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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Another Taliban attack hits Afghanistan as country reels from mounting bloodshed

As some Afghans mourned the loss of loved ones, and others felt the collective grief of a country wracked by days of bloodshed, the police chief of Ghazni province said Taliban militants had targeted a security post in the district of Waghaz, killing four policemen

Afghan men cry near the grave of a victim who died in Friday night's suicide attack at the Shiite Imam Zaman mosque in Kabul on October 21, 2017. Rahmat Gul / AP
Afghan men cry near the grave of a victim who died in Friday night's suicide attack at the Shiite Imam Zaman mosque in Kabul on October 21, 2017. Rahmat Gul / AP

Four Afghan policemen were killed and two others wounded in yet another Taliban attack on Monday, an official said, as the country reeled from what has been one of the deadliest weeks in Afghanistan in recent memory.

As some Afghans mourned the loss of loved ones, and others felt the collective grief of a country wracked by days of bloodshed, the police chief of Ghazni province, Mohammad Zaman, said Taliban militants had targeted a security post in the district of Waghaz. The attack set off a heavy gun battle that lasted hours, he said, with the insurgents defeated and suffering "heavy casualties".

Monday's assault was just the latest in a string of attacks by the Taliban and ISIL to hit Afghanistan — and the third to hit the southeastern province of Ghazni — since Tuesday last week. Over 200 people have been killed and many more injured, with two of the assault targeting mosques.

In Kabul alone, more than 70 people have been killed. At least 56 worshippers were killed when an insurgent opened fire with guns and hand grenades and then detonated a suicide vest during Friday prayers at the Shiite Imam Zaman mosque. That attack, which was claimed by ISIL, was the sixth such attack against the minority Shiite community in the past year, as the militant group tries to stoke sectarian sentiments.

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Mahdi Barati, 22, said he was determined not to let hate replace the grief in his heart after his mother was killed in the attack.

“Yes, the attacks have been committed against the Shias of Afghanistan, but we [the Shias] know that they’re not being perpetrated by our Sunni brothers,” he told The National.

Mr Barati’s 55-year-old mother, Rahima Barati, was among the female worshippers injured when the attacker fired indiscriminately in the women’s section of the mosque in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi district.

“She was performing the sajda (the final bow during prayers) when a bullet hit her in the back of the head and another hit her on the lower spine,” Mr Barati said.

After hearing about the attack 40 minutes later, Mr Barati said he spent the next few hours searching for his mother across the city's hospitals and morgues.

He eventually found her at a local hospital, waiting to be treated. Due to the high number of casualties from the attack, however, the hospital staff did not have the capacity to treat her.

“They requested I take her to another hospital at the city centre, but I couldn’t find an available ambulance to transport her,” he said.

Mr Barati eventually made it to the second hospital with his mother in a private taxi but by that point, her head wound had become too severe and she succumbed to her injuries later that night.

“In a moment of time, my family went from being seven to six members,” he said with a sigh.

The relatives of those killed at the Imam Zaman mosque were yet to bury their loved ones when a second major attacked was mounted in the city on Saturday. This time it was the Taliban claiming the attack, which targeted army trainees leaving the Marshal Fahim Military Academy on the outskirts of the city. Fifteen young cadets preparing for a future in the national defence services were killed before even witnessing their first battleground.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for similar attacks earlier in the week — one that targeted a military base in the southern province of Kandahar province on Thursday, in which around 50 soldiers were killed, and two that struck police facilities in Ghazni and the eastern province of Paktia on Tuesday. At least 31 security officials and civilians were killed in the Ghazni attack, which struck a police headquarters, while at least 41 people were killed in Paktia, where militants targeted a police training academy in the south-east city of Garden. The chief of police in Paktia, Toryalai Abdyani, was among the dead.

Condemning the attacks on Saturday, Nato's Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan referred to the Taliban as “cowards”.

“Today's attack in #Kabul against Marshall Fahim NDU is an attack on the future of #AFG (Afghanistan),” it tweeted.

“[It] shows the insurgents are desperate and cannot win against ANDSF (Afghan National Defence and Security Forces) on the battlefield."

The attacks on Kabul have multiplied since US president Donald Trump announced Washington's new strategy for Afghanistan in July this year.

But on Friday, General John Nicholson, Resolute Support's commander, reaffirmed the United States's commitment to the fight against insurgency in Afghanistan.

“The brave men and women of the ANDSF and the people of Afghanistan have my personal assurance that we remain committed to our Afghan partners and our mission [here],” he said.

“All too often it is clear that the enemies of Afghanistan offer nothing for the future of this beautiful country and its people."

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Aside from the major attacks that have resulted in large casualty figures, several smaller attacks involving rockets and hand grenades have contributed to the widespread feeling of terror among Afghans. Two rockets fired from the east of Kabul on Monday hit inside the city but caused no casualties.

The UN secretary general’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, has raised concerns about the spike in civilian casualties in the recent spate of attacks.

“These brutal and senseless attacks against people at prayer are atrocities,” he said on Saturday while presenting findings from United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on the attacks.

The Unama's most recent quarterly report on civilian casualties observed that violence against the country's Shiite population had increased in the past year with 278 civilian casualties (84 deaths and 194 injured) resulting from attacks on the minority community. While the Taliban tends to focus its attacks on military targets, ISIL has deliberately targeted Shiite civilians.

Despite this, Mr Barati said he would not allow fear to take control of his life. Asked if he would limit his movements to the Shiite mosques that have come under frequent fire, he said: “Even if Daesh and Taliban threaten me directly, I will still go to the mosques and practice my faith."

"That is how we win.”