taliban insurgency

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Deported gay Afghans told to ‘pretend to be straight’
New Home Office rules would send gay asylum seekers back to Afghanistan, where homosexuality is illegal
By Emma Graham-Harrison

Gay Afghans can be deported to their home country, where homosexuality is illegal and “wholly taboo” and they must pretend to be straight, under new British government guidelines for handling asylum applications.

The new guidance for a country where not a single citizen lives an openly gay life has been denounced by human rights groups as a violation of international law, and criticised by the Home Office’s own Afghanistan unit.

“The Home Office’s approach seems to be to tell asylum seekers, ‘Pretend you’re straight, move to Kabul and best of luck,’” said Heather Barr, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Living a life where you are forced to lie every day about a key part of your identity, and live in constant fear of being found out and harassed, prosecuted or attacked, is exactly the kind of persecution asylum laws are supposed to prevent.”

The document, dated last month, clearly lays out the multiple risks to LGBT Afghans from their own families, from Afghan laws, and from Taliban insurgents who consider homosexuality a crime punishable by death.

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On March 16 2006 Private Channing Moss was hit with an RPG (that did not explode) in his abdomen after his Humvee was ambushed by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. He was flown to the nearest field hospital where the surgeons removed the RPG, though army policy states that he should not be operated on. Both teams risked their lives for Pvt. Moss who is alive today with 4 kids.

anonymous asked:

Do you know the historical details and rea sons behind ISIs support of Taliban or are you just saying that cause you read it in an article one time? Pakistani civilians have been affected by the Taliban too...

My understanding is that the ISI has supported terrorist organizations to advance foreign policy interests: joining the US in the supporting the Mujahideen to push Soviet troops out of Afghanistan, supporting the Taliban’s insurgency to set up a close ally state in Afghanistan, backing terrorist groups supportive of Pakistan’s territorial claims over Kashmir, etc.

And of course, terrorist organizations like the Pakistani Taliban have committed huge atrocities against the people of Pakistan- I said nothing to suggest otherwise.

Afghanistan mourns after deadly Taliban attack on base

President Ashraf Ghani declared a national day of mourning on Saturday after scores of soldiers were killed by Taliban fighters disguised as fellow troops in the deadliest attack of its kind on an Afghan military base. Afghan officials said the death toll jumped to 140 following Friday’s assault on the army headquarters in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Another 160 people were wounded in the attack, Mohammad Ibrahim Khair Andesh, head of the provincial council, announced. Taliban fighters attack Afghan army base, ‘killing 140’   The attack starkly highlighted the difficulty of the long struggle by the Afghan government and its international backers to defeat the Taliban insurgency. After arriving in Mazar-i-Sharif to visit the base, Ghani ordered flags be flown at half mast on Sunday in memory of the troops who died. Ghani held an emergency meeting with senior security officials and called for a “serious” investigation into the attack. In a statement online, he condemned the assault as “cowardly” and the work of “infidels”. As many as 10 Taliban fighters, dressed in Afghan army uniforms and driving military vehicles, made their way onto the base and opened fire on mostly unarmed soldiers eating and leaving a mosque after Friday prayers, according to officials. They opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and rifles, and several detonated suicide vests packed with explosives. Witnesses described a scene of confusion as soldiers were uncertain about the attackers’ true identity. OPINION - Afghanistan: A pawn in major power rivalry? “It was a chaotic scene and I didn’t know what to do,” said one army officer wounded in the attack. “There was gunfire and explosions everywhere.” The base is the headquarters of the Afghan National Army’s 209th Corps, responsible for much of northern Afghanistan, including Kunduz, a province that has seen heavy fighting. Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Kabul, said the base was supposedly “the most heavily defended camp in all of northern Afghanistan”. “The attackers managed to get through three different checkpoints, and they seem to have also had passes for their vehicle and personal identity cards … which raises all sorts of concerns.”

