Afghans protest civilian casualties in security raids

             By Shadi Khan Saif</p>  <p>KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – Hundreds of Afghans protested in the restive Helmand province on Sunday against deadly security offensives here which have claimed multiple civilian casualties.</p>  <p>The protests followed security raids over the past two months on suspected Taliban hideouts in Helmand’s Taliban-controlled Sangin district which killed at least 30 civilians and wounded many, including women and children. </p>  <p>“This situation is no longer acceptable to us, and we are telling honorable President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and NDS [secret service] head Masoum Stanikzai to put an end to these raids,” Attaullah Afghan, chairman of the provincial council, told fellow protesters.</p>  <p>There has been an evident surge in aerial operations and night raids since the hawkish Assadullah Khalid, former NDS chief, took charge of the Defense Ministry last month. Khalid has vowed to take the fight to the Taliban bastions in a bid to “eliminate” those rebels not wanting peace.</p>  <p>On Sunday, the provincial administration in Helmand acknowledged in a statement that four civilians were killed in a security operation in Sangin on Saturday.</p>  <p>Meanwhile, the Civilian Protection Group, a local civil society group, has urged the international community to link its aid to Afghanistan with reducing civilian casualties, local Pajhwok news reported.</p>  <p>The Taliban have posted pictures of dead civilians of Sangin, including children, on their social media pages, accusing the government and U.S. forces of committing war crimes.</p>  <p>The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan announced on Jan. 25 that it has received credible reports of civilian casualties, including children, from aerial operations in the Sangin district.

Taliban meet Afghan politicians in Moscow for peace

             By Shadi Khan Saif</p>    <p>KABUL, Afghanistan/ MOSCOW, Russia (AA) - The Taliban representatives met a number of non-government Afghan politicians in the Russian capital Moscow on Tuesday for the landmark two-day peace talks.

The two sides met in a cordial environment, offered prayers together and shared contrasting views on serious matters.

Addressing the conference, Abbas Stanikzai, head of the Taliban delegation flayed the Afghan Constitution and the presence of the foreign troops in the war-ravaged country.

Stanikzai called for establishment of an Islamic system in Afghanistan.

He also demanded the removal of Taliban leaders from the UN Black List, the release of prisoners and an end to “propaganda” against the Taliban.

He promised not to interfere in other countries’ affairs in the case of a peace deal, an end to “occupation” and to curb poppy cultivation and deliver services.

Former Afghan Vice President Yunus Qanuni stressed that not all the Afghans think that their country is occupied.

He would defend the institutions and gains to the past decade-and-half, Qanuni added.

Defending the constitution, he said it is the best set of Islamic laws in the region, but can always be further reformed.

He stressed upon converging on points of consensus, and open a new chapter of peace and prosperity.

Fawzia Kofi, a women's rights activist, underlined that Afghans would not go back to the past from the realities of modern Afghanistan.

The Taliban are not willing to talk to the Afghan government that has not participated in the meeting.

Kabul has insisted that such meetings do not help the peace building in Afghanistan.

The meeting came after a six-day meeting between the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban in Qatar.

Afghan Taliban meet US envoy in Qatar

By Shadi Khan Saif

KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – The Afghan Taliban said on Monday they have resumed talks with the U.S. envoy in Qatar.

In a short message, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed noted talks in Doha will continue on Tuesday.

"Following American acceptance of the agenda of ending invasion of Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the future, talks with American representatives took place today in Doha, the capital of Qatar," he said in a statement, referring to the previously stalled talks with U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzaad over the proposed inclusion of Kabul in the negotiated settlement of the 17-year war.

Last week, Khalilzad visited Kabul and then Islamabad to push for face-to-face talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban but the latter refused.

The Taliban carried out two deadly suicide car bombings in Afghanistan in the past two days killing scores of people.

Long-due election result announced for Afghan capital

By Shadi Khan Saif

KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – A new emerging class of Afghan businessmen and development contractors won the parliamentary elections in capital Kabul, officials announced Monday.

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission announced long-due results of the parliamentary elections held in October. Serious allegations of rigging, protests and technical glitches caused the delay.

Gulajan Abdul Badi Sayad, head of the election commission, said that political leaders should acknowledge and respect the results announced under such difficult circumstances.

This comes after Vice President Sarwar Danish blamed the commission of undermining the credibility of the government with the delay.

Ajmal Rehmani, a young businessman and former procurement contractor for the NATO forces, has topped the list of 33 winners that have made it to the Afghan parliament from Kabul. Many more candidates with similar background secured the seats along with some old stalwarts in the Afghan political arena.

The Afghan parliament has a relatively weak role in the presidential system of government.

Some 800 individuals competed for the parliament in Kabul.

The UN mission in Afghanistan has noted in a report that the Taliban launched a deliberate campaign of violence and intimidation to disrupt the elections, resulting in civilian casualties on election day.

The report verified a total of 435 civilian casualties (56 deaths and 379 injured) during the vote.

Afghanistan: US soldier killed in accidental shooting

By Shadi Khan Saif

KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – The NATO announced Tuesday that a U.S. soldier was killed last week by unintentional firing of an Afghan soldier.

The Resolute Support Mission of the alliance said in a statement that early interviews indicate that the killing in Nimroz province bordering Iran was a tragic incident.

It occurred when the Afghan forces became engaged in a close-quarter battle during an assault on one of the multiple barricaded al-Qaeda shooters.

