Community Mourns Terrorist Attack

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by Farishta Jalalzai & Khan Mohammad Seend

Ganhara News

July 19, 2014

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ORGUN, Afghanistan — Thousands of civilians in a remote region of Afghanistan are mourning the killing of their loved ones in one of the worst terrorist attacks in the country’s recent history.

Residents of the rural Orgun district in the southeastern Afghan province of Paktika are in shock days after a massive truck bomb ripped through a busy market, killing and wounding more than 200 civilians on July 15.

Nearly every household in Orgun and the nearby Barmal district is grieving as relatives dig through the rubble of shops in the hope of finding the remains of their relatives.

The small bazaar, which was just a collection of mud and brick buildings, was nearly completely destroyed by the force of the blast.

A heavy stench of explosives and burning flesh hangs in the air of the market that once served as the hub of economic activity in the remote region bordering Pakistan’s embattled Waziristan region. It provided livelihoods for hundreds of families residing on both sides of Afghanistan’s porous eastern border with Pakistan.

“It felt like life stopped for a moment,” said Sher Nawaz, a goldsmith whose shop collapsed because of the blast. “A moment later, all I could see was blood–a lot of blood and human flesh. I must have collected at least fifty bodies of children. Hands, legs, and flesh were scattered everywhere.”

Nawaz said most families in the close-knit tribal community had lost a relative in the tragedy. “The government should call for a day of national mourning. We are devastated.”

Local officials said the attack killed some 69 civilians, but a defense official had earlier put the number at 89.

In an unusual move, the Afghan Taliban, formally called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, distanced itself from the attack in Orgun. It is usually quick to claim responsibility for attacks across the country.

Hours after the attack, self-proclaimed Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Taliban fighters “do not conduct such attacks, and such attacks do not bring any benefit to them.”

But Paktika officials and civilians in Orgun blamed the Haqqani network. The group is considered the Taliban’s most powerful military arm, and is widely thought to be closely allied with Al-Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence services. The network is reportedly based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal district where a Pakistani antiterrorist offensive is ongoing, though critics say the operation has failed to kill any Haqqani network leaders.

Abdul Ahad, Orgun’s district security chief, claims most such attacks in the past were planned by Pakistan’s intelligence services and executed by the Haqqani network.

He added that the Taliban fear losing their credibility and “Islamic image,” if they claim responsibility for an attack that only harmed noncombatants.

“We are half way through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and a bloody attack that took the life of dozens of innocent people is a brazen violation of Islamic teaching.”

Angered by the tragedy, many residents of Orgun staged a protest on July 16, calling on the Afghan government to increase the number of security checkpoints along the border with Pakistan to prevent the infiltration of the Taliban and allied militant groups.

Kabul has been slow in responding to the tragedy, forcing Orgun’s grief-stricken residents to bear the brunt of the relief work alone.

However, volunteers from neighboring districts in Paktika are helping with the cleanup of the bombed bazaar. Ahmad Shah, one of the volunteers, said Paktika residents blamed Islamabad, which they believe supported the Taliban in carrying out this tragedy. 

“Everybody believes that only Pakistan can inflict such calamities here,” he said.

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http://gandhara.rferl.org/content/article/25462101.html

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Afghan Forces Crunch Haqqani Network

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by Hamid Shalizi

April 30, 2014

Reuters

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KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan troops backed by Western air power have killed at least 60 militants near the Pakistan border, Afghan security officials said on Wednesday, in one of the single biggest assaults against the Taliban-linked Haqqani network.

U.S. officials say Washington has intensified its drive against the network in an attempt to deal a lasting blow to the militants before foreign combat forces depart at the end of the year.

The National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, said in a statement that about 300 Haqqani insurgents and foreign fighters came under intensive fire on Monday when they tried to storm Afghan bases in Ziruk district of Paktika province.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said Afghan forces were already in position after receiving information about imminent attacks by the insurgents.

“Hundreds of insurgents tried to take over the district centre but we were there and hit them with a huge blow,” Sediqqi told Reuters, adding that five Afghan policemen were wounded.

“Dead bodies, wounded fighters, their weapons and pick-up trucks were left on the battlefield,” Sediqqi added.

The NATO-led international force declined to comment.

Haqqani Crackdown

The Haqqani network, which professes obedience to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, is believed to have been involved in some of the most deadly attacks of the Afghan war.

The group has been blamed for attacks on hotels popular with foreigners in Kabul, the bombing of the Indian embassy in the capital, a 2011 attack on the U.S. embassy and several big attempted truck bombings.

The United States blacklisted the group as a terrorist organization in 2012. It also accuses Pakistan’s powerful spy agency of supporting the network and using it as a proxy in Afghanistan to gain leverage against growing influence of its arch-rival India. Pakistan denies that.

Monday’s battle occurred in the southeast province of Paktika which shares a long and porous border with lawless areas in Pakistan where foreign fighters and the Haqqani network are believed to be based.

The Obama administration has created a special unit based in Kabul to coordinate efforts against the militant group, officials familiar with the matter have told Reuters. It was set up late last year, as part of a new strategy that involves multiple government agencies.

The unit, headed by a colonel and known in military parlance as a “fusion cell”, brings together special forces, conventional forces, intelligence personnel, and some civilians to improve targeting of Haqqani members and to heighten the focus on the group, the officials said.

The U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan is due to end on December 31, although the United States wants to keep a small force in the country for counter-terrorism support and training.

Outgoing President Hamid Karzai has declined to sign a security agreement allowing U.S. forces to stay, but the two front runners to replace him as president in an election say they will enact the pact.

Afghan insurgents have pledged to disrupt the election with a campaign of violence, but the first round of the vote passed off relatively peacefully. As the country readies for a second round run-off in June, there is concern the conditions will be more favorable for militant attacks.

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Additional reporting by Jeremy Laurence; editing by Robert Birsel

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