Taliban 'retribution’

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Saturday the attack on the base was retribution for the recent killing of several senior Taliban leaders in northern Afghanistan. The US military command in Kabul said an American air strike had killed a commander, Quari Tayib, and eight other Taliban on April 17. Mujahid said the attack on the base killed as many as 500 soldiers, including senior commanders. Four of the attackers were Taliban sympathisers who had infiltrated the army and served for some time, Mujahid said. The Afghan army did not respond to his comments. The NATO-led military coalition deploys advisers to the base to train and assist Afghan forces, but coalition officials said no foreign troops had been hurt. “The attack on the 209th Corps today shows the barbaric nature of the Taliban,” the commander of coalition forces, US General John Nicholson, said in a statement on Friday. German forces have long led the international mission in northern Afghanistan. In Berlin, military officials said the work of the mission on the base would be on hold for one or two days while the Afghan army investigated the attack, but it would resume. “The situation shows that we cannot stop supporting, training and advising our Afghan partners,” a German Operations Command spokesman said.
Alexander Blackman, 'Marine A', says he 'regrets' killing injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan

The man known as Marine A has broken his silence to admit he regrets killing an injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan, saying he still “doesn’t know” why he did it.

Alexander Blackman, 42, was released from prison last month after his conviction for shooting a member of the Taliban was changed from murder to manslaughter following a lengthy court battle.

The killing was a breach of the Geneva Convention on how to treat injured enemy fighters and was captured on a camera worn by a fellow marine.

After three-and-a-half years in prison, Blackman had his sentenced reduced from 10 to seven years with psychiatrists arguing he was suffering from an “abnormality of the mind” when he fired the lethal gunshot, making him eligible for parole.

Blackman, who joined the Marines aged 23 and rose to the rank of sergeant, shot the injured Taliban insurgent in the chest before quoting a modified line from Shakespeare.

He told the fighter: “Now shuffle off this mortal coil, you c***.”

In an interview with the Daily Mail, he admitted: “I know I made a terrible mistake.

“I don’t know why I did it. I think about it a lot and have done ever since, but I still can’t put an exact thought to why I did what I did at that moment in time. I wish I could.

“It was frustration more than anything. There had already been a reasonably large attack on a friendly base. We didn’t know where the other guy (a second armed Taliban insurgent) was or if there was a third out there.

“You’re vulnerable all the time.”

He added that fighting in Afghanistan, he encountered improvised explosive devices “everywhere”.

When he found the Taliban fighter, he had “a hole in his back the size of my fist".

“I didn’t realise he was alive until I put my hands on him to search him. He was in a pretty bad state,“ Blackman said.

“Arguably, as I was approaching him, if I had fired at that point I would have been well within the rules of engagement because he was armed. But I thought he was dead.

“I could see his lungs. Of course, I’d have done things differently if it was one of the lads. I’d have thrown him on my shoulder and run him all the way to camp if necessary. But this was someone who’d been trying to kill us for the past six months.

“When I touched him, he opened his eyes. I got on the radio straight away and said, ‘He’s actually alive. We’re going to have to call a helicopter.’ I got a less than enthusiastic response.”

Blackman said that after giving the insurgent first aid and realising it would have taken 45 minutes to carry him back to base, he “made some choices, and I regret some of the ones I made”.

He was unable to explain why he quoted from Hamlet.

“I have no idea why I said it. I don’t read Shakespeare,“ Blackman said.

After shooting the man, he said he realised he had “screwed up” immediately, and acknowledged this to the other marines, and the incident was “never spoken of again” between them.

He said: “The first time I even knew it existed on videotape was when I was arrested.”

His wife, Claire, spearheaded a campaign to have his conviction changed to one of manslaughter on the grounds of his mental health at the time of the incident, for which he was also “dismissed with disgrace” at a court martial.

The marine was placed on suicide watch during his first few weeks in prison.

“Dismissed with disgrace meant everything I’d done counted for nothing. Everything good before that and after that was washed away because of one incident. I struggled with that,” he said.

