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“Unprecedented Level of Violence” in Heart of Kabul as Taliban Sends “Clear Message” to Trump

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In Afghanistan, Islamic State militants have carried out an early-morning attack on a military academy in the western outskirts of the capital of Kabul, killing at least 11 troops and wounding 16. This marks the latest in a wave of deadly attacks this month. Monday was already declared a national day of mourning in Afghanistan, after a Taliban attacker drove an ambulance filled with explosives into the heart of the city on Saturday, killing at least 103 people and wounding as many as 235. One week earlier, Taliban militants killed 22 people at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel. Last week, another six people were killed in an assault claimed by the Islamic State on the office of aid group Save the Children in the eastern city of Jalalabad. This comes as the United States has stepped up its assistance to Afghan security forces and its airstrikes against the Taliban and other militant groups. We get an update from Lotfullah Najafizada, news director of TOLOnews, a 24-hour news channel based in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show in Afghanistan, where Islamic State militants have carried out an early-morning attack on a military academy in the western outskirts of the city of Kabul, killing at least 11 troops and wounding 16. This marks the latest in a wave of deadly attacks this month. Monday was already declared a national day of mourning in Afghanistan, after a Taliban attacker drove an ambulance filled with explosives into the heart of the city on Saturday, killing at least 103 people and wounding as many as 235. One week earlier, Taliban militants killed 22 people at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel. Last week, another six people were killed in an assault claimed by the Islamic State on the office of aid group Save the Children in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Saturday’s attack occurred in the heart of the most secure part of Kabul.

This is Samim and Mohammad, who each own small shops near the site of the attack.

SAMIM: [translated] Every day there is fear of attacks here, and living has become very dangerous to everyone. It’s not safe to live in Afghanistan anymore.

MOHAMMAD HANIF: [translated] It was a really dangerous blast, and people were running everywhere. Some had received injuries on their head, and some on their hand, and everyone was shocked. Most of them were wounded by broken glass.

AMY GOODMAN: These latest attacks come as the United States has stepped up its assistance to Afghan security forces and its airstrikes against the Taliban and other militant groups. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement, Saturday’s bombing was a message to President Trump: quote, “The Islamic Emirate has a clear message for Trump and his hand kissers that if you go ahead with a policy of aggression and speak from the barrel of a gun, don’t expect Afghans to grow flowers in response,” unquote. The Taliban refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate.

Meanwhile, in a White House statement, President Donald Trump said Saturday’s bombing, quote, “renews our resolve and that of our Afghan partners,” unquote, to secure the country from militants and terrorists, and on the world to take decisive action against the Taliban. Trump also tweeted Saturday, “Taliban targeted innocent Afghans, brave police in Kabul today. Our thoughts and prayers go to the victims, and first responders. We will not allow the Taliban to win!” he said.

For more, we’re going directly to the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, where we’re joined by Democracy Now! video stream by Lotfullah Najafizada, the news director of TOLOnews, a 24-hour news channel based in Kabul.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what’s taken place over the last few days, this massive ambulance suicide attack on Saturday that killed more than a hundred people, and then, today, in the midst of this day of mourning, another attack, this claimed by ISIS, killing 11 people?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: Amy, the country is going through a lot in the past week, as you said in your reporting. This indicates two things. One, there is resistance from the Taliban and those who support the Taliban, Pakistan included, to resist the policy of the U.S. government, President Trump in particular. And second is that in the winter season, when there is less of fighting in the battlefield, you see more high-profile attacks in cities like Kabul and Jalalabad, where the office of Save the Children was attacked last week.

A lot of our friends are hurt. Today I woke up to this gunfire on the military academy, which is in the neighborhood I live. And it’s unfortunate that we see a rise in casualties and in attacks. And to be honest, you really don’t know what tomorrow awaits you. So, there is an unprecedented level of violence happening in the heart of the capital, which also suggests the lack of the capability and also the failure of the Afghan government, the security institutions particularly, to protect the city.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk also about the—that there are many Afghanis who are blaming Pakistan for this new resurgence of these kinds of attacks, claiming that Pakistan is, in effect, trying to use the Taliban, especially the Haqqani network wing of the Taliban, as a means of getting back at the Trump administration for its pressure?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: Well, what I can say is that the Taliban leadership are in Pakistani cities, like Quetta, like Peshawar, Miramshah. And most of—for instance, in the Intercontinental Hotel attack, also the one in 2011, they could trace phone conversation with Pakistani numbers and Pakistani people or Afghans living in Pakistan. So, I think the blame is very valid, because you can’t really go after some of the people who plan, finance and train some of these operatives who come and put such a tragic scene at play, almost now every day in places like Kabul.

AMY GOODMAN: Lotfullah, I wanted to go to a clip. Pakistan condemned a suspected U.S. drone strike last week, which targeted an Afghan refugee camp inside northwestern Pakistan. Officials there said the drone strike killed two alleged militants with the Taliban-linked Haqqani network. This is Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mohammad Faisal.

