four years investigating rumours and allegations of war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
An Australian Defence Force spokesperson said: “It is not appropriate for Defence to comment on matters that may or may not be the subject of the Afghanistan Inquiry.”
An Afghan militia fighter mans a small outpost in Achin district, Nangarhar province, in eastern Afghanistan, on July 26, 2020. Since the U.S. withdrew from two bases in the province in May and July 2020, the Taliban have stepped up attacks, local officials say.
ACHIN DISTRICT, Afghanistan — In the weeks since U.S. troops pulled out of bases in eastern Afghanistan, frequent Taliban attacks have become the new normal for many in Nangarhar province, militia fighter Hekmatullah said as he scanned the valley below his remote outpost.
“Now, it’s Taliban. Before, it was Daesh,” said the 20-year-old, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group that the extremists dislike. “Our lives are the same as before.”
Hekmatullah, 20, who like many Afghans uses one name only, was manning the same outpost where his father was killed in the fight against the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan last year.
Hekmatullah, 20, a militia fighter in Achin district in eastern Afghanistan drives to his post on July 26, 2020. Hekmatullah stands guard at the same outpost where his father died fighting the Islamic State.
J.P. LAWRENCE/STARS AND STRIPES
Most of the territory that was briefly controlled by the extremist group in the country was in Nangarhar province.
ISIS was ousted from Nangarhar last year after offensives by the Taliban, Afghan government troops and the U.S. military, which had troops at bases in Achin and Deh Bala districts.
American troops left Achin in May and Deh Bala last month, locals said.
Today, the scars of decades of war and recent battles against ISIS mar the landscape in Achin around the former U.S. Combat Outpost Blackfish, which once housed small Special Forces teams.
A gaping crater in the side of a mountain marks the spot where the U.S. dropped the GBU-43B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB, that killed some 90 ISIS fighters in 2017.
The countryside is pockmarked with ISIS positions that were reduced to rubble by U.S. bombing campaigns.
The view from an Afghan militia outpost in Achin district of eastern Afghanistan on July 26, 2020. Fighters at the outpost said the Taliban have increased attacks in the weeks since U.S. troops left a base in the valley.
J.P. LAWRENCE/STARS AND STRIPES
Unexploded ordnance has turned a once-busy marketplace near Blackfish into a ghost town. Dozens of militants died in the market from U.S. airstrikes, locals said.
Taliban fighters have launched daily attacks in the district since the U.S. left, said Dost Mohammad, a militia commander who lost two of his men in the last month in battles with the insurgents.
“They are stronger, they are fighting more,” Mohammad said.
Taliban attacks are also on the rise in other provinces where the U.S. has shut down bases, some of them under the terms of a Feb. 29 deal with the Taliban.
Dost Mohammad, commander of 150 militia fighters in Achin district, Nangarhar province, in eastern Afghanistan, says Taliban fighters increased their attacks after U.S. forces left two bases in the area, in May and July.
J.P. LAWRENCE/STARS AND STRIPES
In Uruzgan province, Taliban fighters have stepped up attacks and begun blocking roads since the U.S. pulled out in April, said Zargai Ebadi, the provincial governor’s spokesman.
The U.S. withdrawal “has already had a negative impact on the security of the province,” he said.
There have also been signs of hope amid the security fears. Paktika and Laghman provinces have seen no increase in violence by the Taliban, provincial and military officials said. Farmers who fled Achin during the brief period when the district fell under ISIS rule have returned, and a mosque in the district that was destroyed in a 2017 battle against ISIS is being rebuilt, they said.
The leader of the Afghan forces that now call the former U.S. base in Achin home was confident they would prevail over the Taliban.
“The Taliban are not like Daesh — Daesh had better weapons,” 1st Lt. Hashmat Mubariz said. “It is not possible for the Taliban to take over.”
Nawab Momand and Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.
A car bomb blast in northeastern Syria targeting a checkpoint manned by Turkish-backed forces has killed at least five people, according to Turkey’s state media.
The bombing on Thursday in the village of Tal Halaf, near the border town of Ras al-Ain, also wounded 12 people, Anadolu Agency reported quoting local sources.
Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies last year seized a 120km (75-mile) stretch of land inside the Syrian border from Kurdish forces viewed by Ankara as “terrorists”, running from Ras al-Ain to Tal Abyad.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday’s blast. Anadolu said security forces in the area were examining the possibility that Syrian Kurdish fighters may have carried out the attack.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based war monitor, gave a higher casualty toll in the explosion – nine people killed and 15 wounded.
It was the latest in a series of attacks that have rocked the area in recent months, including several in the past week alone.
The SOHR said an explosives-rigged motorbike in Ras al-Ain killed two civilians and a fighter on Tuesday, two days after another explosion in a vegetable market in the town killed eight people, six of them civilians.
The Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units, from whom Turkey and their allies seized the territory, have played a key role in the United States-backed fight against the ISIL (ISIS) group in Syria.
However, Ankara views them as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged a deadly armed campaign in southeastern Turkey since 1984.
Syria’s war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions from their homes since erupting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.