Prior to the shooting, he had been judged a marine of impeccable moral courage who had progressed steadily through the ranks since joining in 1998, with tours in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan already behind him when he was sent to the Taliban stronghold for a second time.

His troop was assigned to take over the notoriously dangerous Nad Ali (North) district from the Parachute Regiment.

He said of the conditions out there: “It’s very hot, you’ve got a lot of kit (100lb of equipment) and you’ve got to spend the hottest part of the day out there.

“When you’re out there for six to 10 hours a day, you know each step could be your last. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true.”

Two of his colleagues were killed by explosions two months into the tour, while another marine was injured and had his leg amputated.

Blackman described how he found the legs of a teenage marine killed by the Taliban hung in a tree as a kind of trophy.

He said he felt he had to “bottle up” his feelings as one of the older and more experienced marines.

“You have to be strong for the lads. I was 36. Most of the lads were in their early 20s,“ he said.

He said he and his fellow marines had captured a pair of Taliban fighters but were left frustrated when the Afghan army, who British troops fought alongside, had decided to let them go.

A fresh psychiatric evaluation, paid for by campaigning, led to a diagnosis of a stress combat condition known as an “adjustment disorder”, leading the Appeal Court to change his murder conviction to one of manslaughter.

Looking forward to readjusting to life outside of prison with his wife, he said: “I think we’re lucky in this country that there’s an independent body that looks at cases with no agenda. I am very conscious my sentence is not complete (he is on licence until 2020) but it’s still a massive step.“

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With a can of spray paint in hand, local Afghan female artists have taken to the streets to paint the plight of women in Afghanistan and channel their frustrations and aspirations about the future of their country through art. 24-year-old street artist Malina Suliman provides a visual backdrop to the daily struggles and hardships of Afghan women whose voices have been largely silenced by the Taliban and insurgent groups. “Some people who face injustice and the lack of rights take the bomb to kill us or narcotics to kill themselves. Graffiti is a peaceful way of fighting against the government, against all wrong things,” she says.

Kabul-based graffiti artist Shamsia Hassani embeds motivating messages in her painted murals with hopes of bringing a pop of color into the lives of passersby. Her art commonly feature over-sized women with explicit female figures in striking turquoise burqas. “My women are big, strong and modern. I capture them in movement and draw them bigger than in real life. I want people to perceive these women differently,” Hassani explains.

Read more via Mint Press News.

'More than 50 people' feared dead after Taliban attack on Afghan military base

More than 50 people have likely died in a Taliban attack on a Afghan military base, US officials have said.

The attack targeted a mosque and dining facility on the base in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province, according to the US military.

Six attackers in two military vehicles told guards at the base gates that they were carrying wounded soldiers and urgently needed to get in, said army spokesman Nasratullah Jamshidi.

After killing at least eight soldiers and wounding 11 others with rocket-propelled grenades and guns, one attacker was killed and the other five arrested, he said.

But responding Afghan forces killed “several” Taliban fighters, the US said.

The Western-backed Afghan government is locked in a prolonged war with Taliban insurgents as well as other militant groups.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the fighters set off an explosion, allowing suicide bombers armed with small arms to breach the base. “Our fighters have inflicted heavy casualties on the Afghan army stationed there,” he said.

The base is the headquarters for the Afghan National Army’s 209th Corps, which covers most of northern Afghanistan, including Kunduz province where there has been heavy fighting.

A number of German and other foreign soldiers are based in Mazar-i-Sharif, including about 70 who advise the corps headquarters as part of a Nato-led multinational mission to advise and train the Afghan security forces.

The German military said no German or international troops were involved in the attack.

Afghanistan’s first female conductor

By Shaimaa Khalil

For many years, the Taliban banned music and the education of girls in Afghanistan - and although many women still find themselves restricted, one 17-year-old has become the country’s first female conductor.

Kabul is a noisy place with helicopters, sirens, and heavy traffic. But walking into a building in one of the city’s quieter neighbourhoods, I’m welcomed by quite a different sound.