"Sgt. Jasso was killed defending our nation, fighting al Qaeda alongside our Afghan partners," said Gen. Scott Miller, commanding general of Resolute Support and United States Forces – Afghanistan.

Suicide attack claims multiple lives in Afghan capital

By Shadi Khan Saif

KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – A suicide attack close to a rally in capital Kabul killed three people on Monday, an official said.

Najib Danish, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, told Anadolu Agency, the lone attacker on foot detonated his explosives at a check point killing three people wounding eight others.

Representatives of the ethnic Shia-Hazara community had gathered hundreds to demand action against ongoing Taliban assaults in three districts of central Afghanistan.

The spokesman said the rally had ended when the explosion occurred.

Afghan army chief Gen. Mohammad Sharif Yaftali told a news conference that special forces of the army and spy agency had been dispatched to push back the rebels, adding that airstrikes will be launched against the Taliban in Malistan, Jaghori and Khas Uruzgn districts.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed announced they had overrun the Malistan district killing 42 security forces on Monday.

According to the local Salam Afghanistan radio, the Taliban attacked Khas Uruzgan district a few weeks ago, killing and injuring 63 civilians during the conflict while attacks on Jaghori and Malistan began last week.

At least 70 irregular migrants held in western Turkey

By Mustafa Yildirim and Birol Gungordu

IZMIR/CANAKKALE, Turkey (AA) – At least 70 irregular migrants were held in western Turkey, security sources said on Wednesday.

In Turkey’s Aegean province of Izmir, 42 irregular migrants — including women and children — were held in Seferihisar district, said a security source, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

The migrants — all Pakistani nationals — were trying to cross to Greece via Greek islands in a sailing boat, the source added.

Also in northwestern Canakkale province, 28 migrants — including Afghan women and children — were held in security patrols in Ezine district.

All of the migrants were referred to provincial migration offices.

Turkey has been a main route for irregular migrants trying to cross into Europe, especially since 2011, when Syria’s civil war began.

Nearly $300k raised for US mayor killed in Afghanistan

By Umar Farooq

WASHINGTON (AA) – More than $290,000 has been raised Monday for an American mayor killed in service in Afghanistan.

The death of Brent Taylor, 39, of North Ogden, Utah, marks the third U.S. death at the hands of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). He was on a yearlong leave of absence to deploy with the Utah National Guard.

Taylor served in the National Guard for 10 years, and completed two tours in Afghanistan and Iraq prior to his most recent deployment. He was killed in an "insider attack" by a member of the ANSF, the National Guard confirmed on Sunday.

Another U.S. soldier was injured in the attack. The attacker was killed by other Afghan security forces.

"Brent typified the citizen soldier who served so diligently in his community as well as felt this call to wear a uniform and serve where ever the nation needed him to go," said leader of the Utah National Guard Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton.

He was expected to return to his mayoral position in January.

A GoFundMe page was launched Sunday with more than $292,000 raised.

Utah was in mourning following the news of Taylor's death, and many prominent figures offered their condolences.

"I am heartbroken at the loss of Major Brent Taylor. Our deepest condolences and constant prayers are with his wife Jennie, his children and the entire Taylor family. All of Utah mourns with you," Utah Governor Gary Herbert said on Twitter.

"Heartbroken with the tragic news of Major Brent Taylor’s death by gunfire in Afghanistan," Utah Senator candidate Mitt Romney also said on the microblogging site. "Another unmeasurable price is paid for freedom."

Taylor is survived by his wife and seven children. His body is scheduled to arrive in the U.S. later Monday.

"As one of many, many military families to give the ultimate sacrifice we also want to express our love for this great nation and the pride that we feel knowing that Brent gave his life in service to his country," Taylor's family said in a statement.

At least 140 irregular migrants held in Turkey

By Omer Ural and Ali Balli

EDIRNE/KIRKLARELI/CANAKKALE/MUGLA/HATAY, Turkey (AA) – At least 140 irregular migrants were held across Turkey, security sources said Monday.

In Edirne, a northwestern province, Turkish police rounded up 24 irregular migrants — Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals — in Ipsala district near the Bulgarian border, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to media.

Also, 33 irregular migrants, all Afghan and Pakistani nationals, were held by gendarmerie forces in northwestern Kirklareli province.

In Canakkale, another northwestern province, the coast guard held 29 irregular Afghan migrants in Ayvacik district.

The migrants were planning to cross to the Greek islands and Europe.

Separately, the coast guard held 21 irregular migrants — Syria, Palestine and Somalia nationals — in Bodrum district of western Mugla province.

Meanwhile, 33 irregular migrants were nabbed during regular border patrols in Hatay, a southern province bordering Syria.

Turkey has been a main route for irregular migrants trying to cross into Europe, especially since 2011 when the Syrian civil war began.

Moscow to host meeting on Afghanistan on Nov. 9

By Elena Teslova

MOSCOW (AA) – Second Moscow conference on Afghanistan settlement will take place in the Russian capital on Nov. 9, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Saturday.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has decided to send a delegation of the country’s Highest Council of Peace, a statement by the ministry said.

It said a delegation of the Taliban’s political office in Doha will also take part in the meeting.

Invitations have also been sent to the U.S., Pakistan, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the statement added.

The meeting will be held on the level of the deputy foreign ministers and special envoys, it said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will address the participants before the meeting.