MOHAMMAD FAISAL: Pakistan condemned the drone strike in Kurram Agency carried out by the Resolute Support Mission yesterday, which targeted an Afghan refugee camp. Pakistan continues to emphasize to the U.S. the importance of sharing actionable intelligence, so that appropriate action is taken against terrorists by our forces within our territory. Pakistan has also been stressing the need of early repatriation of Afghan refugees, as their presence in Pakistan helps Afghan terrorists to melt and morph among them. Such unilateral actions are detrimental to the spirit of cooperation between the two countries in the fight against terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: Lotfullah Najafizada, could you comment on that drone strike and also explain more the role that Pakistan is playing in your country, in Afghanistan?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: Civilian casualties should be condemned everywhere, including Pakistan. Pakistani people or Afghan refugees should be protected, of course, not harmed in such attacks. But in the same time, militants should be targeted, and those who wage war. And Afghan people and also Pakistani people, regardless of where they live and where they are—I think the argument, what the Afghan government has been saying for years, now the United States government, as well, is that the safe havens provided for the Haqqani network, the Taliban and other militant groups across the Afghan border in Pakistan should be stopped, because that—as long as you have safe havens, they can travel to countries in the Gulf, finance their missions and to be able to continue the war. And in the same time, I think it’s important to know that there is a wide consensus now that a political settlement is the ultimate solution to this 16-, 17-year-old conflict now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the role of the Afghan security forces. I mean, the United States has spent billions of dollars now, as you mentioned, over 16 years, trying to rebuild the Afghan security forces. And yet they seem not to be able to, even in the capital city, assure the safety of the residents and the citizens of Afghanistan.

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: The Afghan forces and police and the intelligence agency, they are paying a very high price. Some days we see reports of more than 20 of them die a day for their country. It would be unfair to underestimate that.

The leadership of our security agencies, of course, can be challenged and questioned, whether they are competent enough or not. For example, because of bad politics in this country, we haven’t had a National Security Council, which is a weekly security meeting, which is the most important security meeting for the government—hasn’t happened for the past two, three months, simply because they could not agree who to invite and who not to invite in that meeting. And instead of that, ministers of interior, intelligence chief, national security advisers and others, whose main job are to focus on security, are negotiating politics with political parties. That, unfortunately, has contributed to mismanagement of our forces.

But it doesn’t mean that what our soldiers and police make sacrifice on a daily basis across the country is not valuable, is not something that we shouldn’t appreciate and understand.

AMY GOODMAN: Lotfullah, can you explain what happened on Saturday, the day of this ambulance suicide attack, an ambulance that was packed with explosives? Where was it? The significance of how it got in and who it killed?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: The attack was one of the deadliest, of course. And so, there were two ambulances. They got into a hospital nearby, and one of them left for one direction, and the other left for another direction, which was closer to the old Ministry of Interior building, missions like the European Union, Embassy of Sweden, and the Netherlands, the Dutch Embassy, and home to a lot of Afghan MPs and officials. And arriving at a police check post, they stopped the ambulance, asking where it was going, because there was no hospital in that direction. And then, once they were stopped, and next to the checkpoint there were a lot of men waiting for their registration into the police department, and that was when it was exploded.

So, a lot of people who died were just next to the blast site, queueing to get into one of the government buildings, and also a lot of bypassers, a lot of people coming to the nearby hospital, so a very crowded area. And we still don’t know how many people exactly are killed and wounded. I visited one of my friends in that area today who said that one of his relatives are still—is still missing, and they don’t whether he was killed in that attack. His phones are not working. And this is three days after the attack, and you still really don’t know how many people were really killed.

AMY GOODMAN: And the number of U.S. troops, what, over 14,000 U.S. troops, and Trump has promised to send well over a thousand more. Can you talk about this ongoing war, for the U.S., the longest war in U.S. history? I mean, and we see the toll of this in Afghanistan, with Saturday, Taliban claim responsibility, then seems to be this rivalry between Taliban and ISIS, today another attack, ISIS claiming responsibility. But what about the U.S. role?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: Well, let’s not mention, if we don’t have U.S. troops in the country today and U.S. support, we have no army, we have no police. And that is detrimental to the future of Afghanistan. That’s detrimental for the civil society, the media, for the government. President Ghani himself has said that without the U.S. presence in the country, he won’t be able to survive, his government, in six months. That is the dependency of our government and our society, to an extent, maybe not directly, but somehow, to the presence of the American forces.

What they do, these forces are stationed throughout the country, helping and advising Afghan forces, who are engaged in about 20 battles in 20 provinces, out of 34, every single day. That is the magnitude of violence and chaos. And at one point, as you know, we had 100,000 U.S. troops and 50,000 NATO troops—150 [thousand]—and we didn’t have this much of violence. So, we could say that this is—of course, it’s a quite significant number, but not enough to be able to accompany, train and advise Afghan forces to fight this very widespread battle throughout Afghanistan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Lotfullah, you say that without the presence of even this, the U.S. troops, that the present government could not stand. Why is that? I mean, is it because the Taliban do have much greater support in the population than we’ve been led to believe? I mean, why is it that the government cannot control an insurgency that supposedly doesn’t have much support?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: Primarily because most of our spending, especially in the defense, is directly coming from Western governments, the U.S. in particular. If you take that money out, that’s what I said, you have no army and police in this country. The United States government is paying their salaries, on a monthly basis. And the Afghan government—that is about $4 billion-plus. And then, of course, there is other direct spending in the civilian side. USAID is spending over a billion dollars a year in this country, which helps the economy to grow. So the country is so poor, and, of course, there is this battle which is happening, with support from other countries, that our government cannot stand that level of pressure.

The support for the Taliban, to be honest, is very, very low. Some surveys suggest that it’s below 10 percent. And we have seen that throughout the past decade or so. It’s not that the Taliban are very popular, or other insurgent groups. It’s just because institutions are not as strong. It’s because we have gone through four decades of war and civil war and chaos. And we haven’t—and the belief in government isn’t that strong.

AMY GOODMAN: Lotfullah Najafizada, we want to thank you for being with us, joining us from Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, news director of TOLOnews, a 24-hour news channel based there in Kabul.

When we come back, Michigan’s attorney general has launched an investigation into Michigan State, the entire board of directors of USA Gymnastics is resigning, after the team doctor, Larry Nassar, was sentenced up to 175 years in prison for sexual assaulting more than 160 young female athletes. Stay with us.

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