Boys and girls are playing the piano, cello and flute as well as traditional Afghan stringed instruments such as the rubab and sarod. This is the Afghanistan National Institute of Music - the only school of its kind in the country.

The female students have just finished their first concert. Their male colleagues were watching and are now milling around, playing and chatting before heading home at the end of a big day.

What was so special about this concert - apart from the fact that it was an all-female ensemble playing music to a big audience in the middle of violence-ridden Kabul - was that it was led by the country’s very first female conductor, 17-year-old Negin Khpolwak who is also a student here.

Now, she has retreated along a concrete corridor to one of the rehearsal rooms where she’s sitting at the piano playing one of her favourite pieces - Piano Sonatina in C major by the Italian composer Muzio Clementi.

I can see she’s still learning it but what she lacks in experience, she makes up for with her spirit and passion.

“Khosh Amadeed - welcome,” says Negin with a shy smile. “Today my hands are aching a bit so I am not on a top form. But I love practising the piano.

"All I want is to become a very good concert pianist and conductor, not only in Afghanistan, but in the world,” she says.

“So did you grow up around music?” I ask. “No,” she says looking startled.

She comes from a poor family in Kunar province, a conservative area - one of the strongholds of the Taliban insurgency in the north-east of Afghanistan.

“Girls in Kunar don’t go to school and many are not allowed to study music by their families,” she says. “So I had to go to Kabul to fulfil my dream. My father helped me.”

When Negin was nine, he sent her to live in a children’s home in Kabul so that she could get an education. That’s where she first started listening to music and watching performances on television. 

She auditioned to join the institute and has been studying here for four years - of more than 200 students, about a quarter are girls. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. Negin’s mother was happy for her to go to school, but didn’t like the idea of her studying music. She wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

“My uncle told us, ‘No girls in our family should learn music. It’s against tradition.’”

Under pressure from her relatives, Negin had to leave the institute for six months. Eventually her father intervened, telling her uncle, “It’s Negin’s life. She should study music if she wants to.”

“So I came back,” she says.

This is a common problem, according to Ahmad Sarmast, the founder and director of the institute. “A child is enrolled with the full blessing of their parents but then an uncle or aunt or grandfather or village elder starts putting pressure on the parents to pull the child out of the music programme or from education in general.”

It’s not just tradition and conservatism that the institute has to contend with - there’s also violence. There are many here who believe most music is sinful. Last year, one of the student concerts organised outside the campus was targeted by a young suicide bomber - one person in the audience was killed while Sarmast’s hearing was damaged and eleven pieces of shrapnel lodged in his head.

“Does that not scare you, the prospect of further bombings?” I ask him. “No,” he says. “We are part of this struggle. We are standing against violence and terror with our arts and culture, particularly with music. That’s one of the ways we can educate our people about the importance of living in peace and harmony, rather than killing each other.”

He looks at Negin. “Part of my inspiration is her and students like her, who keep coming here despite the difficulties.”

In February 2013, Negin was chosen to represent the institute on a trip to the US where she performed at the Carnegie Hall in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, playing the sarod.

“It was so amazing. I felt so good but I had always wanted to become a pianist,” she says.

So after she returned to Kabul, she started learning the piano and took up conducting as well.

“It was my first time [conducting a performance] today. I was so happy. I cried when I got on the stage and saw all the people in the audience. I want Afghanistan to be like other countries in the world, where girls can become pianists and conductors.”

With that in mind, she’s also been practising conducting male and female students together in the mixed orchestra.

“So, when you become a famous pianist and play abroad, can I come along for free? Or will I have to pay for an expensive ticket?” I ask.

“Hmmm, no, sorry you have to pay,” she jokes. I say goodbye promising, one day, to come to one of her concerts.

And as we drive through checkpoints amid the noisy traffic, I can still hear Negin’s beautiful music along with the faint but still persistent promise of hope in Afghanistan.

Additional reporting by Huong Ly.